The NFL’s decision to play an AFC Championship between the Chiefs and Bills at a neutral site becomes relevant only if the Chiefs and Bills qualify for the AFC Championship. This may tempt the NFL to try to keep its plans for the neutral site under wraps for as long as possible, given the possibility that the neutral site won’t be needed.
That’s what the league did with the potential coin flip that would have determined home-field advantage for the Bengals-Ravens rematch in the wild-card round. Since the Ravens lost, the coin-flip details never had to be divulged.
But the league still needs to have a plan for a potential neutral-site game, sooner than later. Via Mark Maske of the Washington Post, the NFL has been working on selecting the neutral site, and that it’s possible a decision could come this week.
Friday’s resolution authorizing the neutral site for Bills-Chiefs gives Commissioner Roger Goodell full discretion to pick the location. It should be, given that both the Bills and Chiefs play in the elements, an outdoor location in a place where weather can be a factor in late January.
Lambeau Field. Heinz Field. Soldier Field. Those would be my three top choices, in that order.
The NFL opted to ignore its existing rule for dealing with canceled games (the rule calls for playoff positioning to be determined based on winning percentage) in the name of equity. But the reality is that a significant inequity — the Chiefs getting a week off — was completely unaddressed.
Adding an eighth team to the AFC playoff field definitely would have neutralized that benefit. While the league’s official, on-the-record position is that expanding the field wasn’t considered, the truth is that all sorts of options were discussed — from an eighth team to resolving Bills-Bengals with a coin flip to everything in between and beyond.
In theory, it’s great that they were creative. In practice, it’s still disappointing that they simply chose to ignore the existing rule, a rule crafted in the event some extraordinary situation would result in the cancellation of a game.