The Bengals-Ravens coin-flip scenario is, frankly, weird

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens
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As submitted to the owners, the two proposals for addressing the impact of the cancellation of the Bills-Bengals game on the AFC playoff tree represent an all-or-nothing proposition. However, the owners have the power to break the two apart, adopting the neutral-site idea and rejecting the nutty notion that the Bengals, if they lose to the Ravens on Sunday, will be the AFC North champions but may have to go to Baltimore for the wild-card round, if the Bengals lose a coin flip.

Seriously, what is this? How did this come to be? What’s the point?

The dichotomy between the two approaches makes the situation even more bizarre. Why not use coin flips to determine home-field advantage for the AFC Championship? Why not use a neutral site for a Ravens-Bengals wild-card game? Why neutral site for one and coin flip for the other?

Making a weird outcome even weirder is that the Bengals would still be the No. 3 seed. So if they win in the wild-card round at sixth-seeded Baltimore, the Bengals would then host a divisional round game, if the seven seed upsets the No. 1 seed.

Also, if the Ravens and Bengals cross paths at some point after the wild-card round, the Bengals would host the game with no coin flip.

This is what happens when an opening is created to change the rules on the fly, during a season. The Ravens apparently did a better job of lobbying the league office for a procedure that helps them. Or maybe other deals were cut to craft the contours of the proposal that, if adopted, will replace the rule already on the books.

This is precisely why rules should change only in the offseason, in a vacuum free from immediate competitive urgency. No one gets an edge. No one gets a raw deal. It happens objectively, with the best interests of the game guiding the process — not whether someone “likes” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti more than Bengals owner Mike Brown, or whatever factors crafted this goofy approach to giving the Bengals a higher spot on the playoff tree but potentially forcing them to go on the road, if their opponent is the Ravens.

When rules change during the season, within the confines of a specific set of circumstances, someone will benefit and someone won’t. Thus, too many other factors can influence the final decision, other than the overriding good of the game.

In this case, it was already determined that, in the event of a cancellation, winning percentage controls. That’s what the league was prepared to do in 2020. And if, ultimately, a key late-season regular-season game had been canceled because, for example, all of a given team’s offensive linemen had COVID, winning percentage would have applied, without regard to any other factor or the outcome of any other game.

There’s a saying in the legal profession that bad facts made bad law. In other words, certain circumstances are regarded as sufficiently compelling to tempt judges to ignore the standards that should apply, and to instead twist the law into a pretzel in order to reach a desired result.

Whatever the reason for the cancellation of an NFL game, it takes something very extraordinary. This is where the specific facts of this specific cancellation need to be temporarily set aside, and the rule that already exists needs to be applied, dispassionately and fairly and without any opportunity for a team to lobby and harangue and finagle and ultimately score a short-term win.

And then, if the NFL regards that the current rule as applied doesn’t work the way it should, the rule gets changed.

After the season, not during it.

34 responses to “The Bengals-Ravens coin-flip scenario is, frankly, weird

  1. This is getting so stupid. The bills forfeited the game and if the league would just accept that everything would be fine. The bengals are getting shafted.

  2. Thank you. No outcome was going to be ideal, and we all could have accepted that. But they had to stick their hands in to make it palatable for the Bills… by designing rules that only hurt Cincinnati.
    If BUF and CIN win, no coin flip for a neutral site game? If KC loses and BUF and CIN win, a KC-CIN AFC Championship would be in KC? If CIN loses to BAL, CIN may lose home field advantage (understandably) but they still have to play the other division champs next season?
    What? Why? Just…….. what?

  3. You wouldn’t use a coin flip for the AFCCG because there would be a clear recipient of it under the rules/formula in place assuming the Chiefs beat the Raiders.

  4. Well said, well explained, and agreed. It’s best for the league to provide a firm structure, so teams and fans have something simple and reliable to work with. Whether they like it or not, it would make it much easier to just get on with things. I think your “bad facts” explanation nails what is running the league right now.

  5. Never again with a team show humility and goodwill. They will demand the game be continued or the opposing team with the injury forfeit. They say it doesn’t pay to do good, and the NFL has once again proven the saying true.

