NFL rules Bills-Bengals a 'no contest' and AFC title game may be at neutral site as owners prepare to vote on 'inequities'
The NFL announced Thursday night that it has canceled the remainder of the Monday Night Football game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals and will designate the game as a “no contest,” leaving the two franchises with only 16 games in the 2022 schedule.
That decision — which comes on the heels of a postponement following the cardiac arrest and subsequent hospitalization of Bills safety Damar Hamlin during Monday’s game — will be followed by a special league meeting on Friday, in which team owners will vote on a playoff plan to balance out potential “competitive inequities.”
In a statement, the league said the cancellation was made after determining three factors: that resolving the game wouldn’t impact the playoff qualification of Buffalo and Cincinnati (which had both already clinched postseason bids); that completing the game would require the NFL to push back the playoffs by one week, thereby impacting all 14 postseason teams; and that making the decision preserves the ability of playoff teams to begin postseason preparations now, rather than waiting for a seeding resolution through an additional week of play.
Given that the AFC’s No. 1 seed could have been impacted by the resolution of the Bills-Bengals game, with Buffalo having been in contention to wrestle the top seed away from the Kansas City Chiefs, the league’s competition committee and commissioner Roger Goodell drew up a set of scenarios for owners to vote on Friday to smooth out advantages that could result from the cancellation.
Scenario 1: Buffalo and Kansas City both win or tie in Week 18 — a Buffalo vs. Kansas City AFC championship game would be at a neutral site.
Scenario 2: Buffalo and Kansas City both lose in Week 18 and Baltimore wins or ties — a Buffalo vs. Kansas City AFC 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 AFC championship game would be at a neutral site.
Furthermore, if Baltimore defeats Cincinnati in Week 18, it will have swept the divisional opponent Bengals, 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 for a 17-game schedule.
If Baltimore defeats Cincinnati and if those two clubs are scheduled to play a wild-card game against one another, the site for that game would be determined by a coin toss. If Cincinnati wins the Week 18 game or if Baltimore and Cincinnati are not scheduled to play one another in the wild-card round, the game sites would be determined by the regular scheduling procedures.
Goodell said these three scenarios were the league’s best answer to the disruption in the race for the AFC’s top seed and anything else impacted.
“As we considered the football schedule, our principles have been to limit disruption across the league and minimize competitive inequities,” Goodell said. “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.”
Owners are expected to convene via an online meeting Friday to discuss the plan prior to an expected vote in the afternoon.