Hours after an encouragingly positive update from medical personnel on the health of Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin, the NFL announced Thursday night that the Week 17 game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals will not resume and will be cancelled. This comes after considerable speculation on how the league would address the on-field issues created by the suspended game, with all acknowledging that, of course, the football-related fallout pales in importance to Hamlin’s health.
The NFL noted in its announcement that neither Buffalo nor Cincinnati was in danger of missing the postseason, and there would be no elimination or qualification for the playoffs based on the result. In addition, the decision to cancel also allows for the postseason schedule to remain in place, but there are complicating factors with regard to seeding and fairness. As such, NFL clubs will meet on Friday to consider a resolution from Commissioner Roger Goodell, with approval from the league’s Competition Committee, with two prominent elements in play. The most prominent is that there are three scenarios in which the AFC Championship Game would be played at a neutral site if home-field advantage could have been affected by the Bills-Bengals result.
Here are those three scenarios from the NFL release:
Scenario 1: Buffalo and Kansas City both win or both tie – a Buffalo vs Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.
Scenario 2: Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Baltimore wins or ties – a Buffalo vs Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.
Scenario 3: Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Cincinnati wins – a Buffalo or Cincinnati vs Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.
Each of these scenarios is quite plausible, of course, and the league needs to get this proposal firmly implemented before Week 18’s slate of games begins on Saturday. In addition to the neutral-site scenario, the NFL also proposes that a win by the Baltimore Ravens over the Bengals in Week 18 would create a scenario in which a coin toss would determine the site of a potential Wild Card matchup between the Bengals and Ravens. If Cincinnati wins the Week 18 game or the two teams won’t meet in the Wild Card round, the scheduling reverts back to normal procedure.
“As we considered the football schedule, our principles have been to limit disruption across the league and minimize competitive inequities,” said Commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement. “I recognize that there is no perfect solution. The proposal we are asking the ownership to consider, however, addresses the most significant potential equitable issues created by the difficult, but necessary, decision not to play the game under these extraordinary circumstances.”
All told, this was probably the best solution for the NFL in that a neutral-site AFC Championship Game avoids the scenario where the Bengals or Bills had to travel to Kansas City to play a game that could have taken place in either Cincinnati or Buffalo had the Week 17 result been finalized. This also allows the league to keep a semblance of scheduling normalcy and, while it isn’t perfect, there were no perfect options in this particular case.
One thing not mentioned in the NFL’s release is the 1-seed in the AFC and how they will handle the bye week for the AFC’s top team, which Buffalo would have been with back-to-back wins but, as of now, would be the Chiefs if they win on Saturday in Las Vegas.