On Friday afternoon, NFL fans received official word that at least 24 owners had approved the commissioner and competition committee’s resolution regarding the 2022 playoffs — the number of votes needed to make their plans official. Pro Football Talk reported the vote wasn’t unanimous, with only 25 “yes” votes (this does not necessarily mean seven “no” votes, as owners can abstain from the vote).
You can take a look at the full details of the resolution in this post, and glance at this chart as a cheat sheet:
On Monday night, the league faced a dire circumstance. With the world watching the consensus “game of the year” between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed, needing immediate medical attention. Hamlin received two ESPN commercial breaks worth of CPR before he went off in an ambulance. The Bills didn’t know if their teammate would live.
Respective head coaches Sean McDermott and Zac Taylor pulled their teams off the field. The NFL said the game would not resume. Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid has since gone on record, saying the league made the right call to stop the game.
Thankfully, in the days since, Hamlin has taken miraculous strides. On Friday, he was taken off a breathing tube, allowing him to speak remotely to his Bills teammates from the hospital in Cincinnati. It sounds like Hamlin is going to live.
Regardless of how you feel about what you’re about to read here, everybody won this week.
For several reasons — which I would presume to be how late the game is in the season and the high playoff seeds involved, among others — the NFL chose not to make it up. We always say it, but it’s worth repeating: the NFL is still very much a business. The league decided not to interrupt the most lucrative part of its business (the playoffs) by rescheduling.
With an uneven number of games played (16) for the Bills and Bengals — who are now the AFC’s No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, respectively, there were alternate solutions thrown out there. One was as an option for a bye week or home-field advantage. Some even thought the league could suddenly add an eighth seed, though others have said that was never really in consideration.
The league opted to change the old rule.
That old rule they changed
Let’s first address the old rule, which did indeed state that in the event of a no-contest, the league would determine all seeding solely based on winning percentage. Why the league went away from this is something that has greatly upset the Bengals, who may now see a coin flip that will determine whether or not they host a playoff game.
Sticking to the old rule would have meant the Chiefs could clinch the bye and undisputed home-field advantage with a Saturday win over the Las Vegas Raiders. Now, however, if the Chiefs beat the Raiders (and the Bills beat the Patriots) in Week 18, a Chiefs-Bills AFC title game will be played at a neutral site. But if the Chiefs win Saturday and the Bills lose on Sunday, the Bills would still come to Arrowhead for the AFC Championship.
Why didn't NFL just stick with winning percentage? "I would say it’s not necessarily (rules) weren’t followed … We don’t capture everything in every rule and every policy manual. Sometimes when you face situations, you have to try to make adjustments." Compared to COVID changes.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 6, 2023
Maybe we will find out at the next commissioner’s availability why the decision was to move in a new direction, but I could imagine it might have something to do with teams feeling comfortable about not playing in future near-death situations. For me, I think it may be an extension of the much-needed new era of player safety, which, in my opinion (and you can have your own), is a very, very good thing.
What it means for the Chiefs
Understanding the Bills-Bengals game would not be made up to alter the scheduling of the much-anticipated NFL playoffs and knowing the NFL wanted to try to make it as fair as possible given these extreme circumstances, I find the Chiefs made out like bandits in this situation.
I’ll give it to you. Yes, I agree it looked like the Bengals (up 7-3 with the ball when Hamlin was injured) might have rolled on Monday Night Football. But we will never know what might have happened in that game, which was still in the first quarter. Had the Bills come back to win, the Chiefs would not have control of their own destiny.
Now they do — and with a win against the 6-10, Jarrett Stidham Raiders, the Chiefs clinch the bye week. Let’s say that another way:
Patrick Mahomes beating Stidham is now a playoff win.
Should that happen, the Chiefs skip Wild Card weekend. Then the only possible way Kansas City could lose its right to host a fifth straight AFC title game would be for the Bills to win three games in a row — against the Patriots in Week 18, on Wild Card weekend and then their Divisional Round game (Roger Goodell would pick the location of a neutral site in this case).
I think those complaining on Friday regarding these emergency alternate plans are assuming a lot. After last year’s Chiefs-Bills playoff thriller, those without a rooting interest around the country all want to see it. But on Friday, there have been an awful lot of people assuming that will happen.
I can’t help but wonder how the Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots feel about all these AFC title scenarios definitely including a pair of teams from a list that includes the Bengals, Bills and Chiefs.
My expectation is this: it’s pretty damn motivating.
The bottom line
On Monday morning, the Chiefs didn’t control their own destiny. On Friday afternoon — because of circumstances nobody wanted and after a key game wasn’t played for a good reason — they do. And with a win Saturday, the Chiefs can only lose the “Arrowhead advantage” if three Bills game results go a certain way. They will also likely avoid having to play both the Bills and Bengals in the playoffs.
You’re entitled to your own opinion regarding the Chiefs’ potential road, and I respect that.
Mine, however, is that the Chiefs made out just fine.