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NFL cancels Bills-Bengals game; AFC Championship game might be at neutral site

Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati was illuminated in blue earlier this week in support of Bills safety Damar Hamlin.Aaron Doster/Associated Press

As doctors provided positive updates Thursday on Bills safety Damar Hamlin as he recovers from cardiac arrest, the NFL officially canceled the Bengals-Bills game that had been suspended since Monday night.

The NFL also found a compromise solution for the Bills, Bengals, and Ravens as it pertains to playoff seeding and home-field advantage in the playoffs, including the possibility of playing the AFC Championship game on a neutral field.

The resolution, which was recommended by Roger Goodell and approved by the NFL’s competition committee, won’t become official until NFL owners vote Friday in a special session.

The resolution aims to create fairness out of a unique situation — Bills-Bengals is the first game in modern NFL history to be suspended after kickoff, and this year is the first in the modern NFL in which not every team will play the same number of games, which has a significant effect on the playoff standings.

The NFL chose this route instead of rescheduling the Bills-Bengals game, pushing the postseason back a week, and eliminating the bye week before the Super Bowl.


“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.”

Roger Goodell and the league made a few big decisions Thursday that will impact the rest of the season.Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press

The cancellation affects two races — for the AFC’s No. 1 seed between the Bills, Chiefs, and Bengals, and for the AFC North title between the Bengals and Ravens.

With the Bills and Bengals playing 16 games and everyone else playing 17, the NFL has determined that winning percentage will settle the playoff standings, but came up with a unique proposal to promote as much fairness as possible:


For the No. 1 seed: The 12-3 Bills have a head-to-head win over the Chiefs and previously controlled the No. 1 seed in the AFC. But with the cancellation, the 13-3 Chiefs nudged ahead because of winning percentage (.813 to .800). The 11-4 Bengals are No. 3 in the AFC, but also have a head-to-head win over the Chiefs, and had a shot at the No. 1 seed.

Goodell and the competition committee determined it wouldn’t be fair for the Chiefs to get home field in a playoff game against the Bills or Bengals given the circumstances.

The resolution states that an AFC Championship game between Bills-Chiefs or Bengals-Chiefs would be played at a neutral site. The NFL did not announce which neutral site would be used, but one possibility is Indianapolis, which is indoors and won’t be hosting playoff games this season.

However, should the Chiefs and Bills both win this weekend, the Chiefs still will be the No. 1 seed and will get the first-round bye.

This proposal ensures the Bills will have something to play for Sunday against the Patriots if the Chiefs beat the Raiders Saturday. The Bills will want to win Sunday to avoid having to play an AFC Championship game in Kansas City.

For the AFC North: The 11-4 Bengals have the lead over the 10-6 Ravens, but the Ravens won the first matchup, and the teams play Sunday. A Ravens win would give them a head-to-head sweep and the same amount of wins as the Bengals, but the Bengals at 11-5 would have a slight edge in winning percentage over the 11-6 Ravens (.688 to .647).


Should the Bengals and Ravens meet again in the wild-card round, the NFL determined it wouldn’t be fair to simply give the Bengals the home game. In that case, the location would be determined by a coin flip.

In announcing the proposal, Goodell expressed sympathy toward Hamlin and gratitude for medical personnel.

“This has been a very difficult week,” Goodell said. “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.”

Ben Volin can be reached at