EXPLAINER: What Bills-Bengals cancellation does to playoffs

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (85) runs near Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) during the first half of an NFL football game, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Cincinnati. Hamlin was injured on the play. The game has been postponed after Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin collapsed, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel) (Joshua A. Bickel, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The NFL’s decision to cancel the Bills-Bengals game has major playoff implications for several teams.

The league is changing the rules for the postseason to accommodate the cancellation after owners voted in a special meeting Friday in favor of a resolution recommended by Commissioner Roger Goodell and approved by the competition committee a day before.

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Goodell said in a statement that the hope is to “limit disruption across the league and minimize competitive inequities."

The Bills-Bengals game was suspended Monday night after Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin collapsed and went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated on the field. The 24-year-old was breathing on his own and able to talk Friday morning after having his breathing tube removed, and physicians said Thursday he was making “remarkable improvement.”

Buffalo (12-3) entered Monday night needing a win to maintain the AFC’s No. 1 seed. The Kansas City Chiefs (13-3) now hold that spot. Cincinnati (11-4) had a chance to earn the top seed with two more wins and a loss by the Chiefs.


Not playing the game to its conclusion will have no effect on which teams qualify for the postseason. No team would qualify for the postseason or be eliminated based on the outcome of the game.

Resuming the game would impact the 12 other teams in the postseason field because it would force the league to push the start of the playoffs back one week. The decision to cancel one game has the least effect on the majority of the league.


Instead of canceling the game and awarding playoff seeding by winning percentage, the NFL implemented several changes.

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 No. 1 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. If Buffalo and Kansas City both win or tie this weekend, a Bills-Chiefs AFC title game would be at a neutral site.

If Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Baltimore wins or ties, a Bills-Chiefs AFC title game would be at a neutral site.

If Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Cincinnati wins, Bills or Bengals against Kansas City in the AFC title game would be at a neutral site.

Also, if Baltimore defeats Cincinnati in Week 18, the Ravens would have two wins over the divisional opponent Bengals but would not be able to host a playoff game because Cincinnati will have a higher winning percentage for a 16-game schedule than Baltimore with a 17-game schedule.

Therefore, if Baltimore defeats Cincinnati and if those two clubs are scheduled to play a wild-card game against each another, the site for that game would be determined by a coin toss.

But if the Bengals win this weekend or if Baltimore and Cincinnati are not scheduled to play each other in the wild-card round, the game sites would be determined by the regular scheduling procedures.


The Bills, Bengals, Chiefs and Ravens, because of three neutral-site possibilities for the AFC championship game and the coin-flip option for home-field advantage for a potential Ravens-Bengals wild-card matchup.


It's the first time since 1935 that every team will not play an equal number of games. The NFL’s 2022 policy manual for game operations states “a team’s standing in its division or in its conference” will be determined by winning percentage if a game is canceled. Due to the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the canceled game, the league proposed new rules.


The league is exploring several options, including indoor and outdoor stadiums. Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, has a potential conflict because of a volleyball tournament.


Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi


AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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