The NFL has never outright canceled a meaningful game in nearly 100 years, outside of issues pertaining to labor disputes. Games have been postponed, and seasons have been shortened due to strikes or lockouts. But the 2022 week 17 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills may well prove to be the first game of the modern era that means something that will not be played for reasons beyond labor issues.
The Monday Night Football game was suspended in the middle of the first quarter after Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a terrifying medical emergency on the field following a collision with Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. He had to be revived on the field after his heart stopped, using CPR and a defibrillator. He remains sedates days later as medical professionals work toward his recovery.
It was a shocking moment not just for the NFL community, but for society at large, and a painful reminder of one of the many things we choose not to think about when it comes to our consumption of entertainment.
Players and coaches on both sides of the field were understandably shaken. Many have been asked in recent days about the possibility of resuming the game, and virtually all of them have said they were uncertain how they would feel about that.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, they might not have to. He wrote last night that the momentum is pointing toward the NFL making the decision to cancel the game outright rather than try to make it up, with both the Bills and Bengals carrying out their previously scheduled week 18 games.
Such a decision is not without ramifications. The Bengals and Bills are in the running for some of the top seeds in the conference, and removing a game from their resume does shift power in some cases, as seeding will now have to be determined by winning percentage.
The Bills controlled their own destiny for the number one seed. If they simply won their last two games, it would be theirs. Now with the Bengals game potentially being canceled, the Kansas City Chiefs would secure the number one seed by winning their week 18 game.
Likewise, the Bengals would secure the AFC North title if the Bills game is canceled. Otherwise, the Baltimore Ravens could secure the division title by defeating them this Sunday. But if they don’t have to play the Bills, then they would be guaranteed of finishing the season with a better winning percentage than the Ravens.
On the other hand, the inability to attempt to beat the Bills would makes it much more difficult for them to push for the number two seed. They now have to count on a Bills loss in week 18 in addition to winning their game against the Ravens. Had they beaten Buffalo, they would only have to win their own game and not need help.
It’s not an ideal situation, but I imagine many would agree with the call, if that is what they ultimately decide to do. It’s a virtually unprecedented situation, even though they had protocols in place in the event of a game cancelation in recent years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.