Monday night’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals was canceled amid the shocking and sad cardiac event Bills safety Damar Hamlin experienced on the field. I haven’t heard any criticism of that cancellation as teammates and fans were emotional and shaken up and frankly nobody wanted to continue the game. If any critiques have been levied, it was that the decision took too long to come down and be announced.
On Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced in a press release the decision that the game would not be rescheduled and laid out proposed rule changes including that the AFC Championship would be played at a neutral site.
Week 17 Buffalo-Cincinnati game will not be resumed. Clubs to consider neutral site AFC Championship game.
Full statement: pic.twitter.com/NwqUwxlbzo
— NFL (@NFL) January 6, 2023
While Hamlin’s speedy recovery progress has come as good news to fans and teams this week, the decisions being made in the aftermath are not being received with the same collective relief. From the time of this proposal, I knew that the neutral territory meant the forfeiture of an earned home-field advantage for my beloved Kansas City Chiefs. The fact is, Kansas City is the number one seed in the AFC, with a 13-3 record, followed by the Buffalo Bills at 12-3. Not only are the Chiefs the winningest team in their division, but they are also currently tied with the Philadelphia Eagles as the team with the most wins in the league. No team has won more than the Chiefs, period.
Football viewers may agree that the Chiefs-Bills games have been defining moments in this era of the sport. These decisions, rivalries, and storylines are not inconsequential to fans, clubs, or the league, itself. They are at the heart of this competition and why we keep tuning in year after year. Here’s a look back to just over one year ago in a game called “One of, if not the greatest game in football history,” as described by a Chiefs fan account.
2022 gave us one of, if not the, greatest game in football history as the Chiefs beat the Bills in OT. Two QB’s duelling at a ridiculous level and Patrick Mahomes showing that you can’t leave him with any time left on the clock!
WHAT. A. GAME!
— Let’s Chat Chiefs (@LetsChatChiefs) December 31, 2022
Per the rules that already existed, in a scenario such as this, the win percentage would be used in determining playoff seeding, and, more importantly, home-field advantage for divisional championships and wild card games. For the Chiefs and the Bills, the current percentages are .813 and .800, respectively.
On Friday, the league’s club owners voted and approved the rule changes, with Kansas City abstaining because of a perception of bias, at minimum, and the Buffalo Bills voting no. This means, neither the first nor second-ranked teams approved this change. The changes laid out multiple scenarios where the AFC Championship would be played at a neutral site.
Meanwhile, the Bengals sitting in third place behind the Bills in the AFC are competing for a wild-card playoff berth. Not only did Cincinnati’s owners vote no on the proposal, but they also implored other teams to reject it as well. That sentiment was mirrored by players as well, with Bengals running back Joe Mixon posting the NFL’s policy manual rules on social media the eve before the vote.
🤔So we not following the rules no more🐸☕️ pic.twitter.com/AreAM1xAsp
— ⚡️Primetime!!!⚡️ (@Joe_MainMixon) January 6, 2023
The Bengals do not have the same gripe as the Chiefs Kingdom does. Their issue is with implementing a coin toss to decide a potential Ravens-Bengals home field for a wild card game.
Bengals Coach Zac Taylor summed up the impacts on the team, saying,
“So, we have the opportunity to play for a coin flip that can only negatively impact us. We don’t have the opportunity to play for a coin flip that positively impacts us.”
So to be clear, the top-seeded Chiefs can’t possibly be happy about lost opportunities for earned home-field advantage, the second-seeded Bills voted no, and the Bengals slated for wildcard scenarios have vocally opposed.
John Breech, an NFL writer for CBS Sports pointed out the inequities of the rules when taken together. Although I will argue that Chiefs don’t have the easier track to first seed, we are the first seed as it stands, by both the record and the winning percentages. How is that easier? And why is it important, if it doesn’t come with an advantage?
Here's the problem with the NFL's proposal:
• Bills may get to avoid Arrowhead
• Chiefs have easier track to 1-seed
• Ravens could host a playoff game
• Bengals essentially get nothing.
Can't have new rules for 4 teams and only 1 is hosed overhttps://t.co/nfW9ruxsqE
— John Breech (@johnbreech) January 6, 2023
For a sport that regulates every aspect of the game and often player conduct by a rule manual, even levying fines that look like middle-class American salaries for rules violations, for a sport where audiences anticipate bad officiating as part of the game, where highway robbery rulings have changed outcomes at the highest levels of competition: the NFL should have just followed their own rules.
I wanted a sweetheart story, we all wanted Damar Hamlin to make a comeback and be well. Thankfully, he is.
But, we also just wanted to follow the rules.