The freezing weather that hits Green Bay each winter gives the Packers a playoff advantage so obvious and unfair that it should be changed someday — no later than next year if not next month.

As you know, the Packers almost never lose at home when the temperature slides under the freezing point.

The problem isn't the bitter cold as such. If it's a 27-degree afternoon, it's 27 on both sides of the ball, as they always say.

The problem is that, year in and out, the Packers have experienced more arctic-weather games than any opponent. And experience teaches — as the Packers have demonstrated and as teams from Florida have discovered on northern visits to places that aren't even as cold as Green Bay.

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A Wintertime Edge is Troubling

THE SUFFOCATING HEAT of Florida occasionally gives the Miami Dolphins a weather-induced advantage down there, too, but that's only in regular-season games. The Packers' wintertime edge in the playoffs is so troubling — as evidenced by their winter record — that it should be removed by moving their playoff games to, say, Arizona, or even Chicago. It's cold in Chicago, too, but not so impossibly cold as Green Bay though just a short drive away. Moreover, for many of Wisconsin's well-heeled Packer fans, Chicago isn't much farther off than Green Bay.

Those who reside in Green Bay would be inconvenienced, true, by trips to Arizona or Illinois (but every game's on TV). Packer backers might also reflect on one other truth: As an NFL town, Green Bay only exists by reason of the magnanimity of the club owners in other NFL towns, who have agreed to pool their revenues and share many millions of dollars with Green Bay. That couldn't happen in baseball, in which the New York Yankees, for instance, keep most of their millions and thus win most of the time. For the privilege of NFL membership, Green Bay might consider giving the other NFL members a fairer shot in the playoffs.

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Both Bays and Philly Still in Race

AS A REFUGEE from the Midwest, where I spent 21 winters, I can testify that you never get used to winter weather, as the Packers always say. But with experience, you do learn the nuances of navigating the icy blasts of December and January. You learn what can't be easily done, and what you can do more easily, and that helps either on the ice, if you're a speed skater, say, or on a football field. Most significantly, your cold-weather successes automatically boost your cold-weather confidence.

Thus, three days before Christmas, the Packers will have the advantage in this week's game over even the Buffalo Bills. Though it's cold in Buffalo, too, the Bills who have never played in Green Bay will be shocked by the way it is there.

Altogether, three teams remain in the drive for all-the-way home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay as well as Green Bay. And it's a given that there is almost always an advantage in playing at home anywhere.

But in December or January, the weather can make the biggest difference, as it did last Sunday in San Francisco, where cold rain and a cold wind gave a Wisconsin-like edge to the Packers. From the start, they felt right at home. The fair-weather 49ers plainly never did. At the key position, Packer quarterback Brett Favre was obviously more comfortable in the unfriendly elements than 49er quarterback Jeff Garcia. Final score: Green Bay 20, San Francisco 14.

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Is Mariucci Another Dusty Baker?

SOMETHING ELSE IS amiss this year on the 49er team. It's hard to put a finger on what that is, but it's clear enough now that the talent level in San Francisco is as high as, for instance, Green Bay's.

The 49ers employ the league's best player, Terrell Owens, and another good receiver, Tai Streets, plus a passer who can get them the ball, Garcia.

What's more, their one-two punch at running back with Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow is the envy of most opponents, and their offensive linemen seem comparable with most, as do their defensive players.