The Bengals justifiably have spent much of the past three weeks miffed at the treatment they received in the aftermath of the cancellation of their Week 17 game against the Bills, following Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin‘s on-field cardiac arrest. And that has given the Bengals even more of an edge, culminating in Sunday’s 27-10 road upset of the Bills.
The most recent surge of attitude came from the league’s decision to announce on Friday, for no apparent reason, the fact that Bills and Chiefs fans had purchased 50,000 tickets to a neutral-site conference championship in only 24 hours. It seemed irrelevant. It seemed immaterial. It seemed gratuitous.
But the league had a reason for doing it. The league is indeed contemplating the possibility of neutral-site conference championships, with the goal of capturing a big-game college football vibe — and also of making a crapload of extra money by selling the neutral-site games to the highest bidders.
The Bengals had a reason to be pissed off about it. And they clearly were. Quarterback Joe Burrow, in an on-field post-game interview, said to Tracy Wolfson of CBS, “Better send those refunds.”
In the future, refunds may not be necessary. In the future, neutral-site conference championships could become the norm.
It doesn’t matter whether we like it; more than 85 percent who responded to our recent Twitter poll on the subject didn’t. What matters is whether they’ll do it.
At a time when there are only so many ways to grow revenue without further increasing inventory, it’s an easy way to make more money. And so, once the league office can persuade at least 24 owners to go along with it, it’ll happen.
Sure, teams that play outdoors in cold-weather climates may never agree, especially if the neutral sites will skew toward places with good weather or none at all. The decision to take the hypothetical Bills-Chiefs game to Atlanta (the league’s third choice after Detroit and Indianapolis) suggests that the league wanted a dome, likely to best ensure that the offensive performances will be unaffected by the elements.
If that’s the case, if only Atlanta, Dallas, Las Vegas, Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville, Houston, Phoenix, L.A., New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, and Santa Clara are the true options for neutral-site title games, that may not get enough votes. To get to 24, the league may have to include more cities in the eventual mix.
Maybe the league will need to make it a true rotation for all 32 teams, with the 16 AFC teams taking turns hosting the NFC Championship and the 16 NFC teams taking turns hosting the AFC Championship. Still, it would be one level of weird for Buffalo and Kansas City to play in Atlanta. It would be several levels of effin’ nutty for the Rams and Dolphins to meet at Lambeau Field.