    Bengals are getting screwed, but the truth is the league just wants KC v Buffalo for the AFC Championship even though the Bengals have been pulling in massive ratings the last two years. The league hates to see it. The league also likely blames Bengals for allowing for the game to stop.

  6. Let’s face it, the NFL’s track record is that if there’s a way to screw something up, or make something simple complicated, the NFL will find it. As you pointed out, their proposed solution goes against their own policy document. They just make it up as they go along.

  7. No Bengal fan is surprised that they got the shortest stick. Mike Brown is one of the poorest NFL owners and the NFL is all about money and the richest owners get more than 1/32 of a say in things.
    Call in corrupt or inept but it`s always that way. The only plus for the Bengals is that i was worried about their motivation and players being ready to play. If the NFL passes this i think it will help them come together and focus on beating Baltimore.

  8. I’m a Bills fan and I agree with this all being stupid. I feel badly for Bengals fans, and although I think the Bills would have ultimately won that game, it feels unfair to punish them.

    My biggest gripe is not with the reasonable outcome, it is with the fact that the universe continues to favor Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. One of those classic cases of jealousy that every. single. bounce. bounces their way. It is like once Tom Brady left the AFC the universe needed to pick someone else to combine incredible talent with unbelievable luck.

    That being said, no-contest, Chiefs, Bills, Bengals (1,2,3) – no coin flips. The Bills, Bengals, and Ravens all have a legitimate case for being screwed and so it goes.

  9. You kind of leave out the part that if Cincinnati lost too Buffalo and Baltimore. Then Baltimore would be the 3rd seed, probably why they are presenting this coin flip idea

  10. bengals were winning. if they cancelled the game them the bengals are the winners. that is the only fair way that no team gets shafted. the owners do not like Mike Brown, so they will find a way to shaft his team.

  11. in the offseason, the rule should be inserted saying if a game is cancelled for any reason the team winning will be declared the winner. if not then it should be declared a tie.

  12. Bengals are getting hosed. The “AFC North” Champs might have to play on the road while getting a worse draft pick and the “first place” schedule next year. They are getting none of the benefits but all of the negatives of being a divisional winner.

    Plus, they have only played 6 home games this year. Sunday will be the 7th (versus 9 road games).

  13. So they use the rule as written to decide Cincinnati won the division but want to change the rule to decide where the game is played? Only the NFL can come up with that kind of logic. smh

  14. I agree, this is getting pretty silly.
    Bengals do get the short end of the stick in all of this.
    Just use the rules as stated, much simpler.

  15. What a fiasco. Another example of the total incompetence of Roger Goodell! He should have been fired years ago!

  16. They could’ve easily played Bills / Bengals this Sunday, moved week 18 back, and made use of the otherwise useless bye week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl.

    All teams would’ve been healthier for the last week of the season, especially important for level playing field in the playoffs.

    It would have been a clean, simple solution that allowed the greatest good for the greatest number.

    But of course, the NFL had to make this as complex as the answer to the question “what is a catch.” Overthinking things is the hallmark of the Goodell era.

    So now we’ve got coin tosses, neutral sites, and questions that will hover over whoever wins this Super Bowl.

  17. In the end, the Bills walked away. I am not saying they made the wrong call, they made the call that worked for them. But they walked away. They headed to the locker room to regroup, and discuss their options/interest in playing. I completely support that decision. Dont need to be having those discussions, displaying those emotions, under the watchful eye of America to scrutinize. The Bengals stood by in full support of whatever Buffalo decided. They decided they were done. They packed up, and they headed home. They didnt even stick around to consider playing on Tuesday night, or even Wed night. That is the frustrating part for me. They got out as soon as possible. Even on Mon night before they left the stadium, Damar’s business partner tweeted that his vitals were back to normal and he was under anesthesia. But they still decided to fly home. With what we have seen from Damar over the last few days, they could have played on Wed. It would have made week 18 difficult for them with a VERY short week, but they could have finished the game. Or they could have pushed everything a week, just like they did in 2001. Not ideal, but it could have happened. Unfortunately we live in a society that wants heads to roll if you hurt their feelings, and the overly sensitive would have gone full retard if the NFL wanted them to finish the game or take the L. So they had to appease those people first, worry about Damar second, worry about the implications of the playoffs third.

