NFL’s proposed approach to cancellation of Bills-Bengals conflicts with 2022 policy manual

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The NFL’s owners will vote on Friday regarding the specific protocol for playing postseason games among the various AFC teams based on the cancellation of the Week 17 game between the Bills and Bengals.

Some have expressed curiosity and confusion as to why the owners must be involved in the process. The answer is simple. The proposed solution — including the possibility of a neutral-site AFC Championship and a coin flip to determine the location of a potential wild-card game between the Ravens and Bengals (if the Ravens beat the Bengals on Sunday) violates the plain terms of the NFL’s Policy Manual for Member Clubs, Game Operations 2022 Edition.

Here’s the relevant language, from page A78, under the category of “Emergencies and Unfair Acts” and the specific rule entitled “Competitive Policy for Cancelled Games”: “If a game is cancelled, a team’s standing in its division or in its conference (e.g., qualification as a Wild Card in the playoffs or position in playoff seeding) shall be determined on the basis of its final record. When necessary, playoff tiebreakers shall be calculated according to per game average for all teams.”

There’s nothing about neutral sites or coin flips. Seeding is based on winning percentage, period.

That’s why the owners are involved. They’re changing the rules on the fly, during the 2022 NFL season.

That’s their prerogative. But the NFL in the past has been loathe to change the rules during a given season. In this case, for all the discussion and haggling and brainstorming and whatever, the previously determined answer was hiding in plain sight. Fair or not, the NFL had developed a procedure that applies following the cancellation of games.

And, yes, this is a rare and unusual occurrence. But what cancellation of a regular-season game wouldn’t be the result of a rare and unusual occurrence?

Tomorrow, the owners will consider changing that policy. It will be fair for some of them to ask, “Why?”

Also, given that the proposed approach represents a deviation from current rules, the owners will be required to approve the revision via a 24-vote supermajority. The NFL has confirmed this.

So, in other words, only nine votes are needed to block it. Tomorrow could be interesting.

64 responses to “NFL’s proposed approach to cancellation of Bills-Bengals conflicts with 2022 policy manual

  1. Its a no-brainer … This game has to be played. Just move the playoff games up one week with no extra week before the SB.

  2. So there’s a pre-written rule for this exact situation but owners are voting to change it on the fly because not having buffalo #1 would seem insensitive to the Bills? Seems unnecessary

  3. The cancellation of that game directly impacted 4 playoff teams. Chiefs, Bills, Bengals, Ravens. The outcome of possible match-ups and outcomes will be permanently impacted. Regular Season, Playoffs & Champion will need a giant asterisk next to it.

    Not surprising that that NFL is making things up on the fly. Remember in the end it is all about money. Not Championships.

    Happy to hear that Mr. Hamlin is on the road to recovery. Hope to see him on the field next season.

  4. This is an unprecedented issue that hasn’t been seen before. Not really sure how they make it right for all teams in the AFC. The outcome of the Bills/Bengals has implications. They’ve run out of time to play it unless they want to mess with other teams schedules. If it’s not going to go in the tie category you might as well settle it with a flip of a coin.

  5. This pretty much sums of my concern – if the NFL decides to change the rules in-season they are turning into Formula 1. Some will love it, others, like myself, will be turned off. Because we’re turning a sport into a circus. I remember telling people a year ago that the NFL would never do what Formula 1 did in the final race of the 2021 season – disregard the rules for hype and fan enjoyment. And now, a year later, it looks like the NFL is going against the rules. I hope the majority of the owners turn this down – but shame on the NFL for passing the buck on this to the owners – instead of doing their job and following the rules they established.

  6. For crying out loud, NFL, just call the game a tie or make the final score what it was when play ended, 7-3 Bengals, and call it a day! Why on earth does it have to be so complicated?! I’m sure the Bills wouldn’t fight it, they know it’s an unusual circumstance and after all, it was one of their players. (I’m not being insensitive, I was horrified at what happened, I prayed extensively for Damar Hamlin, and I’m truly glad he is recovering. But now it’s time for the Bills to step up and say, “Ok, we lost (or tied) that one.”)

