On Friday morning, the NFL owners approved the plan to move forward after canceling last Monday’s Bengals-Bills game in Cincinnati. The main issues presented were navigating two of the top three teams in the AFC playing one less game than any other team in the conference. The NFL decided to seed based on win percentage, as is standard in the rule book under these circumstances, and to introduce neutral site possibilities for potential AFC Championship matchups that feature any of the three teams affected. Additionally, the league decided that, if the Bengals and Ravens finish with the same number of wins, a coin toss would determine who got home-field advantage if those teams matched up in the first round.
Week 17 Buffalo-Cincinnati game will not be resumed. Clubs to consider neutral site AFC Championship game. Full statement: pic.twitter.com/NwqUwxlbzo — NFL (@NFL) January 6, 2023
Understandably, many in the Bengals organization were not happy about the outcome of the ruling. Katie Blackburn, the Bengals’ Executive Vice President and a member of the Competition Committee, urged the league that the ruling, this late in the season, was unfair and could introduce bias. When asked by reporters how he felt about the changes, Zac Taylor seemed similarly perturbed, stating, “There are positives for a lot of teams and negatives for us.” Even running back Joe Mixon got in on the fun, tweeting on Thursday night a screenshot of the NFL’s rulebook for this situation and how the arbitrary introduction of coin tosses and neutral sites shows up nowhere in the official plan the league is supposed to have in place.
The Bengals Were Given The AFC North In Name Only
Many initial reactions seemed to think the Bengals were major beneficiaries. After all, they have now mathematically clinched their second straight AFC North title, and seeing as how many believed they would lose to the Bills, this was better than that situation. No doubt that the league is currently printing and shipping the “2022 AFC North Champion” t-shirts and hats to Cincinnati as I type this, but I doubt they will get broken out of the box until they handle business against Baltimore on Sunday. The main problem that comes with the coin flip is that there is still a possibility that they do not benefit from the main benefit of winning your division: hosting a playoff game.
The Bengals have won the AFC North 🐅 pic.twitter.com/5NzmdJiuLr — B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) January 6, 2023
While this issue would be negated with a win over Baltimore on Sunday, the fact that the Bengals could be given the AFC North championship but still have to play on the road in Baltimore in round one is ludicrous and arbitrary. One of the reasons the NFL decided to make this ruling is because the Ravens will have swept the Bengals if they won in Week Eighteen and thus should have a chance for the North title. However, that negates the fact that the Bengals could have clinched the title on Monday night anyways, making this year’s AFC North title only good for a t-shirt, a harder 2023 schedule, and a worse draft pick.
No-Contest Decision Gives the Bengals Plenty Of Negatives, Not Many Positives
While the coin-flip decision accounts for the fact that the Bengals could have lost to the Bills, the Bengals do not receive any benefits to account for the fact that they could have won. Going into Monday Night Football, Cincinnati controlled their destiny for the second seed in the AFC, meaning they would not have to leave Paycor Stadium until the AFC Championship. Now, if the Bills and Bengals matched up in the Divisional Round, Buffalo would host that game unless they lose to the Patriots in Week Eighteen. Would this potential game be subject to a coin toss, like Cincinnati and Baltimore would be? No, as the league decided that would be “too much of a logistical issue.”
The Bengals worked hard to put themselves into position to host multiple playoff games, winning seven straight games between Halloween and New Year’s Day to put themselves in position to claim the AFC’s top seed. Now, that is no longer a possibility. While losing out on the top seed is unfortunate, it is not the main grievance that the Bengals have with the ruling. Instead, they are annoyed that they were essentially given a loss for the Bills game when they came out firing. No doubt Cincinnati will use this disrespect as another chip on their shoulder for the postseason, and that might be the best thing for this team. After all, it worked out pretty well last year.
Thanks @NFL❗️ You just pissed off our boy and put a BIG CHIP on his shoulder❗️#Whodey #Bengals #BengalsGenius #Betfredsports #TheUSGambler pic.twitter.com/gIM9OnnGzy — Cincinnati Bengals Genius (@BengalsGenius) January 7, 2023