The NFL has confirmed the suspended Cincinnati Bengals-Buffalo Bills' Week 17 game will not resume, with teams to consider a neutral side for the AFC Championship game.
The Bengals-Bills game was suspended after Damar Hamlin collapsed during the first quarter due to a cardiac arrest. Hamlin was resuscitated on the field, then rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he has remained in intensive care, but encouragingly has made "substantial progress" in the past 24 hours.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell explained the decision had "no perfect solution", which comes ahead of the final regular season round of fixtures with significant playoff implications, and was based on three key factors.
Goodell stressed that the game's cancellation would not impact any team's qualification or elimination from the postseason, while he was eager to have the playoff scenario clarified for all sides ahead of Week 18. He added that delaying the playoffs one week to play the game was unfair on all other clubs, which guided their decision-making.
The statement revealed that NFL team owners will attend a Special League Meeting on Friday to consider a resolution recommended by the Competition Committee to have the AFC Championship game played at a neutral site if the participating teams could both have mathematically been the No.1 seed if they had played an equal number of games.
That decision affects the Bills (12-3) and Bengals (11-4) along with the Kansas City Chiefs (13-3). The NFL stated three scenarios whereby the AFC Championship game being played on a neutral site would come into effect.
- If Buffalo and Kansas City both win or tie, a Bills-Chiefs championship game will be at a neutral site.
- If Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Baltimore wins or ties, a Bills-Chiefs championship game will be at a neutral site.
- If Buffalo and Kansas City both lose and Cincinnati wins, a Bills or Bengals v Chiefs championship game will be at a neutral site.
The Baltimore Ravens (10-6) may also be impacted if they win against the Bengals in Week 18, leading to a match-up in an AFC Wild Card game, with the site to be determined by coin flip.
"As we considered the football schedule, our principles have been to limit disruption across the league and minimise competitive inequities," Goodell said in the statement.
He added: "This has been a very difficult week. We continue to focus on the recovery of Damar Hamlin and are encouraged by the improvements in his condition as well as the tremendous outpouring of support and care for Damar and his family from across the country.
"We are also incredibly appreciative of the amazing work of the medical personnel and commend each and every one of them."