NEW YORK (AP) — Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be the neutral site if Buffalo and Kansas City meet in the AFC championship game. The NFL decided to put that potential matchup in a neutral city after the Bills’ Week 17 game against Cincinnati was canceled when Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field.
The Chiefs (14-3) are the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but played one more game than the second-seeded Bills (13-3). The league brokered the neutral site deal because Buffalo could have been the top seed with a victory over the Bengals.
The Buffalo-Cincinnati game Jan. 2 was halted in the first quarter after Hamlin collapsed and was resuscitated on the field. He was released from a Buffalo hospital on Wednesday.
The NFL said Thursday that Atlanta was designated as a potential backup postseason site before the 2022 season. All other potential matchups in the AFC title game will be played on the higher seed’s home field.
“We are heartened by the continued improvement and progress of Damar Hamlin in his recovery, and Damar and his family remain top of mind for the entire NFL community,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We are also grateful to Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Falcons for agreeing to host the AFC championship game in Atlanta should the Bills and Chiefs advance.”
Steve Cannon, vice chairman of Falcons owner Arthur Blank’s Sports and Entertainment portfolio, which also includes the MLS’ Atlanta United and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, said Atlanta is accustomed to hosting such big events as the Super Bowl in 2019, the college football national championship game in 2017 and this season’s College Football Playoff semifinal Peach Bowl.
“We’re certainly ready to host it,” Cannon said Sunday when he confirmed Atlanta’s interest in the game. “Even though we’ve never hosted an AFC championship, that’s certainly who we are. Yes, and guess what, it’s going to be awesome. We’re going to do a great job, just like we did for semifinals of college football.”