The NFL didn’t actually mess this one up. My apologies for bracing for impact on anything the league does these days, especially when it involves Buffalo. The league announced that a possible AFC Championship game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills would happen at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The need for a neutral-site game with a Super Bowl berth on the line was necessitated by the cancelation of Week 17’s Bengals-Bills after Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest in the first quarter.
Picking the home of the Falcons, who didn’t come close to making the playoffs, to host one of the most important games of the season isn’t surprising. It’s equidistant from Kansas City and Buffalo; it’s one of the NFL’s newest stadiums, it’s hosted Super Bowl LIII, and Atlanta is a phenomenal sports city. There’s a reason why when the coronavirus pandemic threatened to postpone the NFL and the FBS college football seasons Atlanta was pitched as a bubble site. Plenty of stadiums large enough to host and socially distance teams. Now, with whatever tickets would be left over from Bills and Chiefs fans in the odds-on favorite AFC title game, a football-crazed area of America could sell out that stadium without restrictions.
Of course, the Bills must win twice to do their part in making an Atlanta matchup happen, and the Chiefs will likely have to go through the Jacksonville Jaguars-L.A. Chargers winner to make their fifth straight AFC Championship game. Can you see Patrick Mahomes losing to either one of those teams right now in the postseason at home? Absolutely not. While Kansas City isn’t perfect, Jacksonville and Los Angeles don’t have the depth to expose the Chiefs’ faults. Mahomes has consistently been fantastic for the last five years. Let’s not let the normalization of Mahomes wowing us on Sundays distract from how abnormally absurd his play is.
The biggest roadblock to a neutral-site extravaganza would be Cincy. Both teams who only finished 16 regular-season games will likely face an inexperienced backup quarterback in the Wild Card round. A Lamar Jackson-less Ravens team? They’re toast. A Dolphins team trying to win in the Western New York cold without Tua Tagovailoa? Despite his recent interceptions, don’t pretend handing the ball to Skylar Thompson is any better. We’ll get the rematch of the one NFL game not to be completed this year in the divisional round.
Any combination of the Bills, Chiefs, and Bengals have had memorable recent matchups against each other. Of course, there was Monday Night Football two weeks ago. And the Chiefs’ most recent postseason saw a win against the Bills, in one of the greatest games we’ve ever seen, and the last-second loss to the Bengals. Those three have separated themselves at the top of the AFC, much like the Eagles and 49ers have the NFC. It’d be a shocker not to see the Super Bowl matchup not be contested between a pair of those five. We’d only see Atlanta come into play if Buffalo and Kansas City play for a second time this season. That neutral-site atmosphere would be crazy. And in a good way for the NFL.