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Shortly after the Bengals dispatched the Bills 27-10 in the AFC divisional playoffs last weekend, CBS reporter Tracy Wolfson asked quarterback Joe Burrow how much motivation the Bengals drew from the fact the NFL had been selling tickets to a possible neutral-site AFC Championship Game between the Bills and the Chiefs.

Burrow replied with a smirk, "Better send those refunds."

He had taken the league's sales approach (and implicit suggestion Buffalo would beat Cincinnati in the divisional round) as a slight, but it could become standard practice in future years. After the cancellation of the Jan. 2 Bills-Bengals game, following safety Damar Hamlin's on-field cardiac arrest, meant the Bills would finish a half-game behind the Chiefs in the race for home-field advantage in the AFC, the league's owners voted a possible Buffalo-Kansas City conference title game would be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The approach deviated from NFL rules that set playoff standings by winning percentage in the event of canceled games. While competition committee chair Rich McKay said the league made the change for a specific situation this year, speculation grew that the league could look to make neutral-site conference championship games a regular occurrence in the future, especially after the NFL announced it had sold 50,000 advance tickets to a possible Bills-Chiefs game in Atlanta.

If the NFL truly views neutral-site conference championship games as an untapped revenue source that can help meet Commissioner Roger Goodell's stated goal of reaching $25 billion in annual revenues by 2027, it's wise to view this weekend's conference championship games with the knowledge that change could be coming. And for those who want to use this weekend as either a test of home-field advantage's relevance or a tribute to the way things have been done in the past, there might not be two better venues for the games than one of the NFL's loudest and one of its lewdest.

In the first game, the top-seeded Eagles will try to win their second NFC title in six years, with the help of a Lincoln Financial Field crowd that will test 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy's readiness for big games away from home. In the second game, Burrow — the winner of three road playoff games in as many tries — will attempt to lead the Bengals to their second straight AFC championship in Arrowhead Stadium, which several Cincinnati players mockingly called "Burrowhead" this week.

The Eagles are 2½-point favorites over the 49ers, while the Chiefs are 1½-point favorites against the Bengals.

In other words, the games would effectively be toss-ups at a neutral site. In recent years, though, home-field advantage in conference title games has been as notable as ever.

In the 124 conference championship games since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, home teams are 70-54. And while home teams' winning percentages have decreased during the regular season in recent years, they're winning conference title games more frequently. Since the league went to 32 teams in 2002, the home team is 27-13 in conference championships. In the past 10 seasons, the home team is 14-6.

The 49ers think rooke quarterback Brock Purdy’s experience playing in Seattle will help him Sunday in Philadelphia.
The 49ers think rooke quarterback Brock Purdy’s experience playing in Seattle will help him Sunday in Philadelphia.

Jeff Lewis, Associated Press

That certainly has something to do with the fact that in the playoffs, the home team is the one with the better record. But particularly for the Eagles this weekend, a home game might be more than just an ancillary benefit of a strong regular season.

The 49ers haven't lost since Oct. 23, and Purdy, the final pick in the 2022 draft, is 5-0 as a starter after San Francisco lost Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo to injury. But Purdy has played only two games away from home. While the 49ers talked this week about how their Dec. 15 trip to Seattle gave Purdy a good preview of playoff football on the road, the Eagles are confident they will have an edge at home.

"There's just a lot that has to happen because of the noise," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said this week. "There's a lot of work that has to be done. That's a big advantage. That is a big advantage for the defense, home team obviously. We know how good our fans are, how loud they are, how rowdy."

No uncertainty exists for the Bengals about what they will face at Arrowhead Stadium, a year after they rallied from a 14-point deficit to win the AFC championship by a field goal. The Bengals beat the Chiefs by a field goal in Cincinnati this year as well, but their comeback at Arrowhead last year helped build the reputation of Burrow as the quarterback who doesn't get rattled.

"We've played in that environment before, so you've got that to fall back on," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said this week. "So aside from really just playing in front of their crowd, you know, we've played this team several times now. That's probably what you draw on the most."

The subplots would not be the same if the games were in third-party indoor stadiums. Moving the conference championship games to neutral sites could take another postseason incentive off the table for top seeds (adding a seventh playoff team in each conference two years ago took first-round byes away from No. 2 seeds) and devalue a regular season that moved from 16 games to 17 in 2021 and could eventually go to 18 games.

But while wild-card and divisional playoff games are controlled by the host teams, the NFL runs operations for the conference championship games. If three-quarters of the league's 32 owners ultimately vote to move the NFC and AFC title games to neutral sites, in hopes of soliciting bids from possible host cities and new sponsorships from corporate partners, there's little to stop them.

Whether the venues for future conference title games are to be determined by playoff seeding or offseason bidding, this weekend's games are in two of the league's most raucous environments. If these types of games are ultimately of a dying breed, they're also of an exquisite nature.

"Arrowhead is one of the toughest environments to play in," Taylor said. "It's a fun, fun atmosphere to play in if you're part of the NFL, and so our guys look forward to it."