I know there are going to be people on the Internet who read this headline and assume I'm an insensitive, distant, lacking-in-humanity sports blogger who is so detached from reality that I can't even acknowledge how much more important the Damar Hamlin situation in the grander scheme of life. Sorry, can't help you cynics who have that ignorant take.
Everything stopped when Hamlin went down in that Bengals-Bills Monday night game. Thankfully it seems he'll be OK. What an amazing recovery he's been having. AND, how great has it been to see the very best of humankind reach out in support? It's one of the more moving, inspiring sports stories I've ever seen, borne out of a tragic accident that, it appears, will have a happy ending.
That's the life part of it. OK?
NOW. I understand the NFL had an unenviable, near-impossible task to appease everyone involved once the game was declared a no contest, but holy shit. Did the Cincinnati Bengals ever get fucked over.
Anyone with any football sense at all could tell you the Bengals were about to drive down the field, go up 14-3 and very likely run away with that Monday nighter. No disrespect to Josh Allen or the Bills. Just reality. Buffalo was on the ropes. Joe Burrow was moving the ball at will and SPINNING that thing.
Now we're in a situation where, if Cincinnati loses to the Ravens on Sunday, a coin flip will decide where those teams play each other in the Wild Card Round, should the seedings shake out that way. You know, even though the Bengals have already been declared AFC North champions.
Shout out to Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor for coming out FIRING at the podium this fine Friday to emphasize that the team feels a certain type of way about this shit:
This is exactly the reaction I was hoping for from Taylor. The guy is mostly a blank slate during press conferences. Said it the other day: He doesn't waste a fraction of energy or a single word, so when he speaks out this clearly about something, you can only imagine what's going down behind the scenes.
Taylor and his players handled everything involving the Hamlin situation with as much dignity, class and grace as you could possibly hope for.
And this is how they're rewarded.
These Bengals are used to dumb bullshit like this happening. Used to being written off as a fluke Super Bowl participant. Used to doing things the hard way. Players, members of the organization, those who cover the team and fans alike were all trolled amid this season's 0-2 start.
After all the grinding this 2022 squad did to claw back into the race for the AFC's No. 1 seed with Joe Brrr coming off a burst appendix and an o-line needing to jell early on, and earning a second straight division title, there's a chance that a slip-up and the end of a seven-game winning streak against an absolute gauntlet of a schedule will mean not hosting a playoff game.
What's hilarious is, we will have at least one, and potentially two division champions guaranteed a home postseason matchup with a LOSING RECORD. That's right. The winner of Sunday's Jags-Titans duel will finish atop the AFC South at 8-9. If the Bucs opt to rest their starters in a meaningless Week 18 clash in Atlanta, they'll wind up 8-9 with home field for a week.
While I'm confident Joey B and Co. will come through against the likely Lamar Jackson-less Ravens as 10-point favorites, I'm more annoyed that the Bengals are on a trajectory where they'd have to face the Bills in Buffalo even though they were about to beat that ass in their regular-season meeting. They would have, in all likelihood, wound up with the head-to-head tiebreaker…and home-field advantage in a hypothetical Divisional Round rematch.
BUT NOOOOOOO. The NFL was like, "FUCK YOU, CINCINNATI!"
To be abundantly clear yet again: If anyone besides the Bengals wins the Super Bowl, I'd want it to be the Bills, especially with their whole history of making it there four straight times and losing every single one.
Thing is, I also want it to be fair. Although I recognize the difficulty of reworking an AFC playoff scenario on the fly this late in the season, if you draw any conclusion other than that Cincinnati got the shortest end of the stick imaginable here, you don't know ball.
In a weird, twisted sort of way, this is exactly the type of slight the Bengals can use as motivational fuel and as a way to refocus themselves after Monday's unforeseeable, life-altering traumatic event. Unfortunately, the NFL carries on business as usual, and anything that can help the reigning AFC champs recalibrate and get back on track is a welcome distraction on the heels of something everyone involved will still be processing well after the playoffs end.
So let's fucking go, Who Dey Nation. Rise up. Doesn't matter when or where. As we say, they gotta play us!!!