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NFL owners approve resolution to adjust AFC playoffs, including potential neutral title game site

NFL owners approved a resolution Friday during a Special League Meeting to potentially adjust the AFC postseason, including possibly playing a conference championship game at a neutral site, the league announced on Friday.

Friday’s resolution consists of two main elements:

1) The AFC Championship Game will be played at a neutral site if:

  • Buffalo (12-3) and Kansas City (13-3) both win or tie in Week 18 + both teams advance to the AFC title game.
  • Buffalo (12-3) and Kansas City (13-3) both lose + Cincinnati (11-4) also loses or ties in Week 18 + Buffalo and Kansas City advance to the AFC title game.
  • Buffalo (12-3) and Kansas City (13-3) both lose + Cincinnati (11-4) wins + the AFC title game is either Bills-Chiefs or Bengals-Chiefs.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will determine the neutral site of the title game, if one is required.

2) If the Ravens (10-6) defeat Cincinnati in Week 18 and the Chargers (10-6) beat the Denver Broncos, and if Baltimore and Cincinnati 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.

“We believe this is a focused approach that will only affect four teams, and directly address the potential for competitive inequity resulting from 30 teams playing 17 games and two playing 16 games,” Goodell said during a Friday conference call. “It was critical for the owners to vote today so that clubs know going into this weekend what they’re playing for.”

The resolution was recommended Thursday in conjunction with the cancellation of the Week 17 Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game, which the NFL initially postponed Monday after Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field. Hamlin had his breathing tube removed overnight and “continues to progress remarkably in his recovery,” the Bills announced Friday, per physicians at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

“It has been a tough week. I will tell you the No. 1 thing for us was to focus on Damar, what we could do to ensure the best outcome,” Goodell said in an interview with NFL Network on Friday afternoon. “While there is more to do, we’re just proud to see him where he is. In addition to that, it was really a focus on making sure we were communicating and we were making sure that everyone was aware of every bit of information so we could make the best possible decisions. As we got into the middle of the week, it was focused more on how do we move forward on the rescheduling of the game, if so, and if not, what would be the ramifications. It’s been a busy week, but one that ends on a much higher and hopeful note.”

Monday night’s game had major playoff implications going into it, with the AFC North title, the top seed in the conference and a first-round bye potentially at stake. Its cancellation forced the NFL to assess how to mitigate potential competitive inequities as the postseason nears.

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor talked to the media on Friday prior to the resolution’s passing, and expressed his displeasure.

“As far as I’m concerned, we just want the rules to be followed,” Taylor said, per the Cincinnati Enquirer. “When a game is canceled, you just turn to winning percentage to clarify everything so we don’t have to make up rules.”

NFL Competition Committee chair Rich McKay explained the Ravens-Bengals aspect of the league’s resolution during Friday’s conference call.

“Because you’re in a situation where Baltimore is going to play one more game than Cincinnati and you’re getting into a situation where they actually are going to play this weekend,” McKay said, “it’s hard to figure out. There’s no perfect equity result here.

“But what we recommended and what the membership passed was allow this game to obviously have the ultimate meaning this weekend.”

McKay said that the league gave the teams affected by the changes enacted on Friday “a lot” of input.

“There was plenty given to [the Bengals] because they are the affected team, so you wanted to hear from them,” McKay said.

As to why the league didn’t stick to the rules which state that winning percentage is the determining factor in seeding, McKay demurred.

“I would say it’s not necessarily (rules) weren’t followed,” he said. “We don’t capture everything in every rule and every policy manual. Sometimes when you face situations, you have to try to make adjustments.”

The Chiefs enter Week 18 as the AFC’s No. 1 seed and take on the Raiders on Saturday afternoon. The Bills, currently No. 2, host the Patriots and the Bengals (No. 3) play the Ravens on Sunday.



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