ESPN’s Adam Schefter followed up the day after with a written report detailing the entire Bengals organization is “livid” with the situation:
“While the league told the Bengals they should be happy they have been declared the AFC North winners, the Bengals were furious that the rules were changed on the fly and their playoff path has been intentionally altered.”
That portrayal of the league’s talks toward the Bengals is where the organization finds major fault, though.
The Bengals could have won the AFC North with a win in Week 17 against the Bills in a game now classified as a no-contest and potentially rested starters against the Ravens in Week 18. Now the Bengals have to play and win against the Ravens and if they lose, they’ll be subjected to a coin toss that could give the Ravens home-field advantage over the third-seeded, AFC North champions if a playoff rematch happens in the Wild Card round.
Schefter put it best in the writeup: “The Bengals could become the first NFL team ever to win its division and open the wild-card round on the road.”
In addition to that, being named AFC North champions mid-week means the Bengals inherit the difficulty of a divisional champion’s schedule next season, yet could lose the benefit of a home playoff game.
The organization’s other major beef is that there are already rules in place in the event of a no-contest, which says playoff seeding merely goes by winning percentage. The NFL instead created his one-time rule of a coin-toss and voted to approve it while also creating stipulations that the AFC title game could be played on a neutral field.
Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn argued that a vote on a rule change mid-season (or in this case right before the playoffs) is unfair because voting parties could have a vested interest in the results and sets a bad precedent for in-season rulebook alterations.
Had the NFL just followed the established rules or had potentially offered the same coin-toss or neutral field stipulations should the Bengals need to go on the road against the Bills in the divisional round, the organization probably wouldn’t have a complaint.
But the Bengals do because the NFL did not, so the Bengals will have to win Sunday and deal with a possible playoff path that has been unfavorably altered when they had entered Week 17 controlling that path.