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Schefter: NFL May Have Neutral-Site AFC Title Game After Bills, Bengals Postponement

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 5, 2023

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 25: The NFL logo is seen on the field prior to a game between the Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on December 25, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)
Megan Briggs/Getty Images

There may not be any home-field advantage at this year's AFC Championship Game.

Given the uncertainty regarding the conference standings and race for the No. 1 seed, after Monday's game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills was postponed when Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field, the NFL is exploring multiple options for how to proceed with seeding and the playoffs.

ESPN's Adam Schefter (h/t The Comeback) said Thursday he believes the league will not replay the Bengals and Bills game and could instead give the No. 1 seed the option to either have a first-round bye or home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with the No. 2 seed given the other path.

However, he said a "more viable and more discussed" option is to have the AFC Championship Game at a neutral site if it is between teams with a different number of games played due to Monday's circumstances.

Schefter also noted the league is accelerating the process of making a decision in light of positive updates regarding Hamlin's status.

The Bills announced Thursday that the safety "has demonstrated that he appears to be neurologically intact. His lungs continue to heal and he is making steady progress."

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport added that Hamlin "opened his eyes last night and is responsive."

While Hamlin's health overshadowed everything, after he collapsed and was eventually taken to the hospital, the race for the AFC's No. 1 seed was the biggest storyline going into the contest. After all, the Bengals, Bills and Kansas City Chiefs all had a chance at earning home-field advantage in the closing stretch of the regular season depending on the outcome.

Yet Buffalo and Cincinnati will have one fewer game than the Chiefs if their contest is eventually canceled.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk echoed Schefter's sentiments when he reported "current momentum is pointing toward not resuming the Bills-Bengals game, and declaring it a no contest. Playoff seeding then would be determined based on the outcome of the Week 18 games."

Such a decision would eliminate the Bengals from contention for that top seed, although it would also clinch the AFC North title for the reigning AFC champions.

Cincinnati could still earn the No. 2 seed with a win over the Baltimore Ravens and a Bills loss to the New England Patriots. Buffalo would need a win and a Chiefs loss to the Las Vegas Raiders for the No. 1 seed, while Kansas City could clinch that top spot with a win.

It remains to be seen whether that No. 1 seed will come with home-field advantage in the AFC Championship Game, though, given Thursday's updates.