  18. Goodell is so used to getting away with everything, he doesn’t see how emboldened he is in the public eye with how odd it is.

    The greed chase and the world these oligarchs live in is so far removed from reality, they end up creating an alternate reality they want because they aren’t ever told “no”.

  19. Everyone was giving the NFL credit for doing the right thing and canceling the game but i think it`s pretty clear the NFL is blaming the Bengals for not forcing the Bills to play the game or accept a forfeit. After seeing what their doing it`s obvious they wanted the game played that night.
    McDermott and Taylor showed a lot better leadership than the NFL offices. Pathetic people.

  20. No good deed goes unpunished. Starting to look like Cincinnati should have just stayed on the field Monday night and forced the NFL’s hand that day. They would have had to have called a forfeit.

  21. Pick a guy from the Bengals and a guy from the Bills to play the game out on Madden. Will be done before quittin’ time today.

  22. The coin flip is ok but I’d like to see a straight choose … three takes it, no disputes, that’s it. You gotta win three.

  23. The Bengals Bills game should have been finished Tuesday or Wednesday and their games this week switched to Monday night. Not ideal but all the games would have been finished and playoff scenarios finalized and scheduled cleanly. But emotions took over and logic went out the window.

  24. The gentlemen who stated Harbaugh had something to do with this, please step forward you have hit bingo. Whining babies him and his brother both.

  25. 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.

  26. Way to screw this up NFL. Honestly, they should have just played the dang game on Week 19 and push everything back.

    Somebody is gonna claim that it’s unfair to give the rest of the teams an extra week of rest, but that’s baloney. The real disadvantage to Cincinnati here is far worse.

  27. I just want an explanation WHY there was a need to rewrite the rules right now? They literally had rules in place for games considered “No Contest”. What was so important, other than to interject and interfere, that the had to change things? I’m not saying this is collusion or trying to screw the Bengals or other teams but you can sure all get out understand someone thinking along those lines. Makes ZERO sense.

  28. I don’t feel for the Bengals. This is why they should’ve insisted the game be played. You can’t go with canceling the game, then criticize the consequences. Not only that but the rest of the playoff teams can say both the bengals and bills got an extra bye week just before the playoffs.

  29. doctorrumack says:
    January 6, 2023 at 12:20 pm
    No good deed goes unpunished. Starting to look like Cincinnati should have just stayed on the field Monday night and forced the NFL’s hand that day. They would have had to have called a forfeit.
    True, but we would think they were scum bags for making that call (without the perspective of what ultimately played out by them not forcing the Bills to play). In the end, Cincy may have gotten screwed (we dont know if they would have won the game or not to definitively say exactly how screwed, but screwed nonetheless). Meanwhile Buffalo got a bye week. Sure they took a trip to Cincy during the bye week, and I am sure they are mentally/emotionally drained, but physically their bodies all got a week off from football. Buffalo should have at least stayed in Cincy to allow for the option of playing. But they went home making it impossible to play the game, and they are being rewarded for it while Cincy gets the short end.

  30. Biggest reason…because Cincy controls their own destiny this week…at home against a team without their starting QB, no less. It would make sense to just do it on a neutral field, but it’s not quite as unjust considering the Raven would have swept them if it comes into play.

    I bet if Buffalo controlled their own destiny this week, this rule may well not have come into play either. Problem is the Bills WERE the one seed before this game was canceled.

    I do think, assuming both teams win or lose this week, that it would only be fair for any Buf/Cincy game also be played on a neutral field…even if it’s the divisional round.

  31. The Bengals got screwed? If the Ravens win Sunday (ok, not likely) then the Ravens will have the same number of wins as the Bengals, a better conference, a better division record, and will have beaten them twice this season. Yet the Bengals are AFC North Champs?

  32. Yeah, I’m most dumbfounded by the abandonment of what I always thought was the policy to play all games relevant for seeding at the same time whenever possible. By switching Packers Lions to Sunday night, both the Lions and Seahawks get screwed, further all play-off drama is effectively drained from both games. Finally, they play the chargers/broncos game later than the bengals/ravens game so that the chargers will likely have nothing to play for and get an effective bye week going into the playoffs, just a dirty manipulated mess all the way through.

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