With Bills-Bengals canceled, how will the AFC playoffs work?

Sports

An ambulance leaves the field with Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin during the first half of an NFL football game between the Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel), File

(KDVR) — During a special meeting Friday, NFL owners approved a potentially adjusted format for the AFC playoffs after the league decided not to resume the Bills-Bengals game Monday.

The contest between the two AFC heavyweights was suspended after Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin collapsed and went into cardiac arrest on the field.

The league said some of the factors in coming to its decision included that “not playing the Buffalo-Cincinnati game to its conclusion will have no effect on which clubs qualify for the postseason. No club would qualify for the postseason and no club will be eliminated based on the outcome of this game.”

Also, the NFL said playing the game between the Bills and Bengals would have required postponing the start of the playoffs by a week, and affecting all 14 teams that qualified for the postseason.

The NFL said its decision creates “potential competitive inequities in certain playoff scenarios.” The league said clubs on Friday, in a special league meeting, would consider a resolution recommended by the commissioner and approved Thursday by the competition committee.

The Bills-Bengals game had major playoff implications for the AFC. Buffalo (12-3) entered Monday night needing a win to maintain the AFC’s No. 1 seed. The Kansas City Chiefs (13-3) now hold that spot. The Bengals (11-4) had a chance to earn that top seed with two more wins and a loss by the Chiefs.

The scenarios recommended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell approved by the competition committee include a potential neutral site for the AFC championship game. The league is considering several sites, including indoor and outdoor stadiums.

NFL playoff scenarios after Bills-Bengals cancellation

It’s a complex situation that the NFL has broken into two elements for consideration. The full text of those elements is below, as released by the NFL.

1. The AFC Championship Game will be played at a neutral site if the participating teams played an unequal number of games and both could have been the number one seed and hosted the game had all AFC clubs played a full 17-game regular season. Those circumstances involve Buffalo or Cincinnati qualifying for the game as a road team and are listed below:

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.

2. If Baltimore defeats Cincinnati in Week 18, it will have defeated Cincinnati, a divisional opponent, twice but will not be able to host a playoff game because Cincinnati will have a higher winning percentage for a 16-game schedule than Baltimore will for a 17-game schedule. 

If Baltimore defeats Cincinnati and if those two clubs are scheduled to play a Wild Card game against one another, the site for that game would be determined by a coin toss. If Cincinnati wins the Week 18 game or if Baltimore and Cincinnati are not scheduled to play one another in the Wild Card round, the game sites would be determined by the regular scheduling procedures.

“As we considered the football schedule, our principles have been to limit disruption across the league and minimize competitive inequities,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. “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.”

Hamlin shows ‘remarkable recovery’

Hamlin has shown what physicians treating him are calling “remarkable improvement over the past 24 hours,” the team announced Thursday, three days after the 24-year-old player had to be resuscitated on the field.

Doctors said the Bills defensive back was able to follow commands and even asked who won Monday night’s game, communicating in writing. Hamlin cannot yet speak, as he is still using a breathing tube. From the hospital’s standpoint, the next steps are continued improvement, breathing on his own, and readiness to be discharged from the hospital.

The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate WIVB contributed to this report.

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