UPDATE (Friday, 1:05 PM): The NFL has officially approved the playoff changes. This will now be the schedule the league follows in the postseason.
Our original story is below.
The NFL has taken the first step in figuring out the rest of its season, officially cancelling the Cincinnati Bengals/Buffalo Bills game postponed Monday night after Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field. In a letter released by Roger Goodell and the NFL, they explain why cancelling the game, an unprecedented decision, was the best move.
This was the expected move all along and reported by the AP earlier Thursday. It’s believed to be the first game cancelled since 1935 when a contest between the Boston Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles was cancelled due to rain and never made up.
The NFL letter also outlines the possibility of having the AFC Title Game be hosted at a neutral site. The league lays out the scenarios in which case that could happen, of which there are several, including if the Bills and Chiefs both win this weekend.
The letter provides several provisions for another scenarios, such as a coin toss being used to decide the home team for a potential Baltimore Ravens/Cincinnati Bengals Wild Card matchup should the Ravens beat the Bengals this weekend.
Those scenarios have not been approved. The owners will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow to consider the notions before voting. Presumably, it will need two-thirds of the vote to pass, 24 of 32 (the Packers still vote even though they are technically owned by shareholders).
In the letter, Goodell admitted there is no “perfect solution.” But given the historic circumstances, this seems to be the best-case scenario for all teams involved. All Week 18 games will be played as scheduled.
It does not appear the league is considering expanding the playoffs to eight teams as had been speculated throughout the afternoon.
The Bengals will also be considered AFC North Champs, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, though they could still play on the road at Baltimore Wild Card weekend should they lose Sunday (but only if it is a 3 vs 6 seed matchup, evidently).
For the Steelers, not much changes. They still need to beat the Cleveland Browns Sunday and have the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins not win. The Bills will have a better understanding of their playoff situation by Saturday night based on the outcome of the Kansas City Chiefs/Las Vegas Raiders game. But the Bills haven’t hinted at resting their starters and are likely to play their 1’s this weekend, which should be seen as a positive for the Steelers’ chances. Buffalo also has the incentive of either still becoming the #1 seed or avoiding going to Kansas City in a potential Title Game against the Chiefs so a win would be important for them.
Below is the league’s full statement.