“Diet Super Bowls” Would Leave Sour Taste

Had the Bills defeated the Bengals last Sunday, the AFC Championship Game would have been played at a neutral site — specifically, Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta — because Buffalo (13-3) finished only a half-game behind Kansas City (14-3) in the regular-season standings, due to the injury to Bills safety Damar Hamlin that forced the cancellation (albeit with the game actually in progress) of the January 2 Buffalo at Cincinnati game.

And despite the fact that the idea was almost universally panned, the NFL is now considering holding all conference title games at a neutral site going forward.

If the NFL owners want a shortcut to even more money, they can add more teams to the league, to compensate the cities that had teams stolen from them — St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland — plus San Antonio, which had a population of 1,434,625 as of 2020, nearly five times that of Pittsburgh's 302,971.

They can also blithely inform the NFLPA that this will make it necessary for an 18th game to be added to the regular-season schedule — and to compensate the players for this inconvenience, two more teams would be added to the playoffs, and each team would be given a second bye week, meaning that all teams playing a Thursday night or Thanksgiving game can be given an automatic bye the week before, which will warm the heart of Ben Roethlisberger — if anything can.

The first two expansion teams go in the first year — and play each other once, and every team in their own conference once. In the second year, the two expansion teams switch conferences, and play the same schedule again (this is what happened with Seattle and Tampa Bay in 1976 and 1977 — so there is a handy precedent for doing this).

In the third year, the next two new teams go in — and then all four expansion teams are slotted into the existing divisions on a permanent basis.

The reason that an 18-game season would be necessary is to create a fair and cogent schedule format: with two five-team divisions and two four-team divisions in each conference, in addition to every team playing their division rivals twice each year, all four teams from the two four-team divisions play one game each against the two fifth-place teams (from the previous season's standings) once each. Then the top four teams from a five-team division or all four teams from a four-team division within the same conference are matched up against each other, the same as they have done since 2002, and there would continue to be two other inter-division games within the same conference matching up first-vs.-first, second-vs.-second, etc.

As for interconference games, the two fifth-place teams from one conference would play one game each against the two fifth-place teams from the other conference. Otherwise, everything remains the same — except that when a five-team division is involved, only the top four teams play the corresponding division from the other conference.

It is worth noting that while this format closely resembles the one that was observed from 1978 through 1994, there would not be a repeat of the ridiculously easy fifth-place schedules from that era, because this time around every team would play four games against first-place teams from the previous season, four second, four third, four fourth, and two fifth (in 1978-1994 fifth-place teams played four games against other fifth-place teams).

And then, the idle week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, which has long since outlived any usefulness it ever had, can be abolished forever, guaranteeing that all future Super Bowls get played on the Presidents' Day weekend, making "Super Bowl Monday" a national holiday without having to create a new such holiday.

We fought and won a 45-year-long conflict — the Cold War — to defend our way of life against the Soviet Union. So no one is saying that the NFL owners don't have a right to make as much money as they wish.

But what they don't have a right to do is put the product further out of the reach of the fans — which holding the conference championship games at a neutral site would clearly do.

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