The NFL is dealing with an unprecedented situation as far as playoff seeding and scheduling following the suspension of the Cincinnati Bengals vs. Buffalo Bills game on Monday. On Thursday the league confirmed it has cancelled Bengals-Bills following the cardiac arrest of Bills safety Damar Hamlin, whom I’m relieved and thrilled to report continues to improve and is now awake, per his agent.
The Bills and Bengals are not only two playoff teams but they were both in contention for the #1 seed in the AFC. Based on the league’s decision, the Bengals have won the AFC North and the Kansas City Chiefs now control their own destiny for the #1 seed and will clinch it if they beat the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday.
On Friday there will be a vote among team owners on proposed changes to the AFC playoffs, including the possibility of a neutral site AFC Championship Game should either the Bills or Bengals play the Chiefs in that round.
Prior to the NFL’s decision late Thursday evening, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio floated an interesting scenario that would’ve been relevant to the Seattle Seahawks: Playoff expansion.
One possibility would be to add an eighth team to the playoff field in the AFC. This would eliminate the bye for the No. 1 seed.
To ensure competitive balance, there would have to be eight teams in the NFC, too.
The NFL Players Association would have to agree to a temporary expansion of the playoff field.
Discussions also are continuing on the possibility of making the AFC Championship a neutral-site game. The problem with this approach is that if, for example, a team other than the Bills, Chiefs, or Bengals qualifies for the game, there’s no need to use a neutral site.
This needed to be collectively bargained with the NFLPA, and such a proposal to go to 16 teams on short notice would’ve meant multiple eliminated teams finding out that they’re actually back in the hunt after they’ve already conducted multiple practices. There’s also not much need to impact more teams than necessary and cost the NFC #1 seed a bye. Based on what Adam Schefter wrote, it never crossed the NFL’s mind to go from 14 to 16 teams.
In an alternative universe where emergency playoff expansion materialized, the Seahawks would have only needed a win against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday to qualify for the postseason, and the only reason to worry about the Detroit Lions-Green Bay Packers game would be whether they finish as the #7 or #8 seed. A loss also wouldn’t have necessarily eliminated them pending other results.
So that conversation is over. Seattle still needs a win over LA and a Lions win or tie against the Packers.