A potential AFC Championship game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills is not the only game the NFL considered using a neutral site for this postseason.
Troy Vincent, the NFL's vice president of football operations, said on Wednesday (via the Buffalo News) that the league also discussed the possibility of having a neutral site for Sunday's Buffalo-Cincinnati Bengals game since neither team played a full 17-game regular season after their Week 16 game was postponed. That game was stopped and never finished after Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field.
Vincent said that even though that option was discussed, the league ultimately decided that only the AFC Championship game should get that treatment.
It probably should have considered it a little bit more because the Bengals ended up on the short end of the stick when it came to the league's postseason adjustments.
They have also not been happy about it and voted against the league's decision to alter the home field rules.
They have very good reason to not be happy about it.
Those changes also included the potential of the Bengals' first playoff game against Baltimore having home field decided by a coin flip (though it never ended up coming to that) had they lost their Week 18 meeting.
Here is the issue the Bengals have: Their 12-4 record puts them one game behind Buffalo (13-3) in the AFC Standings. That means Buffalo gets the edge for home field in a playoff matchup. But the game that was cancelled for each team was against the other, and if Cincinnati had won that game (and it had a 7-3 lead, with the ball, and was driving at the time of its postponement) it would have given the two teams matching 13-4 records for the season. In that situation the Bengals would have had the tiebreaker with a head-to-head victory.
The NFL recognized that by not finishing that game Buffalo was losing out on the chance to secure a bye week and the number one overall seed and very fairly put a potential AFC Championship Game between them and Kansas City (the current No. 1 seed) at a neutral site (Atlanta).
It should have done the same for Cincinnati in any game against Buffalo given the circumstances.
The NFL understandably puts more emphasis on the Conference Championship Game than the Divisional round--since it is just one step away from the Super Bowl--but teams cannot get to the Conference Championship unless they win the Divisional game. Buffalo, with its home crowd, not having to travel and getting all of the benefits that come with a home playoff game, will have a pretty big advantage in doing so.
The situation that put the NFL in this position is extremely unfortunate, was completely unprecedented, and is not anybody's fault. Hamlin's health is the most important thing, and his recovery has been nothing short of amazing. But when it came to the on-field situation the NFL seemed to just be making things up as it went along and probably could have done a better job creating a fair situation for all of the teams involved.
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