NFL playoff picture: What Bills vs. Bengals cancellation means for AFC seeding

Quick Bit: The Bengals and Bills will not resume their Week 17 game. Here’s what that means for the AFC playoffs.

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The NFL on Thursday canceled the remainder of the Bengals-Bills Week 17 game.

The “Monday Night Football” clash was stopped when Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field after suffering cardiac arrest. The teams went into their respective locker rooms with about six minutes to play in the first quarter and did not return to the field.

Hamlin’s heartbeat was restored on the field. On Thursday, he communicated with doctors at University of Cincinnati Medical Center and showed “substantial improvement,” in the doctors’ estimation. He remains in critical condition.

After the postponement, there was plenty of speculation about would happen with the remainder of the game. Some proposals to resume the game would have drastically altered playoff schedules; canceling the game would mean settling a division race and eliminating one — if not both — teams from No. 1-seed contention.

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The NFL ultimately concluded that because the game neither eliminated nor qualified any teams for the playoffs, it would be better to keep the playoff schedule intact and create potential solutions to address inequities created by the game being canceled. The league’s proposal is pending approval by team owners on Friday.

Here’s a look at how the game not being completed will impact playoff seeding in the AFC, based on the league’s proposal:

Start with the seeding in the AFC. When the Bengals and Bills took the field on “Monday Night Football,” the Bills were leading the race for the No. 1 seed and the Bengals had an outside chance of reaching the top. Neither is true following the cancellation.

The Chiefs moved into the No. 1 seed, with the Bills dropping to second. It would now take a win by the Bills against the Patriots on Sunday and a loss by the Chiefs to the Raiders on Saturday for Buffalo to reclaim the No. 1 spot. Cincinnati is eliminated from contention for the No. 1 seed. The Bengals could have captured the No. 1 seed by beating the Bills and Ravens to end the year and the Chiefs losing to the Raiders.

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Now, the best Cincinnati can do is the No. 2 seed, which it would get if the Bills lose and the Bengals win. The Chiefs can clinch the top spot by beating the Raiders.

There’s also the matter of home-field advantage in the playoffs. The NFL’s proposal addresses who would play at home among Kansas City, Buffalo and Cincinnati in the AFC championship game. The proposal does not impact the divisional round; a Bills-Bengals result could have decided which teams played at home or on the road.

The cancellation sets up the possibility of the AFC championship being held at a neutral site. For that to happen, both teams in the game would have had a chance at the No. 1 seed in a full 17-game schedule, and the teams did not play the same number of games. There are three scenarios for Week 18 that would create a neutral-site AFC championship game:

If Bills and Chiefs win or tie in Week 18, a Bills-Chiefs AFC championship would be at a neutral site.
If Bills and Chiefs lose, or Ravens win or tie, a Bills-Chiefs AFC championship would be at a neutral site.
If Bills and Chiefs lose, and the Bengals win, an AFC matchup featuring the Chiefs vs. either the Bills or Bengals would be at a neutral site.

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The only way the Bills and Bengals could play in the AFC championship is if the Bills beat the Patriots and the Raiders beat the Chiefs this weekend to send Buffalo to the No. 1 seed. Otherwise, the teams would meet in Buffalo or Cincinnati in the divisional round, assuming both teams win their wild-card round matchups. Given NFL playoff seeding, the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds cannot both advance to the divisional round and not face each other.

Lastly, there’s also the AFC North race to consider. For the first time in franchise history, the Bengals claimed back-to-back division titles when Monday’s game was canceled. But they also be a division winner that doesn’t host a playoff game.

The Ravens lost to the Steelers on “Sunday Night Football” and immediately knew they would need help to win the AFC North. They needed the Bills to beat the Bengals and then to beat Cincinnati themselves on the road in Week 18. Because the outcome of Monday’s game would have determined whether the Ravens had a chance to win the division, the NFL has proposed giving them a chance to host a playoff game. If the Ravens beat Cincinnati in Week 18 and the two are set to face off in the AFC wild-card round, a coin flip would determine home-field advantage.

The only way they would face off in the wild-card round is if Baltimore is the No. 6 seed, which is guaranteed if the Chargers beat the Broncos on Sunday, regardless of what happens in Cincinnati. If the Chargers lose, a Ravens-Bengals wild-card matchup would still happen if Cincinnati and the Bills both win in Week 18.

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This proposal still requires a vote by team owners. According to ProFootballTalk, a 24-vote supermajority will likely be needed, which means there’s a chance these conditinons could change.

But with Week 18 rapidly approaching and teams hoping to know the impact of the games on Saturday and Sunday, there will be plenty of incentive to have a quick resolution.

Originally found on Sporting News Read More

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