The NFL released a statement on Thursday, January 5 that announced the Buffalo Bills (12-3) Week 17 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals would “not be resumed and has been canceled.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the league memo, “This has been a very difficult week. 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.”
Ahead of Week 17, the Bills sat in first place atop the AFC while the Bengals were right on their heels in third place just behind the Kansas City Chiefs. With the Bills-Bengals matchup declared a no-contest, the Bills no longer control their destiny. The only path for the Bills to retain the No.1 seed in the AFC is to beat the New England Patriots on Sunday, January 8, and hope the Chiefs lose to the Las Vegas Raiders.
If the Bills lose to the Patriots, and the Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens in Week 18, Buffalo will fall to the No. 3 seed. In any other combo, the Bills finish with the No. 2 seed.
The league memo stated that rescheduling the Bills-Bengals matchup “would require postponing the start of the playoffs for one week, thereby affecting all 14 clubs that qualify for postseason play.” Goodell acknowledged that deciding not to resume the game isn’t completely fair, but will affect the least amount of teams heading into the playoffs.
“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.”
There’s a Strong Chance the AFC Championship Game Will Be Played at a Neutral Location
The NFL noted that they wanted to make the final decision before the Week 18 matchups commenced so all clubs can be aware of the “playoff possibilities prior to playing the final weekend of regular season games.” What still remains to be decided is which teams will clinch home-field advantage in the postseason.
Even if the Bills win in Week 18, the Chiefs (13-3) will remain the No. 1 seed and get a bye if they defeat the Raiders. SB Nation reported, “With a victory over the New England Patriots, they’d end with a 13-3 record for a winning percentage of 0.8125. A Kansas City victory over the Las Vegas Raiders would put them at 14-3, for a percentage of 0.8235, barely edging out Buffalo.”
However, 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,” the NFL’s memo read. These are three scenarios in which this could play out:
1. Buffalo and Kansas City both win or both tie – a Buffalo vs Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.
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.
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.
ESPN‘s Jeremy Fowler pointed out on Twitter, “The Chiefs still in line for the No. 1 seed, but the Bills get an advantage in these changes, too — avoiding an AFCCG in Arrowhead. Buffalo wasn’t crazy about going back there a third straight year. Instead, it would be a neutral site.”
Where this neutral site would be located has not been decided, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. “Also, once the seeding is set 1-7, it doesn’t change. So the neutral site possibility only applies to the AFC Championship Game, not divisional round matchups.”
Damar Hamlin’s Father Encouraged the Bills to Play on Sunday
After such a traumatic night at Paycor Stadium on Monday, January 2, it was hard to imagine how the Bills would push through and play on Sunday, especially with their teammate still in the ICU. However, a video call from Hamlin’s father, Mario, changed everything.
Bills head coach Sean McDermott said during a press conference on Thursday, “Damar’s father spoke to the team and really his message was, the team needs to get back to focusing on the goals that they had set for themselves. Damar would have wanted it that way. And so that includes our game against New England this week. And I think that has helped.”
Mario Hamlin relayed to the team what Dr. Timothy Pritts and Dr. William Knight revealed during a press conference on Thursday afternoon. While the 24-year-old safety remains intubated at UC Medical Center to assist with breathing, his signs of physical and neurological improvement are remarkable.
“It’s not only that the lights are on. We know that he’s home. It appears all the cylinders are firing within his brain,” Dr. Pritts said.
At the end of the day, however, McDermott’s heart remains focused on Hamlin and his family. When asked about Hamlin’s GoFundMe Toy Drive, which has reached nearly $8 million in donations, McDermott got incredibly emotional. “It’s amazing to me to know the impact that this has had on so many people,” McDermott said. “And for now, Damar to be awake and his mom to be able to share that with him is incredible.”