Bills get good news on Damar Hamlin as NFL weighs playoff solutions

Bills Damar Hamlin
FILE – Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin (3) leaves the field after an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. Hamlin was in critical condition early Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, after the Bills say his heart stopped following a tackle during the Monday Night Football game, which was indefinitely postponed. (AP Photo/Greg M. Cooper, File)

On Thursday morning, the Buffalo Bills announced great news in Damar Hamlin’s recovery, stating that the safety appears to be neurologically intact and has “shown remarkable improvement.” 

Hamlin had apparently been gripping the hands of his loved ones, and later on Thursday, Bills’ cornerback Kaiir Elam tweeted that Hamlin was “awake and showing more signs of improvement.”

Even later on Thursday, the doctors at UC Health mentioned that Hamlin had begun communicating with them in writing and even asked who won the game. The doctors praised the heroic efforts of the medical personnel on Monday night, including Bills assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington, whose rapid administration of CPR likely saved Hamlin’s life. 

The next steps appear to be to ensure Hamlin can breathe fully on his own and then to get him back to Buffalo to be at home with his family. While it’s unclear how long that will take, it’s apparent that a major corner has been turned. 

As the Bills and Hamlin’s family focus on the young man’s recovery, the NFL has begun to look at possible solutions for continuing the Bills-Bengals game as well as the impact rescheduling or canceling the game altogether might have on the playoffs.

In a Thursday appearance on ESPN, Adam Schefter reported that his “educated guess” was that the league would not continue the Bills-Bengals game in which Hamlin was injured. Schefter was told that “it’s time to leave it behind. Move forward, not back.” 

Of course, a permanent cancellation of the game would have wide-reaching ramifications for the AFC playoff race.  

The Bills headed into Week 17 with the same record as the Chiefs but held the number one seed in the AFC because they beat the Chiefs earlier in the season. The Bengals were only one game behind both the Bills and Chiefs and had also beaten the Chiefs earlier in the season. 

If the Buffalo and Cincinnati game is canceled, Kansas City would head into Week 18 with a half-game lead on Buffalo. Since Buffalo would not be able to play 17 games, Kansas City would clinch the top seed by that half-game margin if they beat Las Vegas on Saturday. 

That would mean the Bills would lose a first-round bye and home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs even if they also beat New England on Sunday. 

In his television appearance, Schefter reported that the league was looking for ways to change the playoff schedule and can “go into overdrive” now that doctors feel encouraged by Hamlin’s progress. 

Two of the ideas that Schefter mentions the league is considering are ruling the Bills-Bengals game a tie and then deciding the top seed in the AFC by winning percentage. The top seed would then get the choice between a first-round bye or home-field advantage through the entire conference portion of the playoffs. 

The number two seed would then get whatever isn’t chosen. 

The other solution, which Schefter believes “might be even more viable and more discussed” is that the league would play the AFC Championship at a neutral site in the event that the game involves two teams who have played a different number of regular season games. That means that if the Chiefs were to face either the Bills or Bengals, no team would have home-field advantage. 

Obviously, this remains a developing story and we won’t know for sure what the league decides until this weekend or possibly after. The schedule changes for the playoffs also take a backseat to the ongoing recovery of Damar Hamlin, but it seems like there are positive developments all around on Thursday. 

For more NFL coverage, like this Bills playoff schedule article, visit amNY Sports

Memorials for Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin
A painting that shows the number of Damar Hamlin is illuminated by candles during a prayer vigil outside University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Cincinnati. Hamlin was taken to the hospital after collapsing on the field during a football game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)