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Bills-Bengals canceled; NFL to consider neutral-site AFC title game

The Buffalo Bills gather while CPR is administered to Damar Hamlin at the game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2, 2023.

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The Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game that was halted Monday when Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin experienced a cardiac arrest on the field will not be resumed or replayed, the NFL announced Thursday night.

As a result, the Bills and Bengals will have their postseason positions determined based on their winning percentage for a 16-game season rather than the 17-game slot played by all other NFL teams.

Due to the resulting disparity, the league recommended changes to playoff ramifications that team owners will consider in a special league meeting Friday. Chiefly, the AFC Championship Game would be played at a neutral site if the home team for that contest ordinarily would have been settled in part by the result of the now-canceled game.

“This has been a very difficult week,” NFL commissioner Roger 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. We are also incredibly appreciative of the amazing work of the medical personnel and commend each and every one of them.”

The league noted in its announcement that no teams will make the playoffs or be eliminated from contention based on the Bills-Bengals game being canceled. The NFL also decided against postponing the entire playoff slate just to make up the game in Cincinnati.

By announcing the decision on the fate of the halted game prior to the Week 18 slate that will conclude the regular season on Sunday, the NFL said that all teams now will enter their finales knowing exactly what scenarios are in play.

The AFC title game would be played at a neutral site if any of three possibilities occur:

–If Buffalo (12-3) and Kansas City (13-3) both win or tie this weekend, a Bills-Chiefs championship game would be held at a neutral site.

–If the Bills and Chiefs both lose this weekend and the Baltimore Ravens (10-6) win or tie, a Buffalo-Kansas City championship game would be played at a neutral site.

–If the Bills and Chiefs both lose and Bengals win, Buffalo-Kansas City or Cincinnati-Kansas City AFC title game would be held at a neutral site.

In addition, if the Ravens defeat the Bengals (11-4) on Sunday, giving Baltimore a season sweep of Cincinnati, the teams would end with the same number of wins, but the Bengals would have fewer losses. Should those teams wind up facing off in a wild-card game, the NFL will hold a coin toss to determine the home team.

The site of any other wild-card game involving either of those teams would be determined per standard procedure.

“As we considered the football schedule, our principles have been to limit disruption across the league and minimize competitive inequities,” Goodell said in a statement. “I recognize that there is no perfect solution. The proposal we are asking the ownership to consider, however, addresses the most significant potential equitable issues created by the difficult, but necessary, decision not to play the game under these extraordinary circumstances.”

–Field Level Media