Bills vs. Bengals canceled: Breaking down playoff scenarios and neutral-site games

An NFL playoffs logo is painted onto a field.
Because of the Bills-Bengals game cancellation, the NFL could be presenting postseason games at neutral sites.
(Elise Amendola / Associated Press)

First, the unprecedented decision.

Next, the creative solutions.

The NFL announced late Thursday that the Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals game — suspended after Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field — will not resume and has been canceled.

The news comes amid positive developments in the recovery of Hamlin, who remains in intensive care at University of Cincinnati Medical Center but has shown dramatic improvement.

“While there’s a long way to go, all signs are optimistic, highly optimistic, and point to what is likely to be a full neurologic recovery,” said Dr. Thom Mayer, medical director the the NFL Players Assn.

After suffering cardiac arrest, Damar Hamlin has shown remarkable improvement, even asking if his Bills had beaten the Bengals when he woke. That game has been canceled.

Jan. 5, 2023


Meanwhile, with the postseason little more than a week away, nullifying Bills-Bengals leaves the seeding in the AFC in flux, creating potential competitive inequities. So the NFL will conduct a special league meeting Friday to consider a resolution recommended by commissioner Roger Goodell and approved Thursday by the competition committee.

Whereas Buffalo and Cincinnati will finish with 16 games, while the other 30 teams will have played 17 each.

If the Bills and/or Bengals advance to the AFC championship game — and if they might have played host to that but for the cancellation of their suspended matchup — the title game will be held at a neutral site.

Week 18 results factor into possible scenarios:

Damar Hamlin’s injury on national TV was shocking and painful to watch. Will it cause fans to second-guess their love of the game? Experts say no.

Jan. 5, 2023

Scenario 1: Buffalo and Kansas City both win or both tie — a Buffalo versus Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.

Scenario 2: Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Baltimore wins or ties — a Buffalo versus Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.


Scenario 3: Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Cincinnati wins — a Buffalo or Cincinnati versus Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.

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.

The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners in NFL Week 18. The Bengals will beat the Ravens while Chargers win and Rams lose.

Jan. 6, 2023

“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.”

Goodell praised the first responders and other medical personnel who successfully restarted Hamlin’s heart, including performing CPR on him for nine minutes on the field.

“This has been a very difficult week,” Goodell said. “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.”

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field Monday night in Cincinnati. Here’s our coverage.

Jan. 28, 2023