NFL Names Atlanta As Neutral Site For AFC Championship Game

Two days before the playoffs, the NFL announced the neutral site that could play host to the AFC championship game. Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium would host a potential Chiefs-Bills conference title tilt, Ian Rapoport of tweets.

This NFC venue emerged as the host after it became known Indianapolis and Detroit indicated their stadiums were not available. This stadium would only come into play if the AFC’s top two seeds — Kansas City and Buffalo — meet to decide the conference’s Super Bowl representative.

While an outdoor stadium was believed to be a consideration for this unique circumstance, as both the Chiefs and Bills hail from cold-weather cities, only indoor sites were mentioned during this process. Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosted Super Bowl LIII and has been the site for CFP national championship games.

Should the Bills and Chiefs reach the conference championship game, it would be Buffalo’s second relocated contest this season. A snowstorm moved a November Browns-Bills contest to Detroit. While weather issues have moved games before, a conference title game being relocated is new territory for the league. But the owners narrowly approved the NFL’s proposal on a compromise, as the Bills controlled their own destiny for the AFC’s No. 1 seed prior to the Damar Hamlin injury and hospitalization leading to the cancellation of Week 17’s Bills-Bengals matchup.

Although the Bengals launched a protest of the playoff modification, they only objected to the coin-toss component — which affected the AFC North teams and which is no longer in play, thanks to Cincinnati’s Week 18 win over Baltimore — in the proposal. The Bengals, Bills and Chiefs were all believed to be fine with the relocated AFC title game, though the Chiefs abstained from voting. The Bengals also had a narrow path to the No. 1 seed going into Week 17, but the Chiefs’ Week 18 win would have prevented that regardless of a Bills-Bengals result. As such, this relocation measure will only take effect if the Bills and Chiefs meet for a third straight postseason.

Both those matchups — a 2020 AFC title game blowout and 2021 divisional-round classic — occurred at Arrowhead Stadium and went the Chiefs’ way. The Bills (13-3) have not held home-field advantage since the 1993 season (when they beat the Chiefs to book a Super Bowl XXVIII berth), and because win percentage gave the 14-3 Chiefs the edge, the AFC East champions are set up for a tougher road to the AFC title game.

Should the Bills and Bengals win their respective wild-card games, as they are heavily favored to do, they will meet in Round 2. The Chiefs will face a less-accomplished team — likely the winner of the Chargers-Jaguars matchup — despite the Bills having defeated them in Kansas City this season, still providing the top-seeded team an advantage despite the NFL stepping in to prevent the Bills from playing in K.C.

Rumors of the NFL using this as a trial balloon for neutral-site conference championship games have emerged, and while that would be intriguing (and similar to college football’s setup), it would minimize the importance of obtaining home-field advantage and thus devaluing the regular season to a degree. But if a third Patrick MahomesJosh Allen playoff clash commences, the league will see this compromise/experiment come to fruition.

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