Yesterday, ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter provided a tease of what the revised AFC playoff format might look like in 2022 but on Friday, January 6, the league sent out an official press release on Twitter.
“Week 17 Buffalo-Cincinnati game will not be resumed,” the tweet read. “Clubs to consider neutral site AFC Championship game,” with a full statement attached.
ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler added that “a league meeting tomorrow [January 7] will vote on these proposed changes, which were approved by competition committee today.”
With this news, NFL reporter Ari Meirov announced that “the Chiefs will get the coveted No. 1 seed and a first-round bye if they beat the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday. [Buffalo] Bills and [Cincinnati] Bengals both have wins over KC, but Chiefs now in position to get the top seed.”
More on the NFL’s Decision to Alter AFC Playoff Format
No fan will be 100% satisfied with this proposal, but there are pros and cons for both the Chiefs and the Bills, as well as the Bengals. We will do our best to explain the rule changes below using knowledge from insiders around the league but first, the official word from the NFL.
“This has been a very difficult week,” Commissioner Roger Goodell began. “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.”
Continuing: “Cancelling the game between the Bills and Bengals creates potential competitive inequities in certain playoff scenarios. In an effort to mitigate those inequities, NFL clubs will consider tomorrow in a Special League Meeting a resolution recommended by the Commissioner and approved today by the Competition Committee, consisting of two elements.”
First rule change: “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.”
- Buffalo and Kansas City both win or both tie – a Buffalo vs Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.
- Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Baltimore wins or ties – a Buffalo vs Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.
- Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Cincinnati wins – a Buffalo or Cincinnati vs Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.
Second rule change (does not involve Chiefs): “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 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.”
Reactions Around Chiefs & NFL Communities
To sum all of that up: If the Chiefs beat the Raiders, they would get a first-round bye but homefield advantage is not guaranteed in the AFC Championship (could be a neutral site if Buffalo wins this weekend and makes it to AFCCG). If they lose, all bets are off.
Charles Goldman of USA Today’s Chiefs Wire called this “a pretty good solution to a bad situation,” adding that “the team with the biggest gripe here will be the Bengals if the [Baltimore] Ravens are the 6 seed. Losing [homefield advantage] to a coin toss doesn’t sit right.”
On the flip side, Fowler did note that while “the Chiefs still in line for the No. 1 seed… the Bills get an advantage in these changes, too — avoiding an AFCCG in Arrowhead.”
Chiefs Kingdom may not be happy about this decision, but Bills Mafia was even more upset on social media. The KC Star’s Sam McDowell explained this, calling it “obvious.”
“The Bills were the only team in the NFL that controlled its own fate for the No. 1 seed,” he wrote. “It was just stripped from them [after the cancelation].”
Arrowhead Pride’s Pete Sweeney collected his thoughts and tweeted: “There was no perfect way to do this: extreme circumstances regarding player safety, time left before the playoffs and the AFC contenders involved. Every team impacted had to give a little. What it’s led to: for the Chiefs, a win against the 6-10 Raiders on Saturday is now the same as a *playoff victory* And if the Chiefs beating the Raiders happens — only the Bills (who would have to win Wk18 and 2 playoff games) could force a neutral AFC title site. The Chiefs could not have made out much better in terms of competitive advantage in this plan.”
Here is one last perspective from a Bills fan (Bills Chat Podcast on Twitter), who voiced: “My advice to all of you is don’t spend too much time today being upset with the Chiefs. Are they technically gaining an advantage? Yeah. But they didn’t ask for this. They are hurting just like the rest of the NFL is. This is a bad situation all around with no perfect solution.”
It sounds like every team had to give a little in this scenario, but if KC can take care of business on Saturday, the only team they would have to play on a neutral site would be the Bills if they beat the New England Patriots. All in all, most Chiefs fans will probably take those odds.
NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport relayed the following on a neutral site: “Why is Ford Field in Detroit not available for a possible neutral site AFC Championship game? I’m told in mid-January they have a previously planned change-out of their turf… And by the way: An outdoor stadium for three outdoor teams — the Chiefs, the Bills, and the Bengals — is definitely part of the discussion. A possibility at the least.”
Chiefs Digest reporter Matt Derrick also confirmed that “there is no scenario where KC ends up worse than the No. 2 seed.”