CINCINNATI — NFL owners have agreed to a plan that might lead to the AFC Championship game and a possible Baltimore Ravens-Cincinnati Bengals wild-card game being played on neutral sites.
What You Need To Know
- The NFL announced the plan to host the AFC Championship game, as well as a possible Bengals-Ravens wild-card game, at neutral sites
- It's the result of having an uneven schedule caused by the league canceling the Bills-Bengals game
- The neutral site games will only take place depending on what happens in Week 18 and which teams qualify for the conference title game
The league made the announcement just after 1 p.m. Friday, a little more than 12 hours after confirming the Buffalo Bills-Bengals game suspended on Monday night would not resume.
NFL officials suspended the contest midway through the first quarter after Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed and went into cardiac arrest on the field. Hamlin has made a remarkable recovery over the past few days at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, doctors said, but he remains hospitalized.
Canceling the Bills-Bengals game led to major playoff implications for the AFC.
Going into Monday’s game, the Bengals, Bills and Kansas City Chiefs all had a shot at the top seed in the conference, which would earn them a home-field advantage. Baltimore also had a chance to win the AFC North crown with a win this Sunday over the Bengals.
The resolution — which aimed to address “potential competitive inequities in certain playoff scenarios” — received a vote from all NFL clubs during a special league meeting on Friday.
Under the plan, the AFC Championship game will take place at a neutral site if the teams played an unequal number of games and both could have been the No. 1 seed.
Both Buffalo or Cincinnati will have only played 16 regular season games while all other teams played 17.
If Buffalo and Kansas City both win or tie this weekend, a Bills-Chiefs AFC title game would be at a neutral site. Those teams would also play at a neutral site if Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Baltimore wins or ties.
But if Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Cincinnati wins, Kansas City would play a neutral site game if either the Bills or Bengals qualify.
The resolution could also affect the wild-card round if Baltimore plays Cincinnati.
In the event Baltimore defeated Cincinnati on Sunday, the Ravens would have two wins over the Bengals, a divisional opponent. But the Bengals would still have a higher winning percentage than the Ravens because they played one fewer game.
The NFL resolution dictates that if Baltimore defeats Cincinnati and if those two clubs face one another in the wild-card round, the site for that game would be determined by a coin toss.
However, if the Bengals win this weekend or if Baltimore and Cincinnati are not scheduled to play each other in the wild-card round, the game sites would be determined by the regular scheduling procedures.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recommended the proposal to the league’s competition committee on Thursday. The committee approved it.
Despite receiving support from the league, some fans, including former NFL linebacker Rocky Boiman, feel not playing the game created a fairness issue amongst all teams.
Some 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,” Goodell wrote in a statement. The release also noted that canceling the game wouldn’t affect any teams that qualify for the playoffs.
Playing the game, Goodell said, would have required postponing the start of the playoffs by a week, affecting all 14 teams that qualified for the postseason.
“As we considered the football schedule, our principles have been to limit disruption across the league and minimize competitive inequities,” Goodell added.
Other fans, like Joanne Farmer, believe canceling the game was best for all teams. It also gives the Bengals and Bills can “move on” from what they experienced over the past few days, she added.
While Boiman feels in a perfect world the Bengals and Bills would have played the game, he acknowledged there was no perfect solution for these extraordinary circumstances.
“At the end of the day, it’s football no matter where you play,” he said. “You show up, do your job and try to win the game.”