NFL preps ticket sale for AFC Championship Game without the Bengals

Tickets will go on sale Wednesday morning for an NFL game that might not happen.
The sun rises over the horizon of Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The sun rises over the horizon of Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium.(KSLA News 12)
Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 10:21 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - The NFL on Tuesday advised the Kansas City Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills to begin selling tickets for an AFC Championship Game that assumes the Bengals will lose this weekend.

The Chiefs and Bills can begin selling tickets from their allotment “in preparation for a scenario in which a neutral site game would take place” at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

A neutral-site AFC Championship Game would only result if both the Chiefs and Bills advance from the Divisional Round. The Bills host the Bengals, and the Chiefs host the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The other three possible results are as follows:

  • If the Chiefs and Bengals win, Cincinnati would head to Kansas City;
  • If the Jaguars and Bengals win, Jacksonville would head to Cincinnati; and
  • If the Jaguars and Bills win, Jacksonville would head to Buffalo;

If the AFC Championship Game is anywhere else than Atlanta, the tickets sold beginning Wednesday will automatically be refunded.

(We have reached out to the Bengals front office to see whether they have been given permission to begin selling tickets for a potential Bengals home AFC Championship Game but have not heard back as of this writing.)

It’s the latest unprecedented consequence of the NFL’s unprecedented decision to cancel the Bengals-Bills Monday Night Football game three weeks ago after Damar Hamlin’s on-field collapse at Paycor Stadium. (Though ESPN reports Bengals head coach Zac Taylor had more to do with that than the NFL did, and Bengals owner Mike Brown backs that up.)

The Bengals were up 7-3 and driving with the ball when the game was canceled. Had the Bengals won, the Bills would be traveling to Cincinnati for the Divisional Round.

In other words, the Bengals will play the Bills in Buffalo on Sunday even though they might have hosted the Bills had the canceled game continued.

Instead, the NFL relied on the final winning percentage to determine the Divisional Round matchups while conjuring impromptu format changes that appear to accommodate other teams and disproportionately harm the Bengals.

[Zac Taylor slams the NFL’s playoff changes]

Cincinnati’s front office was quick to point out the inequity of a mid-season rule change voted upon by teams that stood to benefit materially from one outcome.

“It seems like there are positives for a lot of teams and just negatives for us,” Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor said the day after the NFL released the format changes.

“So we have the opportunity to play for a coin flip that can only negatively impact us... We don’t have the ability to play for a coin flip that can positively impact us? Again, let’s just follow the rules.”

More non-Bengals fans are beginning to take notice in the run-up to the Buffalo game. Tweets expressing belated bafflement began drawing significant attention on Twitter Monday evening. (See below, and also, and also, and also, and also, and also, and also, and also, and also, et cetera.)

Playing in Buffalo is no easy task. It’s a raucous environment where weather could play a role. Moreover, studies suggest officials at various levels of competition, across a variety of sports, naturally favor home teams. Oddsmakers often give hosting teams a three-point edge to account generally for home-field advantage.

For the Bengals’ part, they’re embracing the challenge.

“That’s what this team is built for,” Taylor said on BallySportsCincy. “Really, at this point, we wouldn’t want it any other way. Let’s earn everything. Let’s go into one of the most hostile environments in all of football.

“We’re looking forward to it. We know it isn’t going to be easy. We know it’s going to be loud. We know it’s going to be windy. But we’re going to embrace that stuff and do our best to go put on a show.”

[Full Bengals coverage]

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