After much speculation, the NFL handed out its verdict Thursday night regarding what to do with the suspended Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game.
The NFL announced the contest, which was halted Monday after Bills safety Damar Hamlin had to be resuscitated after suffering cardiac arrest on the field during the first quarter, has officially been canceled.
The league came to that decision due to the outcome of the contest having zero impact on which teams qualified for the playoffs as well as it didn’t want to postpone the start of the playoffs by a week. The NFL also stated a decision prior to Week 18 was necessary to ensure all team’s understood the playoff possibilities.
While the Bills and Bengals now will conclude their regular-season slate having played one less game than the rest of the league, a special league meeting will be held Friday to consider the changes to the AFC playoff format.
The solution that was recommended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and approved by the competition committee is that the AFC Championship Game will be at a neutral site if the participating teams played an unequal number of games. For example, if the Bills and Kansas City Chiefs both advance to the title game, that contest will not be played at the higher seed’s stadium.
The other permutation for the playoffs is strictly for the Bengals and Baltimore Ravens. If the Ravens beat the Bengals in Week 18, Baltimore will have topped Cincinnati twice this season, but wouldn’t have a higher winner percentage due to the unequal amount of games played.
In this case, if the Ravens earn a win over the Bengals again and the two teams meet in the AFC wild-card round, the NFL suggests the site for that game will be determined by a coin toss.
“As we considered the football schedule, our principles have been to limit disruption across the league and minimize competitive inequities,” Goodell said 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.”