NFL’s proposed approach to cancellation of Bills-Bengals conflicts with 2022 policy manual

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The NFL’s owners will vote on Friday regarding the specific protocol for playing postseason games among the various AFC teams based on the cancellation of the Week 17 game between the Bills and Bengals.

Some have expressed curiosity and confusion as to why the owners must be involved in the process. The answer is simple. The proposed solution — including the possibility of a neutral-site AFC Championship and a coin flip to determine the location of a potential wild-card game between the Ravens and Bengals (if the Ravens beat the Bengals on Sunday) violates the plain terms of the NFL’s Policy Manual for Member Clubs, Game Operations 2022 Edition.

Here’s the relevant language, from page A78, under the category of “Emergencies and Unfair Acts” and the specific rule entitled “Competitive Policy for Cancelled Games”: “If a game is cancelled, a team’s standing in its division or in its conference (e.g., qualification as a Wild Card in the playoffs or position in playoff seeding) shall be determined on the basis of its final record. When necessary, playoff tiebreakers shall be calculated according to per game average for all teams.”

There’s nothing about neutral sites or coin flips. Seeding is based on winning percentage, period.

That’s why the owners are involved. They’re changing the rules on the fly, during the 2022 NFL season.

That’s their prerogative. But the NFL in the past has been loathe to change the rules during a given season. In this case, for all the discussion and haggling and brainstorming and whatever, the previously determined answer was hiding in plain sight. Fair or not, the NFL had developed a procedure that applies following the cancellation of games.

And, yes, this is a rare and unusual occurrence. But what cancellation of a regular-season game wouldn’t be the result of a rare and unusual occurrence?

Tomorrow, the owners will consider changing that policy. It will be fair for some of them to ask, “Why?”

Also, given that the proposed approach represents a deviation from current rules, the owners will be required to approve the revision via a 24-vote supermajority. The NFL has confirmed this.

So, in other words, only nine votes are needed to block it. Tomorrow could be interesting.

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