The Shield’s two-part plan:
1. The AFC Championship Game will be played at a neutral site if:
• Buffalo (12-3) and Kansas City (13-3) both win or tie in Week 18 AND both teams advance to the AFC title game.
• Buffalo and Kansas City both lose AND Cincinnati (11-4) also loses or ties in Week 18 AND Buffalo and Kansas City advance to the AFC title game.
• Buffalo and Kansas City both lose AND Cincinnati wins AND the AFC title game is either Bills-Chiefs or Bengals-Chiefs.
2. If the Ravens (10-6) defeat Cincinnati in Week 18 AND the Chargers (10-6) beat the Broncos, AND if Baltimore and Cincinnati are scheduled to play a wild-card game against one another, the site for that game would be determined by a coin toss. If Cincinnati wins the Week 18 game or if Baltimore and Cincinnati are not scheduled to play one another in the wild-card round, the game sites would be determined by the regular scheduling procedures.
That’s a lot.
Let’s start with the No. 1 seed. If it’s Bengals-Bills and they each finish 12-4, I get the NFL going to a neutral field. I’d prefer a coin toss, but it is what it is. Beyond that though, this plan is silly.
The Bills beat the Chiefs in the regular season. If they both win Sunday — Chiefs at Raiders, Patriots at Bills — Kansas City will be 14-3 and Buffalo will be 13-3.
The NFL would be 100% justified to give the Bills the No. 1 seed and home field advantage. They would have the head-to-head tiebreaker and be tied in the loss column. Which is far more legitimate than if this was a situation where the game disparity was reversed and the Bills were 13-4 while the Chiefs were 13-3 and about to get handed the top seed on winning percentage. A Bills-Chiefs conference title game should be played in Orchard Park. And if the Chiefs don’t like it, too bad — they would not be having this conversation had they beaten the Bills at home in mid-October.
The same goes for a Bengals-Chiefs AFC title game. If they are tied in the loss column, the Bengals beat Kansas City in December. Them’s the breaks. Cincinnati should host.
Also: How can the NFL push this plan out without establishing the neutral site(s) it will utilize if necessary? The three teams involved are confined to a relatively condensed geographic area and all have outdoor stadiums. The neutral site(s) should be outdoor stadiums in this general region that are easy to get to for both fanbases.
Chicago makes the most sense for Bills-Chiefs and Bengals-Chiefs. Cleveland could work for Bengals-Bills, but Buffalo may object to Cincinnati remaining in its own state. Pittsburgh could also work as a backup. But do not put these games in a dome. And the fact that is on the table has the cynic in us believing the NFL plans to do just that and somehow make money off of this.
As for the AFC North: If the Ravens beat the Bengals without Lamar Jackson and sweep the season series, they should host any wild card round rematch. Don’t even bother with a coin toss. Give the Bengals the division title, but give the Ravens hosting rights if they win. Cincinnati then controls its own fate entering Week 18.
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James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]