The Cincinnati Bengals might have done more than just advance to the AFC Championship game with a win over the Buffalo Bills this past Sunday.
The Bengals also might have saved a longtime tradition for NFL fans.
To recap, the NFL was preparing for a neutral site game for the AFC Championship if Buffalo and Kansas City advanced to it.
Normally, the conference championship games are played at the stadium of the team with the better record (or has the tiebreaker if they have the same record).
But since Buffalo couldn’t finish its regular-season game at Cincinnati during the second-to-last week of the regular season after Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin collapsed and nearly died on the field, the NFL didn’t deem it fair that Buffalo could potentially lose the chance for home-field advantage as the conference’s top seed.
Buffalo and Kansas City entered that game with identical records, but Buffalo held the tiebreaker due to its regular-season win over the Chiefs.
The best news of all was that Hamlin survived, but not finishing the game did produce a problem.
So the NFL came up with the solution of having a potential matchup between the Bills and Chiefs at a neutral site, which later was chosen as Atlanta.
The possible game had already sold 50,000 tickets, and the league was “salivating” at the potential of a conference championship game at a neutral site, according to CBS Sports.
If that would’ve been a hit, it no doubt would have whetted the NFL’s appetite, and it’s possible neutral sites for conference championship games would’ve been considered in the future.
That might have understandably upset franchises and fans who want the full reward of a great season by being able to host a conference championship game in their city, as has always been the case.
Thanks to the Bengals though, that won’t happen this year and the NFL won’t know the full scope of a neutral site AFC Championship game for the future.
Cincinnati crushed the Bills in Buffalo, 27-10, and since the Chiefs have a better record, the AFC title game on Sunday will be in Kansas City.
Following the win over Buffalo, Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow told CBS during an on-field interview that the league “better send those refunds.”
If neutral conference championship games aren’t revisited in the future, fans will have Burrow and the Bengals to thank.