With one game left in the regular season, the NFL is still working out the details of how the now-canceled game will affect seeding for the playoffs, which begin Jan. 14-15.
The NFL acknowledged that canceling the game “creates potential competitive inequities in certain playoff scenarios,” and said NFL clubs will consider a resolution at a special league meeting Friday.
Part of it could involve the Jan. 29 AFC Championship Game being played at a neutral site.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in Thursday’s statement that “This has been a very difficult week,” and the league is focused on Hamlin’s recovery.
Because of the one canceled game, the Bills and Bengals will have played 16 games, while all other NFL teams will have played 17.
The Bills had long ago clinched the AFC East and were in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the conference. Now at 12-3, Buffalo trails 13-3 Kansas City for the AFC’s top spot, which carries a first-round playoff bye.
Had the Bills won Monday night, they would have had as many wins as the Chiefs while holding a tiebreaker over Kansas City.
This weekend, Buffalo plays New England; Cincinnati plays Baltimore; and Kansas City plays Las Vegas.
In the resolution to be considered by NFL teams Friday, the AFC Championship Game would be played at a neutral site under three scenarios, according to the NFL:
- If Buffalo and Kansas City both win or both tie, Buffalo vs. Kansas City would be at a neutral site for the championship.
- If Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Baltimore wins or ties, Buffalo vs. Kansas City would be at a neutral site.
- And if Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Cincinnati wins, a Buffalo or Cincinnati vs. Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.
Another component is if Baltimore beats Cincinnati, the NFL said. In that case, Baltimore would not host a playoff game because Cincinnati will have a higher winning percentage based on the games each played.
If Baltimore beats Cincinnati and both teams end up facing each other in the Wild Card, a coin toss will determine who hosts.
Monday’s key contest between first-place Bills and Bengals was called off shortly after 10 p.m. ET that night, with the NFL saying the game had been “postponed” — leaving the door slightly ajar for Buffalo and Cincinnati to restart play at another time.
When Hamlin went down, the Bengals were leading, 7-3, in the first quarter.
Hamlin collapsed moments after tackling Bengals receiver Tee Higgins. The play appeared to be routine as Hamlin quickly got up and briefly grabbed or adjusted his own face mask before falling backward.
Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest, but his brain function appeared to be in good condition, the Buffalo Bills said Thursday, following days of uncertainty and worry.
“Damar has shown remarkable improvement over the past 24 hours,” the team tweeted. “While still critically ill, he has demonstrated that he appears to be neurologically intact.”
In their final regular season games, the Bills will host the New England Patriots and the Bengals are home to the Baltimore Ravens. Both games are at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.
The now-canceled game wouldn’t have mattered as far as any other team making or not making the playoffs, which the NFL said was a factor in the decision.
In Thursday’s statement about the canceled game and postseason, Goodell said the league strove to minimize disruptions and inequalities.
“I recognize that there is no perfect solution,” Goodell said. “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.”