NFL approves plan for potential neutral-site AFC title game

NFL owners have approved a plan that leaves open the possibility of a neutral-site AFC championship game and could determine home-field advantage for the wild-card game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens by a coin flip .

In light of the cancellation of Monday’s Bills-Bengal game, the following scenarios were approved based on Week 18 results for the title game to be held at a neutral site:

• If Buffalo (12-3) and Kansas City (13-3) both win or tie, the Bills-Chiefs championship game will be at a neutral site.

• If Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Baltimore wins or ties, the Bills-Chiefs championship game will take place at a neutral site.

• If Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Cincinnati (11-4) wins, the Bills or Bengals vs. Chiefs championship game will be at a neutral site.

If the Ravens win over the Bengals on Sunday and match up against Cincinnati in the AFC wild-card game, the site will be determined by the flip of a coin. If Cincinnati wins or if the two teams do not match up against each other after a possible Ravens win, regular scheduling procedures will be used.

A three-quarters majority (24 of 32) of owners was needed on Friday to approve the changes, which the NFL said in a resolution would only be for the 2022 season.

Potential neutral sites have not been determined. The seeds will remain the same throughout the playoffs. If Buffalo and Kansas City both win this weekend, the Chiefs will get a bye into the divisional round. If Buffalo wins and Kansas City loses, the Bills will be the No. 1 seed and receive a bye, in which case none of the neutral sites will come into play.

The planned changes were made Friday over the Bengals’ apparent objection, with coach Zach Taylor saying his team felt it was at a disadvantage by the proposal.

Taylor said Friday, “It’s important for the team to know, because someone has to fight for you. It’s clearly not coming from the league.” “It’s nice that our ownership and front office support the players like they have. It’s important to us.”

Monday’s game between Buffalo and Cincinnati was suspended with less than six minutes left in the first quarter and the Bengals leading 7-3 when Bills safety Dumar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest after being tackled. His heartbeat was restored on the field before being taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

In announcing the decision to cancel the game on Thursday, the NFL cited three key factors: the result would have no bearing on which teams qualified for the postseason; Playing the game would change the playoff schedule for the remaining teams; And with no games being played, all clubs will know their prospects for the post-season ahead of the start of Season 18.

Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn is on the competition committee, which approved the scenarios on Thursday. In a memo obtained by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham, Blackburn urged teams to vote against the scenarios. His reasoning arose from the timing of the rule change in this scenario away from the standard of winning percentage.

Blackburn wrote, “The proper procedure for a rule change is in the off-season.” “It is not fair to put the teams in a position that may introduce bias, favor one team over another or influence their position when the vote is just before the playoffs.”

Taylor also repeatedly stressed on Friday the need to follow the existing rules.

Taylor said, “There have been instances this season when clubs have been fined or people in our building have been fined and told to follow the rules, it’s black and white, it’s in the rulebook.” Is.” “So now when we point to the rules and you’re told, ‘We’re going to change this,’ it sounds like … I don’t want to hear about fair and equitable when that happens.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged in a statement Thursday that he believed “there is no right solution.”

“As we consider the football schedule, our principles are to limit disruption to the league and minimize competitive disparities,” he said.

A source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that the Chiefs abstained from voting on the proposed AFC playoff changes, with the thinking that teams directly affected by the changes should not vote because of partisanship.

The Biles announced Friday that Hamlin had been taken off a breathing tube and had begun talking with his care team, family and teammates.

ESPN’s Ben Baby contributed to this report.

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