Bradley’s Buzz: An AFC title game in the A-T-L?

Credit: Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez / miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

We’ve had the Super Bowl – three of them, in two different buildings. We’ve had the World Series – six of them, in three different stadiums and two different counties. We’ve had two MLB All-Star Games, though we lost a third to politics. We’ve had four Final Fours, not counting the one scratched by a pandemic. We’ve had college football’s championship game. Heck, we’ve had the Olympics.

We’re Atlanta. We’re big-time. We’ve had almost everything.

We have not, however, had an AFC championship game.

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NFC championship games? Been there, done that. The AFC title tilt seemed beyond our grasp, if only because the Falcons don’t play in the AFC. But if the Chiefs beat Jacksonville, which they should, and the Bills shade Cincinnati, which they might, the road to Super Bowl Whatever-This-One-Is will run past Northside Drive.

Remember when the NBA upped its All-Star Game from Indianapolis and plunked it down at State Farm Arena because of COVID? (No? Well, it happened, though few were allowed entrance.) The cancellation of Bills-Bengals after Damar Hamlin’s cardiac event on Jan. 2 led the NFL to rethink its playoffs. As we know, the NFL isn’t great at thinking.

Even though its operational manual held that an unplayed game shouldn’t affect playoff seedings – winning percentage would suffice – the NFL acted otherwise. We don’t know if the Bills would’ve won that Monday night in Cincinnati, but the NFL figures we should assume as much, which is among the many reasons the Bengals are miffed.

The Bills are 13-3, the Chiefs 14-3. Had Buffalo gotten to 14-3, it would have won the tiebreaker due to an October victory over K.C. (And if “ifs” and “buts” were candy and nuts, a frog wouldn’t bump its posterior. Or something like that.) This led the NFL to ask, “Can we in good conscience force the Bills to play a championship game on the road when it might have gotten to host it?”

The answer should have been, “Sure. The Chiefs’ winning percentage is .824; Buffalo’s is .813. Yay, math!”

This being the NFL, math couldn’t be trusted – but only regarding the AFC championship. Never mind that the Bengals, had they beaten Buffalo that Monday night, could have tied the Bills at 13-4 while holding the head-to-head tiebreaker and thereby been the AFC’s No. 2 seed. Unlike Buffalo, Cincy was afforded the benefit of no doubt. The Bengals will play on the balmy banks of Lake Erie come Sunday.

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s VP of operations, told the Buffalo News “there was some discussion, but ultimately membership thought it was best for (only) the championship game to be at a neutral site.” Why? It’s the NFL. There’s your why.

But enough about them. Let’s think about us. The local NFL franchise hasn’t made the playoffs in five years. The most recent postseason game staged here was the Falcons-Packers NFC championship, played on Jan. 22, 2017. It was the final game in the Georgia Dome.

The Chiefs haven’t graced our city since Dec. 2, 2016 – the Eric Berry Pick-2 game. Patrick Mahomes had just worked his final game for Texas Tech, throwing for 586 yards and six touchdowns against Baylor. The Bills haven’t been here since Oct. 1, 2017. They won 23-17 that day, returning a Matt Ryan fumble for a touchdown. Their quarterback was Tyrod Taylor.

The Bills were part of the first – and worst – Atlanta Super Bowls. They’d lost the previous three Supes, the most recent to Dallas, again their opponent on Jan. 30, 1994. They led 13-6 at the half. Thurman Thomas fumbled to open the third quarter. James Washington, the game’s MVP, returned it for a touchdown. Then Emmitt Smith took over, scoring twice. Final score: Cowboys 34, Bills 13.

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Al Gore, vice president of these United States, was in the Dome that day. So was Charlie Daniels, part of the pregame show. So was O.J. Simpson, part of the NBC announcing crew. The halftime show featured a bunch of country singers. It was among the more forgettable Super Bowls.

The Bills haven’t made one since, prompting their supporters – Bills Mafia – to invent a way to amuse themselves. Their solution: smashing tables by diving onto them. Genius!

Chiefs-Bills in Mercedes-Benz Stadium wouldn’t mean nearly as much to us locals as Falcons-Saints, not to mention Georgia-Alabama. Still, having football in Atlanta in January might be fun, especially if Marcus Mariota’s not involved.

Does that mean I’m hoping it happens? Nope. I’m pulling for the Bengals – and I’m a Steelers fan.

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and curated by yours truly, available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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