NFL Owners Approve Modified AFC Playoffs with Possible Neutral Site Title Game

Adam WellsJanuary 6, 2023

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - JANUARY 01: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs warms up prior to the game against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on January 01, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)
David Eulitt/Getty Images

NFL owners have approved a resolution to modify the AFC playoffs, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk noted the proposal received 25 yes votes, with 24 needed. Three or four owners voted against the proposal, with the rest abstaining.

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>

The league announced on Thursday the Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game from Week 17 was canceled and wouldn't be made up.

Per the official memo sent out, the NFL proposed holding the AFC Championship Game at a neutral site if necessary and using a coin flip to determine home-field advantage for a wild-card game between the Bengals and Baltimore Ravens if the Ravens win in Week 18 and those two teams would play in the first round of the playoffs.

Tom Pelissero @TomPelissero

Will there actually be a neutral site AFC Championship Game? Here are the scenarios via <a href="https://twitter.com/NFLResearch?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFLResearch</a> <a href="https://t.co/MVNXHItud2">pic.twitter.com/MVNXHItud2</a>

Responding to a question about why the NFL adjusted its rules, Rich McKay, chairman of the league's competition committee, said you have to make changes when faced with certain situations.

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

Rich McKay, Competition Committee chair, says when asked why they didn't stick with the rules (<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Bengals?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Bengals</a> question): "We don't capture everything in every rule. When you face situations, you have to try to make adjustments. Not that different from some of the COVID-related issues."

Monday's game between the Bills and Bengals was suspended late in the first quarter after Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest after collapsing on the field.

Per a statement from the Bills released on Friday, physicians at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center announced Hamlin's breathing tube was removed overnight, "his neurologic function remains intact and he has been able to talk to his family and care team."

The Bills also said Hamlin FaceTimed into Friday's team meeting to speak with teammates and coaches.

After previously announcing there would be no changes to the Week 18 schedule and the Bills-Bengals game wouldn't be resumed this week, the NFL canceled the Bills-Bengals matchup altogether.

The results from Week 18 are the first domino that will fall to determine if a neutral-site AFC Championship Game could be needed.

A potential Bills-Chiefs AFC title game would be played at a neutral site if both teams win on Sunday or if both teams lose and the Bengals lose to the Baltimore Ravens.

If the Bills and Chiefs both lose and the Bengals beat the Ravens, a Bills or Bengals vs. Chiefs AFC Championship Game would be played at a neutral site.

Per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, the Bengals (11-4) will be recognized as AFC North champions regardless of what happens in Sunday's game against the Ravens (10-6) by virtue of having a better winning percentage.

Heading into Week 18, the Chiefs (13-3) currently own the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. The Bills (12-3) and Bengals will only play 16 games. Both teams have head-to-head victories over Kansas City earlier this season.