Had the Bengals beaten the Bills in Week 17, the four-loss team would have been on track to secure the AFC’s No. 2 seed. The results of Week 18 — Chiefs, Bengals and Bills wins — would have finalized that scenario. But only the Buffalo side of the “what if?” equation ended up factoring into the NFL’s neutral-site proposal.
The Bills controlled their own destiny for the AFC’s top seed, which would have been the franchise’s first since 1993, but the frightening Damar Hamlin scene leading to a cancelled game ended up nixing that path. While the Chiefs have drawn the 9-8 Jaguars in Round 2, despite losing to both the Bills and Bengals in the regular season, the latter two teams will face off Sunday. A third straight year featuring a Bills-Chiefs playoff matchup would take that game to Atlanta, and while the NFL discussed a second neutral site for a Bengals-Bills tilt, that game will be played in Buffalo.
“There was some discussion,” NFL executive VP Troy Vincent said (via the Buffalo News’ Clevis Murray) of Bengals-Bills being played in a neutral location, “but membership thought it was best for [only] the championship game to be at a neutral site.”
The Bengals’ main objection amid a swift push to shoot down the NFL’s compromise came as a result of the coin-toss scenario involving the Ravens, but they would have been part of the neutral-site scenario had the Chiefs lost to the Raiders in Week 18 and a rematch of last year’s AFC championship game ended up occurring. The team obviously voted against the proposal, with the Chiefs abstaining and the Bills being one of the 25 teams to submit a “yes” vote, Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports notes. Barring a Jaguars upset of the Chiefs on Saturday, the Bengals will need their road whites for the remainder of the AFC playoffs.
Should the Chiefs hold seed and the favored Bills prevail in the teams’ first playoff matchup since the 1988 AFC championship game, the teams will head to Georgia for a game that has already seen 50,000 tickets sold — per ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter) — to Bills and Chiefs season-ticket holders. One (or two) team’s fans would collect some sobering refunds depending on this weekend’s results, but should the league’s Atlanta contingency come into play, Bills and Chiefs fans would be seated on opposite sides at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Chiefs wanted an outdoor venue on grass, Jones adds, while it is not clear what the Bills preferred. Although both the Colts and Lions’ venues were floated as options, neither Lucas Oil Stadium nor Ford Field ended up being in play. The NFL selected Atlanta because of its fairly equal distance (893 miles from Buffalo, 801 from Kansas City) between the two cities, per Jones, while the NFC South stadium has been an in-case-of-emergency site for a bit now.
Speculation about the NFL using a Bills-Chiefs matchup as a test run for conference championship games to be played at neutral sites has emerged, and sources outside the league office floated to Jones that theory. Despite the draft and combine now rotating venues, the conference championships — played at the site of the team with the better record since 1975 — being held at neutral locations would mean the No. 1 seed would only come with a bye and one home game. The No. 2 seed having a path to host two games might be a nonstarter for the league. But the NFL has moved a wild-card game to Monday, despite the Monday game’s winner guaranteed a short week. The Atlanta scenario being a prelude to a drastic format change should not be entirely dismissed, though we are not there yet.