In the aftermath of the serious events that prompted the postponement and eventual cancellation of the Week 17 game between the Bills and Bengals, the NFL decided to change its existing rules to account for home-field advantage in the AFC Championship round and the AFC wild-card round.
What happened to the divisional round?
The league office, getting only one more vote than the minimum needed to alter the rules, finagled a neutral site under specific circumstances for the AFC title game, along with a bizarre coin flip for determining home-field advantage for a wild-card game between the Bengals and Ravens, if the Ravens had completed a regular-season sweep of the AFC North champions in Week 18 (they didn’t). Setting aside the issues raised by ignoring the rule on the books (i.e., if a game is canceled, winning percentage controls) and by undertaking an incomplete effort to ensure full fairness (e.g., the Chiefs still got a week off and a guaranteed spot in the divisional round when perhaps they didn’t “deserve” it), the league’s effort to clumsily cobble together a unique solution overlooked one major aspect of the broader fairness analysis.
If the Bills beat the Dolphins and if the Bengals beat the Ravens on Sunday, the Bills — as the higher seed — will host the Bengals in the divisional round. Without a neutral site or a coin flip or anything else to account for the simple fact that the Bengals were beating the Bills when the game was postponed.
Even if the Bills had been leading at the time, the Bengals could have won the game. Which would have made them (coupled with their Week 18 victory over the Ravens) the No. 2 seed.
Instead, the Bills secured the second seed and home-field advantage for the potential playoff game between the two teams. Without any allowance for the fact that the Bengals lost their chance to be the No. 2 seed.
So, yes, the Bengals are upset. At every turn, they’ve gotten the short end of the stick. In a roundabout way, it has given them an edge that could come in handy when it’s time to go to Buffalo, and possibly back to Kansas City, in Cincinnati’s attempt to follow their most recent Super Bowl appearance with another one.