Bengals vs. Ravens coin toss, explained: How NFL's 2023 playoff proposal could hurt Cincinnati

Bengals vs. Ravens coin toss, explained: How NFL's 2023 playoff proposal could hurt Cincinnati

When a game between two top seeds in a conference gets canceled in Week 17, for any reason, there isn’t going to be a perfect solution to how to rectify it on the NFL’s end. A team will always be affected.

The NFL proposed a solution to handle AFC seeding Thursday that the Bengals, however, may particularly take issue with.

With Bills vs. Bengals officially canceled after being called in the first quarter following the terrible collapse of Damar Hamlin, the league is now left with a game-sized hole in two of its top three seeds in the AFC. The Bengals are 11-4 on the year, whereas the Bills are 12-3. The rest of the league, of course, has played 16 games.

To try to address that competitive difference, the NFL submitted a proposal Thursday that will require approval from the owners Friday. In that proposal, the league states that in the event of a Baltimore win Sunday, Ravens vs. Bengals’ home-field advantage on wild-card weekend would be decided by a coin toss in order to address the Ravens missing out on a chance at the AFC North. In every other way, the Bengals would be treated as the No. 3 seed.

MORE: What Bills vs. Bengals cancellation means for AFC playoff seeding

Why the NFL is proposing a coin toss to determine Bengals-Ravens home field advantage

The reasoning behind the NFL coming to this solution in its proposal is a question of competitive balance. If the Ravens beat the Bengals in Week 18, they will own two wins against the Bengals this season, but the Bengals will have won the division by half a game (while maintaining a greater winning percentage).

Clearly, the NFL is looking to avoid half-game scenarios in its final standings, and it thinks this is the way to handle it. There are, however, myriad of issues with that proposal, including the assumptions it entails.

Divisions are generally determined by winning percentage, owned by the Bengals in this case. The league only goes to tiebreakers in the event the winning percentage is the same for two or more teams. So in this case, the league would be skirting around its own rule.

Bengals running back Joe Mixon tweeted his grievances with the proposed solution on Thursday night.

Mixon cited the “competitive policy for canceled games,” which reads:

If a game is cancelled, a team’s standing 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 final record. When necessary, playoff tiebreakers shall be calculated according to per game average for all teams.

The operative language for Bengals fans, of course, will be “when necessary.”

MORE: Josh Allen, Sean McDermott say Bills ready to get back on the field Sunday

Why NFL’s proposal hurts the Bengals

It should be pretty clear why this proposal could potentially hurt the Bengals in the short-term. As outlined above, they would become the first division winner in the modern era to not host a playoff home game. Under the NFL’s proposal, that scenario comes into play if:

  1. Ravens defeat the Bengals in Week 18
  2. Bengals lose the coin toss to determine home-field advantage for their wild-card playoff game

The effects would extend beyond the postseason.

The Bengals would also have the schedule of a division winner next year, which means the Bills and Chiefs would be on their schedule, and they would possibly have a later draft pick.

The only way the proposal helps is if they win, the Chiefs and Bills lose, and they make it to the AFC Championship Game. In that case, they could have a neutral site game.

In that sense, this is far from a perfect solution. Perhaps most of the Bengals feel like Mixon about this proposal. But either way, the NFL has to do something to address the gap in the standings, and the situation before it is nearly unprecedented. This proposal at least handles some of the inequities, but there’s no question that it introduces some new ones.