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.