NFL Cancels Bills/Bengals Game, Calls Special League Meeting to Discuss Potential Playoff Ramifications

The game between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals that was suspended after Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field will not be completed, the NFL announced on Thursday.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell informed all clubs of his decision on Thursday, after speaking with the Bills, the Bengals and NFL Players Association leadership.

“This has been a very difficult week,” Goodell said in a statement. “We continue to focus on the recovery of Damar Hamlin and are encouraged by the improvements in his condition as well as the tremendous outpouring of support and care for Damar and his family from across the country.”

Factoring into the decision: Not playing the game to its conclusion will have no effect on which clubs qualify for the postseason; resuming the game would require postponing the start of the playoffs for a week, affecting all 14 clubs that qualify for postseason play; making the decision prior to this weekend’s games enables all clubs to know the playoff possibilities prior to playing the final regular season games.

Since cancelling the Bills/Bengals game creates “potential competitive inequities in certain playoff scenarios,” NFL clubs will consider on Friday, in a special league meeting, a resolution consisting of two elements:

The AFC Championship Game will be played at a neutral site if the participating teams played an unequal number of games and both could have been the No.1 seed and hosted the game had all AFC clubs played a full 17-game regular season. Those circumstances involve Buffalo or Cincinnati qualifying for the game as a road team, and are listed below:

Scenario 1
Buffalo and Kansas City both win or both tie — a Buffalo vs. Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.

Scenario 2
Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Baltimore wins or ties — a Buffalo vs. Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.

Scenario 3
Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Cincinnati wins — a Buffalo or Cincinnati vs. Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.

If Baltimore defeats Cincinnati this weekend it will have defeated Cincinnati, a divisional opponent, twice but will not be able to host a playoff game because Cincinnati will have a higher winning percentage for a 16-game schedule than Baltimore will for a 17-game schedule. If those two clubs are scheduled to play a Wild Card game against one another, the site would be determined by a coin toss.

With the league heading into the final week of regular-season play, the playoff-clinching scenarios are as follows, per NFL Research:

* The Kansas City Chiefs can clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed with a win this Saturday afternoon against the Raiders (being the only team capable of reaching 14 wins).

*The Chiefs would also clinch the No. 1 seed if the Bills lose to the Patriots on Sunday afternoon.

*The Bills can clinch the No. 1 seed with a win vs. the Patriots and a Chiefs loss to the Raiders.

* The Bengals can clinch the No. 2 seed with a win against the Ravens and a Bills loss vs. the Patriots (using a “strength of victory” tiebreaker).

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