KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The NFL made it official Thursday night that the Buffalo-Cincinnati game suspended due to the cardiac arrest suffered by Bills safety Damar Hamlin will not be resumed, setting in place scenarios impacting playoff seedings and potential AFC Championship pairings involving the Chiefs.
“This has been a very difficult week,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement. “We continue to focus on the recovery of Damar Hamlin and are encouraged by the improvements in his condition as well as the tremendous outpouring of support and care for Damar and his family from across the country. We are also incredibly appreciative of the amazing work of the medical personnel and commend each and every one of them.”
The league cited three reasons for deciding to abandon attempts at resuming the Bills-Bengals game:
- 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;
- It would require postponing the start of the playoffs for one week, thereby affecting all 14 clubs that qualify for postseason play; and
- Making the decision prior to Week 18 is consistent with our competitive principles and enables all clubs to know the playoff possibilities prior to playing the final weekend of regular season games.
With the Bills-Bengals game abandoned, the league now must contend with how to seed and handle home-field advantage for the playoffs with two teams playing an uneven number of games.
Seeding will be determined based on overall winning percentage. Using that metric, the Chiefs (13-3) currently hold the No. 1 seed position followed by the Bills (12-3) at No. 2. The Chiefs can finish with no worse than the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. The Bengals (11-4) have also clinched the AFC North division title by virtue of securing a higher winning percentage than Baltimore regardless of their matchup on Sunday.
Chiefs Week 18 scenarios
The easiest scenario is for the Chiefs to win Saturday at Las Vegas. The Chiefs would clinch the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye with a win or a tie over the Raiders.
If the Chiefs lose, all eyes focus on Sunday’s New England at Buffalo contest. A win or a tie by the Bills would make them the No. 1 seed and the Chiefs would fall to No. 2. A loss by the Bills would still allow the Chiefs to clinch the No. 1 seed.
The Bengals have been eliminated from claiming the No. 1 seed by virtue of the decision to not resume the Bills-Bengals game.
Neutral Site Championship Game?
With the top three seeds locked in between the Chiefs, Bills and Bengals, the discrepancy between the number of games played will create what the NFL termed “potential competitive inequities” involving those three clubs and who would host the AFC Championship game in certain scenarios.
On Friday, NFL clubs will vote to consider a scenario where the AFC Championship would be played at a neutral site. Although no location has been decided as of yet, Indianapolis is considered a front-runner for a potential natural site game.
A neutral-site AFC Championship game would occur in only one of three scenarios:
- 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; or
- 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.
In each of those three scenarios, the Chiefs would be the No. 1 seed except that the outcome of the unresolved Bills-Bengals contest would have a direct effect on determining the No. 1 seed. For example, in the first scenario, the Chiefs at 14-3 would be the No. 1 seed over a 13-3 Bills team. If Buffalo beat Cincinnati in the suspended game, the Bills would have earned the No. 1 seed by virtue of owning the tiebreaker against the Chiefs. Buffalo beat Kansas City 24-20 in Week 6.
The AFC Championship game would only be a neutral site in those three scenarios. If the Chiefs win and Buffalo loses to New England, a title game between the Chiefs and Bills would be played in Kansas City. If the Chiefs lose and Buffalo wins, the potential title game would be played in Buffalo
If a No. 1 seeded Chiefs team were to face any of the clubs seeded No. 4 or lower in the AFC title game, the contest would be in Kansas City.
AFC North Coin Flip
Since the Bengals have clinched the AFC North based on a higher winning percentage over the Ravens, it creates a potential inequity between those two clubs if Baltimore wins on Sunday. That would give the Ravens two wins over the Bengals this season. In that case, the outcome of the Bills-Bengals suspended game would have a direct impact on determining the division winner
NFL clubs on Friday will also vote on a proposal that if Baltimore beats Cincinnati on Sunday and those two clubs are scheduled to play a Wild Card game against one another, a coin flip will determine which team will host the Wild Card game.
The NFL does not anticipate any other impacts created by the uneven number of games played by Buffalo and Cincinnati. All teams will be seeded based on winning percentage — just as they are done each year when all teams play an equal number of games.
If the Chiefs claim the No. 1 seed and a bye, they would host an AFC Divisional against the lowest remaining seeded team after Wild Card Weekend. If they fall to the No. 2 seed, they would host the No. 7 seed on Wild Card Weekend.
Of course, all of this only happens if the NFL clubs approve this plan in their special league meeting Friday. If not, it’s back to the drawing board.
Why is This Happening?
The NFL determined to disregard continuing the suspended Bills-Bengals game in consultation with both clubs and the NFL Players Association.
“As we considered the football schedule, our principles have been to limit disruption across the league and minimize competitive inequities,” Goodell said in his 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.”