  7. Stick to the rules already established and move on with this discussion about what to do. It’s already been figured out. Let’s get back to his recovery and the football games.

  8. Hopefully we have 9 smart owners and we can be done with this. The rule book is there, they agreed to it and now lets act like adults and play the games left. Making a mountain out of a mole hill here. If this is biggest injustice you receive in 2023 you will have the best year of your life.

  9. Florio’s barrister training is really shining with this post. Pages, paragraphs and subsections of a giant rule book that none of us were going to read. And it turns out the NFL had this scenario already covered in the Policy Manual. Why do anything other than follow the agreed upon rules that were already in place when the tragic incident occurred??

  10. Idea: 8-9 seeds in NFC/AFC have a play-in game while Cin-Buf resumes on wild card weekend (3 games). All other playoff teams get a bye that weekend. Then, playoffs start with 8 teams but Buf & Cin only play Sun PM games if they advance (for added rest). It’s not perfect but it’s fair to the majority.

  11. Only the owners of teams that can still statistically make the playoffs should get to vote.

  12. Money, greed and cheating.


    It should be the name of the NFL Rulebook. Money, greed and cheating.

  13. I have no team in the situation but to me its fairly simple, if it’s in the rules so just follow that rule. If you wish to change it next year do so. If the owners choose to change a rule on the last week of the season they look corrupt. I’m going to throw this out there, if they change the rule do the Bengals have the right to challenge this in court?

  14. All this just opens the door for more and more corruption as the NFL moves toward becoming the WWE with gambling – hope to see a lot of lawsuits

  15. It’s fun watching the NFL twisting itself into a pretzel trying to be politically correct. Why have rules and protocols for this sort of occurrence if you are just going to ignore them.

  16. Block it. The rules are in place. Why does this situation call for an exception to be made? It doesn’t.

  17. McCarthy part 11,12,13,14…. I’ve lost count!!!
    Just follow EXISTING RULES & be DONE with it!!!
    NFL is now a Bunch of Drama Queens …. Let’s find a new solution to an issue we ALREADY have a solution for….

  18. Easy to solve. The game ended with the Bengals in the lead. So give them the win and let the week 18 games put it to bed

  19. So there is already a policy in place. I say go with that and let the chips fall where they may. All this talk about coin flips and neutral sites is ridiculous.

  20. Not sure why there would be “curiosity and confusion” because per the 2022 written rule, a canceled game is a game lost for the involved teams. Not necessarily a punishment, but a deterrent for teams to cancel a game unless it was 100% necessary. The owners get involved now because it’s a game lost, because it is money lost and then you will have to deal with the headaches that will come with the whole logistics and tv money side of things. This shouldn’t be a surprise at all because the NFL swears they are all about player safety out of one side of their head, but then extends the season a game to get every single last drop of revenue out of their already beat up players come the end of the season out of the other side of their head. The NFL says they care about player safety and player well being, but just cut the crap already NFL, YOU CARE ABOUT MONEY FIRST BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE.

  21. I’m happy with whatever decisions they make. They’ll make the decision that’s best for their business. Short term and long term.

  22. Is seems odd that a coin flip will not decide the location of a potential Bills versus Bengals game, when a potential Ravens versus Bengals game could be decided by it.

    I both cases the game Monday night game would have been the tie breaker, but it gets disregarded in one scenario and not in the other. Same argument goes for the AFC Championship game, where the no contest is somehow taken into account.

    Seems it would be fair to apply the same mechanism to all games that was depending on the Monday night outcome.

    I am for sure biased here, but from a logical standpoint it does seem like something is off in the proposal.

  23. Rigid adherence to rules is a bad thing. Absolute rules are created so that people in a position of responsibility do not have to make decisions.

    Difficult problems require innovative thinking.

