How Will the Suspended Bills-Bengals Game Be Resolved?

While matters of competition are secondary after the harrowing injury to Damar Hamlin on Monday night, the N.F.L. still finds itself with a knotty problem as it approaches the last week of its regular season. How will it resolve the Bills-Bengals game that was suspended after the injury?

The league says it is focused on Hamlin’s health, and as of Wednesday had made no decision on the possible resumption of the game, which could be pivotal in the playoff chase. But with the regular season scheduled to end this week and teams battling for the playoffs, which were set to begin on Jan. 14, the N.F.L. can’t wait too long to resolve its plans.

Commissioner Roger Goodell, in a memo to teams on Tuesday, said the games originally planned for Week 18, including the matchups of Patriots at Bills and Ravens at Bengals, were still on the schedule.

In a conference call on Wednesday, the N.F.L. said conversations about what to do about the suspended Bengals-Bills game were ongoing.

The eventual result of the game — or nonresult — could have a significant impact on several playoff teams. Whatever decision is made could lead to changes in playoff seeding or perhaps prompt teams to play on short rest.

More on Damar Hamlin’s Collapse

  • N.F.L.’s Violent Spectacle: The appetite for football has never been higher, even as viewers look past the sport’s toll on players’ lives. Damar Hamlin’s collapse should force a reconsideration, our columnist writes.
  • Around the League: With no changes announced to the Week 18 schedule, N.F.L. teams prepared to return to practice as players and coaches are still reeling from Mr. Hamlin’s collapse.
  • ESPN’s Coverage: Within minutes of Mr. Hamlin’s collapse, the sports network transformed from being a broadcaster of a football game to being at the center of a major news event.

What are the potential options for the league?

Squeeze in the game.

Both the Bills and Bengals are scheduled to play their final regular-season games on Sunday. The league has already said it would not resume their suspended game this week. With the playoffs starting the week after, and both the Bills and the Bengals involved, the window would be small to fit in another game before the wild-card matchups start on Saturday, Jan. 14.

It is more or less a sacrosanct policy that football teams at any level play no more than once a week. During the 2020 and 2021 seasons, the league took great pains to maneuver games disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic in a way that teams were not playing too frequently. Some teams effectively lost their open weeks as a result.

Only nine minutes of the Bills-Bengals game were played, meaning that if it were resumed at the point it stopped, nearly a full game would have to be completed. Given the current schedule, with playoff games starting Jan. 14, it seems almost impossible to find a time for the resumption of the game that would not involve risking exhaustion or injury for players.

Call the game a tie or a no contest.

If the N.F.L. decides it cannot find a date for the game, it might decide to drop it, perhaps calling it a tie. It could also simply call it a nongame and determine the Bills’ and Bengals’ final records based on 16 games rather than 17.

This solution might seem more palatable if the game meant little. But the game is actually quite important for both teams, who are safely in the playoffs but fighting for the No. 1 seed, which comes with a valuable playoff bye. Their finishes also have implications for other teams, notably Kansas City.

The Bills can gain that No. 1 seed if they win the Bengals game as well as their final game of the year on Sunday. The Bengals can also get the slot with two wins, but they would need a Kansas City loss.

If the game is ruled a tie, that would be to the advantage of Kansas City, who would then need only a win on Sunday to grab the No. 1 spot.

Though players, of course, want to do the right thing with respect to Hamlin, they are also a competitive bunch, and when it comes to playoff positioning, teams will want what’s most advantageous for them.

Award the game to the Bengals.

Cincinnati led the game, 7-3, when it was halted and theoretically could be awarded the victory based on that.

This is a particularly unappetizing scenario for several reasons. Barely an eighth of the game was played, making the Bengals’ lead seem trivial. And given the harrowing night faced by the Bills in particular, awarding them a loss seems unduly cruel.

Push the playoffs back.

The N.F.L. has an ace in the hole: There is a week off in the playoff schedule.

The league could push all the playoff games back one week, leaving the weekend of Jan. 14-15, now set for the wild-card round, for the resumption of Bills-Bengals. The playoffs would then start Jan. 21, the bye week would be filled with the conference championship games, and the Super Bowl would be played as scheduled on Feb. 12.

If that seems to leave a rather bare weekend, with just a part of one game, the league could start the N.F.C. playoffs on time and push back only the A.F.C. games. The N.F.C. teams could then be given a bye after either the wild-card or division rounds. Both conference championship games would be played in what is now the bye week, and the Super Bowl would still be played on schedule.

There is precedent for this. After the 1982 football strike cost the league 57 days in the middle of the season, the N.F.L. added an extra week of regular season games and pushed the playoffs back a week, eliminating the week off before the Super Bowl.

In 2001, after a week of games was canceled because of the Sept. 11 attacks, the league pushed the Super Bowl itself back a week. While that could be a scenario this year, the complexity of rescheduling such a mammoth event makes that an unattractive option.

Bir yanıt yazın

E-posta adresiniz yayınlanmayacak. Gerekli alanlar * ile işaretlenmişlerdir