NFL cancels Bills-Bengals game, plans vote Friday to implement two major modifications for AFC playoffs

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The NFL has canceled the Bills-Bengals game that was previously postponed on Monday night. The league has also planned a vote Friday with two adjustments for the AFC playoffs on the table.

While the NFL’s cancellation decision will not impact which teams make the playoffs, it may impact seedings, which is why the league has come up with several potential rule changes to even out the competitive inequities that not playing the game will create. 

Under the proposal that will be voted on by owners, the AFC Championship could potentially become a neutral-site game if any of the three following scenarios are met: 

  • Scenario 1: If Buffalo and Kansas City both win or both tie in Week 18, then a Buffalo vs. Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.
  • Scenario 2: If the Bills and Chiefs both lose in Week 18 and Baltimore wins or ties with the Bengals, then a Buffalo vs. Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.
  • Scenario 3: If Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Cincinnati beats Baltimore, then a Bills or Bengals vs. Chiefs championship game would be at a neutral site.

The NFL is also giving the Ravens a chance to possibly host a wild-card game even though Baltimore can’t mathematically win the AFC North. Even if the Ravens win on Sunday against the Bengals, that would put them at 11-6, which would still be a half game behind the Cincinnati, who would finish 11-5 with a loss. 

Under that scenario, the Ravens wouldn’t win the division even though they swept the Bengals AND had a better division record. To fix that problem, the proposal on the table is that the NFL will flip a coin to see who hosts a Ravens-Bengals wild-card game if: 

1. The Ravens beat the Bengals on Sunday, and …
2. If the two teams are scheduled to play each other in the wild-card round. 

Both the AFC Championship proposal and the Ravens proposal will be voted on Friday. 

“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 of why the league came to these two decisions. “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.”

The circumstances Goodell is referring to is the situation involving Damar Hamlin. The Bills and Bengals played for nearly nine minutes on Monday night before the game was stopped after the Bills safety went into cardiac arrest on the field. After being given CPR, Hamlin was taken by ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical center, where he’s been listed in critical condition for the past three days. 

The only thing on the NFL’s mind over the past 72 hours has been the health of Hamlin, which has improved remarkably over the past 24 hours. Two members of Hamlin’s medical team held a press conference on Thursday and revealed that not only is he moving both his arms and legs, but he’s also been able to communicate through writing with friends and family. (He even asked who won the Bills-Bengals game while communicating with a nurse on Wednesday night.)

“This has been a very difficult week,” Goodell said 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.”

With Hamlin’s health improving, the NFL finally sat down to figure out what the next move should be with the Bills-Bengals game. With that out of the way, the next step for the league will now come on Friday when the league votes to possibly implement these two extraordinary measures for the playoffs. 

With the cancellation, this will mark the first time since 1935 that every NFL team hasn’t played the same amount of games. 

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