  24. It was championship week in my fantasy football league and I was in the championship. I started Allen and Chase. He started Burrow and Singletary.
    We worked all season for this, then what happened happened.
    There was money on this game.
    This is not the ending we deserved. It completely goes against the whole tradition of playing sports. The game must be made up. Yes, i am concerned about the mans health, and he is being taken care of. But the game was scheduled for 4 quarters. The league promises us this with an agreement.
    To cancel this is unprecedented, but for record keeping, i think this game needs to be played.
    Nevermind the ticketholders. Shem me if you want, but there are legal repercussions that will arise from this….
    Now that Damar is out of the woods, all we should be talking about is restarting this game.

  25. Teams are being seeded per page A78 at the end of week 18 so the league is adhering to this policy. The exception the league is discussing I suspect would be under competitive advantages/disadvantages, benefits of being a certain seed or playing a game at a neutral site. Bills have already played Cleveland at a neutral site due to the snow storm.

  26. It looks like the league is going to make a mess out of this because they’re following some kind of vague, emotional mush-thinking instead of reason.

    Keep it simple, folks. PR can handle it, the teams can handle it, the fans will get over it. Lots of football still to be played and overreacting now will look silly in a couple weeks when Hamlin is fine and everyone’s in the thick of it.

  27. It should be blocked. Part of leadership is doing the right thing in the face of consequences. These are the consequences. The Bills won’t play the game, and the Bengals didn’t ask for a forfeit. Here we are.

  28. This proposed rule change will be blocked. It’s so easy with only needing 9+ owners to stamp it out and say, we can revisit this after this season is over. The rules are put in place for a reason.

    Oh, and yes, it was a fumble.

  29. Technically, the Bills and the Bengals did play … and since neither team won – that could be construed as being a tie … which is .5 of a win, and .5 of a loss. Just work it out from there. To have to adjust the entire playoff series would be a huge undertaking, from travel plans, hotel accommodations and so forth – for both teams and fans. Yes, this situation might have a few negative considerations to one or both squads – but it also might have a positive side – almost like another bye, since ending that contest when they did provides extra time for players to heal from previous physical bumps and bruises. This was a near tragedy that was hopefully avoided … just accept there might be a few unintended considerations and move on … the best teams should win no matter what.

  30. None of this makes any sense, the bills should’ve forfeited that game. The bills getting a tie or loss does virtually nothing to their standing meanwhile the bengals are being crewed out of the 1 seed shot and potentially the division title. Bs

  31. The Bills and Bengals players and coaches saved the NFL from itself Monday night but the NFL always finds away to screw something up. There is no solution that is fair to all teams. Someone will feel slighted no matter what they do so there is no reason not to stick to the rule that is in the books and was in place before this happened instead of changing rules after the fact. They are opening Pandora`s box down the road for no reason. Flip a coin? Way to earn those big pay checks!

  32. So the question must be asked. Why didn’t they just finish the Bills vs Bengals game then?

  33. Thank you Mike for more insight on this unusual situation. Although the NFL will hopefully find a solution that satisfies as many people as possible, I wouldn’t want to be in Goodell’s shoes. But that’s why he’s paid the big bucks !

  34. Imagine the bickering, what about me, arguments that went on between potential impacted teams and seedings being discussed the past 2-3 days.

  35. I highly doubt that enough owners will go for this. The rules already exist to handle a situation where some teams play less games than others. An argument could be made that the rule was put in place because of the possibility of missing games due to COVID, however, the rule doesn’t state that. That fact alone means that changing the rules would be pure charity and set a bad precedent of facing a vote to change a rule based on any (hopefully incredibly rare) one-off.

  36. Being as this was the policy put in place without the weight and distraction of an emergency, when everyone was calm and clear headed, this should be what they stick with. Changing the rules that were already in place seems like a not great idea.

  37. I understand not continuing play in the moment, but what I don’t understand is why they didn’t just call the game and make the current score final: 7-3 Bengals (who appeared to be about to score again). Seems like that would have been the simplest of all possible solutions.

  38. Reponse to jdubkc

    Thank you for this insight. Here I thought the Super Bowl, played at a neutral sight, was the best game!

  39. ranger52 says:
    January 6, 2023 at 9:44 am
    Reponse to jdubkc

    Thank you for this insight. Here I thought the Super Bowl, played at a neutral sight, was the best game!

