The health and safety of Damar Hamlin comes first, but it is natural to wonder what comes next in the NFL. As we continue to send positive thoughts and prayers Hamlin’s way following today’s excellent news, let’s take a look at what the now-confirmed cancellation of Monday’s Buffalo Bills versus Cincinnati Bengals game means for the AFC playoff picture heading into Week 18.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recommended the following resolution on Thursday, which the league’s competition committee approved, and which will be voted on by owners during a special league meeting held tomorrow:
- Any AFC Championship Game scenario in which the Bills or the Bengals are the road team (making the Kansas City Chiefs the home team), and could have hosted the game had they played an equal number of games to the Chiefs, will be played at a neutral site. There are three such scenarios from Week 18: Bills and Chiefs both win; Bills, Chiefs, and Bengals all lose; or Bills and Chiefs lose, and Bengals win.
- Cincinnati has already clinched the AFC North with the cancellation, but if the Baltimore Ravens defeat the Bengals on Sunday to complete the season sweep and are scheduled to play each other in the Wild Card round (this is feasible if the Ravens are the No. 6 seed), the location of that game will be decided by a coin flip.
NFL clubs will consider Friday in a Special League Meeting a resolution recommended by the Commissioner and approved today by the Competition Committee, governing both the AFC Championship Game and ramifications on the AFC North winners. Here’s the two-part resolution: pic.twitter.com/2Cz8r8K4Zn— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 6, 2023
That leaves one scenario in which the Bills can host the AFC Championship Game: win the No. 1 seed outright. Yes, that is still possible.
The NFL’s non-divisional tiebreakers are copied below for reference. It’s important to note that NFL standings are not count based. The NFL uses percentage-based metrics to determine standings. For instance, it’s why teams change position when they have a bye week, or how Kansas City is considered first in the conference with Buffalo not playing this week. Put differently, the count continues, regardless of how many games each team has played.
Since the NFL has now canceled the Bills-Bengals game to allow the teams to focus on their Week 18 game as all members of the Bengals and Bills still process what happened on Monday night, here’s what that would mean for Buffalo:
Buffalo would not control their own destiny to the No. 1 seed. They’ll need a win and a Kansas City loss or tie to achieve it.
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. A victory over the Patriots would lock up the No. 2 seed, however, as Buffalo would remain one game ahead of Cincinnati even if the Bengals beat the Ravens.
If the Bills lose to the Patriots and the Bengals beat the Ravens, the tie-breaker list below will come in handy. The two teams would be tied head-to-head. They’d be tied for conference record (three losses each). This would also give them both a 7-3 record versus common opponents. Currently, the teams Cincinnati has beaten have three more wins than Buffalo’s. I can detail more in the comments, but the NFC South would have to collectively lose three games more than the NFC North this week in order for strength of victory to swing back in Buffalo’s favor. With the NFL’s schedule ending with intra-divisional matchups, that means the NFC North can only have two wins, and the South only two losses. In other words, there’d be no way to catch up. This would place the Bills with the No. 3 seed.
Non-division tie-breaking procedures for two clubs
- Head-to-head, if applicable.
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
- Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
- Strength of victory in all games.
- Strength of schedule in all games.
- Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.
- Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed in all games.
- Best net points in conference games.
- Best net points in all games.
- Best net touchdowns in all games.
- Coin toss.
AFC playoff picture, Week 18
|1||z — Kansas City Chiefs||13-3||5-0||8-3||+109||W4|
|2||z — Buffalo Bills||12-3||3-2||8-2||+157||W6|
|3||z — Cincinnati Bengals||11-4||2-3||7-3||+85||W7|
|5||x — Los Angeles Chargers||10-6||2-3||7-4||+10||W4|
|6||x — Baltimore Ravens||10-6||3-2||6-5||+46||L1|
|7||New England Patriots||8-8||3-2||6-5||+29||W1|