Bills vs. Bengals Won't Resume, AFC Title Game Could Take Place at Neutral Site

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIJanuary 6, 2023

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) passes during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)
AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel

The NFL has ruled that Monday's Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals game, which was postponed after Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a first-quarter hit, will be ruled a no-contest.

The game carried significant AFC postseason seeding implications, and the NFL has released a memo (h/t ESPN's Adam Schefter) outlining the playoff possibilities now that the matchup will not resume. Of note, the AFC Championship Game may be held at a neutral site.

Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter

A neutral AFC Championship Game site now is possible, per the NFL: <a href="https://t.co/5gmd0drq7q">pic.twitter.com/5gmd0drq7q</a>

Of paramount importance is the health of Hamlin, though, and significantly encouraging updates came through on Thursday.

Buffalo Bills @BuffaloBills

<a href="https://t.co/4Fyd2JZVLb">pic.twitter.com/4Fyd2JZVLb</a>

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Recap from Damar Hamlin's doctors:<br><br>โ–ช Damar is awake and using a breathing tube<br>โ–ช Bills staff saved his life<br>โ–ช Damar is communicating through writing and asked who won the game<br>โ–ช Best possible outcome is for Damar to return to who he was before the game <a href="https://t.co/994h8YIUTf">pic.twitter.com/994h8YIUTf</a>

Amid positive reports on Hamlin's health since Monday, the league is moving forward with its previously scheduled Week 18 games on Saturday and Sunday.

With the Bills and Bengals playing one fewer game than the rest of the AFC, the NFL has to decide how to handle playoff seeding. According to the memo, a resolution recommended by Commissioner Roger Goodell and approved by the NFL's competition committee will be considered by league owners in a special meeting, which will be held Friday.

If the resolution is approved, here's how it looks as well as the reason for each component.

The 13-3 Kansas City Chiefs currently hold the No. 1 spot in the AFC standings. They will keep that position with a win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday.

The 12-3 Bills would have been the AFC's No. 1 seed with wins over the Bengals and also the New England Patriots on Sunday even if the Chiefs beat the Raiders. That's because they own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Kansas City by virtue of a 24-20 win on Oct. 16.

The 11-4 Bengals were fighting for two things simultaneously: the AFC North title and an outside shot at the No. 1 seed.

They would have jumped the Bills with a win last Monday and a victory against the Ravens (or a Bills loss to the Pats).

In addition, a 13-4 Bengals team could have overtaken the Chiefs if they lose to the Raiders. That would put Kansas City at 13-4, but the Bengals beat the Chiefs head-to-head 27-24 on Dec. 4.

It's clear the competition committee doesn't want to give the Chiefs home-field advantage in the AFC Championship Game in the event that a Bills or Bengals win in the no-contest game would have given that team the No. 1 seed.

Therefore, a neutral-site AFC Championship Game will go down in three circumstances, per ESPN's Field Yates.

Field Yates @FieldYates

A summary of the proposal for the AFC Championship Game:<br><br>14-3 Chiefs vs. 13-3 Bills: neutral site<br>13-4 Chiefs vs. 12-4 Bills: neutral site<br>13-4 Chiefs vs. 12-4 Bengals: neutral site<br><br>Week 18 has no bearing on a possible Bills-Bengals championship game: that would be in Buffalo.

There is one extra caveat.

If the Ravens beat the Bengals, they will own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Cincinnati, as they also topped them 19-17 on Oct. 9.

However, the 11-5 Bengals would have a half-game edge over the 11-6 Ravens. Hypothetically, a Cincinnati loss to Buffalo would have given the Ravens the division.

Under this scenario, the No. 6 seed Ravens and No. 3 seed Bengals would actually play each other in the AFC Wild Card Round if the 10-6 Los Angeles Chargers beat the Denver Broncos to get the No. 5 seed. The 11-6 Bolts would still own the tiebreaker over 11-6 Baltimore (8-4 conference record vs. 7-5).

If that goes down, the home-field team for the Bengals vs. Ravens game will be decided via coin flip, as NFL Network's Tom Pelissero noted.

Tom Pelissero @TomPelissero

The Bengals will be recognized as the AFC North champions regardless of the outcome of Sunday's game, per league source.<br><br>A coin flip could end up deciding home field in a playoff rematch with the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Ravens?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Ravens</a>. But Cincinnati has the higher winning percentage and has won the title.

The caveat here is that the Bengals are still recognized as the AFC North champions no matter what happens in Week 18.

Also, if the Chargers lose and the Ravens win, the Bengals will host the Chargers, and Baltimore will visit the AFC South winner. Either the Jacksonville Jaguars or Tennessee Titans, who play each other Saturday, will carry that designation.