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Bills-Bengals game postponed after Damar Hamlin's cardiac arrest won't be made up, NFL says

The NFL said a special league meeting would be held to address scenarios for the playoffs.
Buffalo Bills players and staff pray for Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati
Buffalo Bills players and staff members pray for Damar Hamlin on Monday after he collapsed during a game against the Bengals in Cincinnati.Joshua A. Bickel / AP

The postponed Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game will not be made up following the terrifying collapse of safety Damar Hamlin, the league said Thursday.

With one game left in the regular season, the NFL is still working out the details of how the canceled game will affect seeding for the playoffs, which begin Jan. 14-15.

The NFL acknowledged that canceling the game "creates potential competitive inequities in certain playoff scenarios" and said NFL clubs will consider a resolution at a special league meeting Friday.

Part of it could involve the Jan. 29 AFC Championship Game’s being played at a neutral site.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in Thursday’s statement that it has been “a very difficult week” and that the league is focused on Hamlin’s recovery.

Because of the canceled game, the Bills and the Bengals will have played 16 games, while all other teams will have played 17.

The Bills had long ago clinched the AFC East and were in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the conference. Now at 12-3, Buffalo trails 13-3 Kansas City for the AFC’s top spot, which carries a first-round playoff bye.

Had the Bills won Monday night, they would have had as many wins as the Chiefs while holding a tiebreaker over Kansas City.

This weekend, Buffalo plays New England, Cincinnati plays Baltimore, and Kansas City plays Las Vegas.

In the resolution to be considered Friday, the AFC Championship Game would be played at a neutral site under three scenarios, according to the NFL:

  • If Buffalo and Kansas City both win or both tie, Buffalo vs. Kansas City would be at a neutral site for the championship.
  • If Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Baltimore wins or ties, Buffalo vs. Kansas City would be at a neutral site.
  • And if Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Cincinnati wins, a Buffalo or Cincinnati vs. Kansas City championship game would be at a neutral site.

Another component comes into play if Baltimore beats Cincinnati, the NFL said. In that case, Baltimore would not host a playoff game, because Cincinnati would have a higher winning percentage based on the games each played.

If Baltimore beats Cincinnati and both teams end up facing each other in the wild card game, a coin toss will determine who hosts.

Monday's key contest between the first-place Bills and Bengals was called off shortly after 10 p.m. ET, with the NFL saying the game had been “postponed” — leaving the door slightly ajar for Buffalo and Cincinnati to restart play at another time.

When Hamlin went down, the Bengals were leading, 7-3, in the first quarter.

Hamlin collapsed moments after he tackled Bengals receiver Tee Higgins. The play appeared to be routine, as Hamlin quickly got up and briefly grabbed or adjusted his face mask before he fell backward.

Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest, but his brain function appeared to be in good condition, the Bills said Thursday after days of uncertainty and worry.

“Damar has shown remarkable improvement over the past 24 hours,” the team tweeted. “While still critically ill, he has demonstrated that he appears to be neurologically intact.”

In their final regular season games, the Bills will host the New England Patriots and the Bengals are home to the Baltimore Ravens. Both games are at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.

The canceled game would not have mattered as far as any other team’s making or not making the playoffs, which the NFL said was a factor in the decision.

Goodell said in Thursday’s statement that the league strove to minimize disruptions and inequalities.

“I recognize that there is no perfect solution,” Goodell said. “The proposal we are asking the ownership to consider, however, addresses the most significant potential equitable issues created by the difficult, but necessary, decision not to play the game under these extraordinary circumstances.”