The NFL is still considering various options following the suspension of the Bills-Bengals game, including possibly eliminating the bye week before the Super Bowl.
The Bills-Patriots game set for Sunday in Buffalo and the rest of the Week 18 games remain on schedule.
The pivotal Bills-Bengals game was suspended Monday night after Buffalo safety Damar Hamlin collapsed and went into cardiac arrest while making a tackle in the first quarter.
Hamlin’s recovery is moving in “a positive direction,” two days after the 24-year-old player had to be resuscitated on the field, his marketing representative said Wednesday.
The league hasn’t had discussions about postponing the Bills-Patriots game, which has playoff implications. The AFC East champion Bills (12-3) are vying for the No. 1 seed. The Patriots (8-8) would clinch a wild-card berth with a win.
“Frankly, my concern is to make sure the men have what they need to function, and that’s getting through this day. Tomorrow is going to take care of itself,” league executive Troy Vincent said in a conference call. “So, from my communications with the club and those players, it’s just strictly been around making sure they’re OK to check in, and being able to access those resources that are available to them. It is tough. And Coach is still battling.”
The Bills were scheduled to hold team meetings and a walkthrough practice without any media availability on Wednesday. They are expected to resume practice on Thursday. The Patriots returned to practice Wednesday but pushed back their media availability to Thursday.
“It’s really important that we just keep the pulse of the coach and the players, and don’t get in front of that,” an emotional Vincent said. “And we’ll allow (Bills coach) Sean (McDermott) and his team and his staff and the players, which are the most important thing here, to guide us if we have to make that decision collectively with the club and what’s best for Sean and his team and the players.”
NFL executive Jeff Miller said a decision on whether to resume the Bills-Bengals game at a later date will be made in the coming days. The outcome of the game impacts the AFC playoff structure because the Bills entered Monday night as the No. 1 seed.
“There’s a lot of considerations in place there and a lot of people that we want to consult with, including the clubs involved, before that decision is final,” Miller said.
The Bengals (11-4) have a one-game lead over Baltimore in the AFC North and also are in the mix for the top seed. The Kansas City Chiefs (13-3) surpassed the Bills for the No. 1 seed, pending the result of Buffalo’s game against Cincinnati.
The NFL will lean on some of its guiding principles from the 2020 season when COVID-19 impacted the schedule and contingencies were in place in case every game wasn’t played. The league wound up playing all 256 games in 17 weeks despite the pandemic.
The playoffs are scheduled to begin Jan. 14. Pushing the start back one week to complete the Bills-Bengals game is among the options. That would eliminate the bye week between the conference championship games on Jan. 29 and the Super Bowl on Feb. 12.
Other scenarios include playing the Bills-Bengals game and the NFC wild-card games on the same weekend and pushing the start of the AFC playoffs back one week. That also would eliminate the bye week before the Super Bowl.
The Pro Bowl Games featuring various skills competitions in Las Vegas are scheduled for the week before the Super Bowl, with a flag football game between the AFC-NFC teams on Feb. 5. That week could be pushed to after the Super Bowl or be canceled.
Not resuming the Bills-Bengals game would be the simplest option from a scheduling standpoint because it wouldn’t require any other changes. The No. 1 seed and other playoff positions would then be determined by winning percentage. In that case, the Chiefs would have the inside track on securing a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
“Those guiding principles that got us through or took us into the 2020 season with COVID, all of those things will be things that guide us through this conversation and making sure that proper equity is in place,” Vincent said. “As we saw, potentially, there may be a lack of equity where it may not be perfect, but it will allow those that are participating or have earned that right to play, to continue to play.”
The Chiefs play the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday in the first game of this weekend’s slate.
“We know whatever scenario we have to go play to try to win the football game,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who coached the Philadelphia Eagles in a preseason game in 2012 just four days after his 29-year-old son died. “That’s what we have to do. That’s what we’re going to do. And the players have worked through practice and done a nice job with it up to this point.”