    01Rate This
    Sometimes it is. But sometimes when the game is a blowout in front of a corporate giveaway crowd it can be a real dud to watch.

  40. The honorable thing would be for the Bills to forfeit the game over Zac Taylor’s objection. That would be the honorable thing.

  41. @hippstuff, why would the Bills agree to a loss or a tie? Both teams agreed not to continue the contest and each team only had 1 drive. They weren’t even 2/3 of the way into the first quarter. Not nearly enough time to say the result should stand.

  42. A multi-billion dollar company, run by self-described brilliant billionaire businessmen, surrounded by high priced swarmy lawyers; and yet no one had the foresight to plan a contingency around this scenario?

    These guys get it wrong almost every single step of the way.

  43. Biggest news is Washington Commanders are no longer eliminated!

    If Wash wins

    And sea loses

    AND the GB Det game is called off due to unforseen circumstances, Washington gets in with the 7 seed at 8-8-1

    I hope the owners get 9 no votes no counter proposal and move on; once that game was officially cancelled its all a mess no matter what so just follow the rules (and yes the above Commanders scenario would be applicable)

  44. pone27 says:
    January 6, 2023 at 8:57 am

    So the question must be asked. Why didn’t they just finish the Bills vs Bengals game then?
    Easy to say sitting on your couch but if you had just watched a love one stop breathing right in front of you and you don`t know if they are alive or dead you might feel different. Football is obviously a physical game and if players are that distracted and hesitant then the chance for more injuries is dramatically increased. The NFL didn`t cancel the game the players did because they didn`t feel like they could do it. To act like their feelings aren`t more important than us fans is ridiculous. Watching football is about entertainment and watching the rest of that game wouldn`t have been entertaining. It would`ve been terrible football. My team is getting the short end of the stick but it was still the right thing to do if you consider life more important than entertainment.

  45. Mario DiMartino says:
    January 6, 2023 at 10:21 am

    @hippstuff, why would the Bills agree to a loss or a tie? Both teams agreed not to continue the contest and each team only had 1 drive. They weren’t even 2/3 of the way into the first quarter. Not nearly enough time to say the result should stand.
    I agree with canceling the game but let`s not forget the Bills would`ve had to finish the game or accept a forfeit if Zac Taylor didn`t go tell McDermott that the Bengals had their backs and agreed to do whatever they wanted and not accept a forfeit.

  46. It’s a rule that, like every other rule, is subject to change if the neccesary majority agrees. That’s why there is a provision specifying how amendments are made. All organizations do this as situations evolve. What’s the big deal?

  47. For everyone trying to proclaim that THEIR preferred solution is “It’ just simply, just do…”
    News Flash – It’s NOT “simple.”

    Hence the long discussions.

    It’s complicated because:
    – The NFL is big business and big money
    – All playoff seeding scenarios are based on/impacted by equivalent games played
    – The fact that these two teams both were contenders for #1 Seed
    – Impacting the Bill’s changes to have HFA is huge for that team who DID beat the Chiefs, and might have beaten the Bengals as well, and would have earned that spot
    – All other playoff teams are also impacted in terms of where they have to go to play, and it being different than if the outcome of this game was determined
    – Moving games back a week and changing playoff schedules is a HUGE undertaking that impacts not just the teams, but Fans, travel plans, costs, tickets, etc.

    Deciding what is the most “FAIR” and equitable outcome for the Bills, Bengals, and other playoff teams is NOT the same thing as following the rules already in place. Just because the NFL had a policy in place doesn’t mean it’s the ideal outcome.

    If the game had been between, say Chicago and Arizona, there would have been NO issue with just cancelling a meaningless game with no playoff considerations. This is NOT the case here at all.

  48. Regardless, the cancellation of this game was not fair to the other 30 teams who had to play 17 games. These two teams supposed to play and one of them was supposed to lose. Stopping the game was the right thing to do and you cant change what happened. There were rules in place that cover this scenario. They should just follow them. They were agreed to before the season started.

    Changing the rules now is showing bias towards the Bills at the expense of the other teams in contention. Bengals will get the shortest straw followed by the Chiefs.

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