Potential NFL Playoffs Changes: What Ownership Will Vote on Friday

The AFC Championship Game could be played at a neutral field if ownership approves the NFL playoffs changes proposed by the league Thursday.

The NFL announced potential significant changes to the NFL playoffs late Thursday night after officially canceling the remaining three and a half quarters of the Buffalo Bills vs. Cincinnati Bengals game.

These major modifications to the league’s championship tournament will be voted upon by ownership at an emergency meeting of ownership Friday (January 6) at noon.

Potential Changes to NFL Playoffs

In a statement released by the league late Tuesday, they revealed potential changes to the NFL playoffs intended to mitigate the competitive disadvantage that would come with two of the AFC’s three best teams playing one fewer game than the rest of the league.

The resolution, approved Thursday by the competition committee, will be brought before ownership Friday for a vote. Rather than paraphrasing the league’s release laying out the proposal, we’re providing it in full.

“The AFC Championship Game will be played at a neutral site if the participating teams played an unequal number of games and both could have been the number one seed and hosted the game had all AFC clubs played a full 17-game regular season. Those circumstances involve Buffalo or Cincinnati qualifying for the game as a road team and are listed below.

Scenario 1
Buffalo and Kansas City both win or both tie – a Buffalo vs Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.

Scenario 2
Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Baltimore wins or ties – a Buffalo vs Kansas City 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 championship game would be at a neutral site.

2. If Baltimore defeats Cincinnati in Week 18, it will have defeated Cincinnati, a divisional opponent, twice 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 will for a 17-game schedule.

If Baltimore defeats Cincinnati and if those two clubs are schedule[d] to play a Wild Card game against one another, the site for that game would be determi[ned 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.”

Statement From Roger Goodell

“As we considered the football schedule, our principles have been to limit disruption across the league and minimize competitive inequities,” said NFL Commissioner Goodell. “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.”

The NFL elected to cancel the remainder of Bills-Bengals — which was suspended late in the first quarter after Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field — after consultation with the Bills, Bengals and the NFL Players Association leadership.

The league determined cancelation was the best of several imperfect options because ending that game without a winner had no impact on which teams would make the playoffs and making it up would require the postponement of the start of the postseason.

“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.”

Impact of Bills-Bengals Cancellation

The league owners will ultimately decide what changes to the postseason are needed to achieve maximum competitive fairness following the extraordinary events of the last week.

By declaring Bills-Bengals a no contest — which the Associated Press first reported — the league guaranteed Cincinnati a home playoff game. The Bengals are AFC North champions, as the Ravens cannot catch them in the standings even with a win against Cincinnati in Week 18. The Bengals will be the AFC’s No. 2 or 3 seed. The Ravens will be the No. 5 or 6.

The league’s decision to cancel also means the Kansas City Chiefs can clinch the conference’s No. 1 seed with a win Saturday against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Both the Bengals and Bills had a chance to claim home-field advantage had they won their final two games. Cincinnati also needed Kansas City to lose Saturday for the 1 seed, but the Bills had controlled its own destiny.

Wins in Weeks 17 and 18 would have been enough for Buffalo to have home field. Now, the Bills will need to beat the Patriots and have the Chiefs lose to the Raiders for the 1 seed.

It’s a clear competitive disadvantage for a Bills team that has already been through so much this year. Two major snowstorms caused significant disruption to Buffalo’s season.

But that was a minor inconvenience compared to Monday night’s near-tragedy-turned-miracle. Quick-acting medics saved Hamlin’s life. He’s since made an incredible recovery and upon waking up, was even able to ask doctors who won Monday’s game.

In the end, neither the Bengals nor the Bills did. Hamlin was the real winner, as his doctors told him at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

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