The Week 17 Monday Night Football game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals remains “temporarily suspended” in the wake of a horrifying medical emergency involving Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin. The drama unfolded in front of tens of thousands of people in person and millions more watching the game around the world, but for all the coverage and attention the story has received, we still have very little information on just what happened to Hamlin, his current and future status, or on how the NFL plans to proceed after making the popular (and correct) choice not to continue last night’s game.
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Above all, let us preface this article first and foremost by saying that Damar Hamlin’s health and well-being were, are, and will continue to be the most important considerations where the events of last night are concerned. Regardless of anything else, a 24 year old young man’s life hangs in the balance. His family and friends are experiencing something none of us should ever have to go through. Our thoughts, prayers (if so inclined), and primary focus should be on Hamlin’s recovery. Everything else connected with this story is trivial in comparison.
While the import of the game pales in comparison to the life-threatening ordeal that Hamlin and his family are experiencing, questions nevertheless remain as to what the NFL plans to do about the game’s status and its effect on the schedule and standings as the league winds down its season in Week 18. Likewise, millions of bettors and fantasy football enthusiasts have questions as to how things proceed in the wake of an unprecedented emergency. Unfortunately, we have few concrete answers at the moment. The NFL and its fandom are in a holding pattern for the time being.
What Happened to Damar Hamlin?
Damar Hamlin was a sixth-round pick (number 212 overall) in the 2021 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. Hamlin, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, attended the University of Pittsburgh as a top-150 national recruit after being named Pennsylvania’s AAAA Defensive Player of the Year. While at Pitt, Hamlin garnered Honorable Mention All-ACC honors in 2018 and Second Team All-ACC honors in 2020. Hamlin also was invited to participate in the Senior Bowl that year.
As a pro, Hamlin played in 14 games as a rookie, with two tackles and two pass defenses to his credit. Hamlin was named the Bills’ starter at safety opposite Jordan Poyer after Micah Hyde was lost for the season following neck surgery. Hamlin has 15 starts this season and leads the Bills’ defensive backs in total tackles, tackles for loss and quarterback sacks. Overall, he is third on the Bills in total tackles behind linebackers Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds. Hamlin currently ranks 59th of 88 qualifying players in PFF’s player grades.
By now, most are familiar with the large-picture details. In the first quarter of the Week 17 Monday Night Football game between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals, Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field after making a tackle on Bengals’ wide receiver Tee Higgins. With the Bengals leading the game 7-3, Cincinnati had just begun their second drive of the game and faced a second down and three from their own 39 yard line. Joe Burrow threw a pass over the middle that Higgins caught. Higgins ran across the field and was met by Hamlin at the 50 yard line. Higgins lowered his shoulder to meet Hamlin’s tackle attempt. Hamlin’s arms wrapped around Higgins’s shoulders as the two players collided. The two spun to the ground, with Hamlin landing on top of Higgins.
Hamlin then stood up, placing one hand on Bengals’ running back Joe Mixon, who had been trailing the play. Hamlin adjusted his helmet with both hands, then collapsed backwards without catching himself. Mixon jumped out of the way to avoid tripping over Hamlin. Mixon and a host of other players then began pointing to Hamlin and calling for medical aid. The game clock was stopped with 5:58 remaining in the first quarter and the Bengals facing first and 10 at the Buffalo 48 yard line.
At first, the scene looked similar to other instances we’ve seen in the NFL this season, particularly when players have suffered concussions: an incapacitated player laying on the field while other players sounded the alarm and medical personnel rushed to the player’s aid. It quickly became apparent this was not a “routine” injury. Television cameras captured the horror and dismay of players and coaches from both teams as medical professionals administered care to Hamlin. Members of Hamlin’s family, including his mother, came down to the field level. They traveled to the hospital with Hamlin’s ambulance.
The Bills issued a statement saying that Hamlin had suffered a cardiac arrest. Medical personnel used an external defibrillator and administered CPR to successfully restore his heartbeat on the field. Hamlin was then transported by ambulance directly from the field to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, which houses the only Level 1 trauma unit in the area. As of this story’s publication, Hamlin remained there under sedation in critical condition.
According to Brian Scott of The Injured List podcast, cardiac arrest in sports is a very rare occurrence. It often can be traced back to an undiagnosed, underlying disease or condition. “Since most of the athletes in the NFL and at the elite levels of competition often undergo vigorous and extensive medical testing and evaluation throughout their careers, it is not often that we find these medical anomalies/conditions… In cases where these conditions are discovered, this usually spells the end of the athletes career,” states Scott. He cites Lamarcus Aldridge of the NBA as a recent example.
Although the play on which the injury occurred appeared innocuous enough, Scott says that doesn’t rule out Commotio Cordis, an event “caused by direct non-penetrating blunt force trauma to the chest that causes the heart to go into sudden cardiac arrest.” Scott has addressed this type of injury previously on his podcast, and appeared on the TSS Fantasy podcast Tuesday night to discuss Hamlin’s situation specifically.
The Bengals-Bills game in Week 17 was important on several levels to the league. After Kansas City won their game against Denver on Sunday, the Chiefs sit at 13-3 and hold the inside track for the AFC’s top playoff seed and lone playoff bye. The Bills and Bengals were both still mathematically alive for the top seed, with each needing to win to keep pace. A win would also be important in tie-breaker scenarios for any seeding. The Bills and Bengals entered the game as the conference’s two and three seeds, respectively. Further, a win for Cincinnati would clinch the AFC North title following the Ravens’ loss Sunday.
The league’s policy of flexible scheduling in Week 18 resulted in an interesting scenario. Most of the Week 18 schedule has been confirmed. The league was waiting on the outcome of Monday’s game, however, to determine the time slot for the Bengals-Ravens game. The league announced that the game would be played in the Sunday late afternoon window if it would decide the division. Otherwise, it would be placed in the early window. As of right now, no decision has been made regarding Week 18’s schedule. The league did release a statement Tuesday. The game will not be made up or completed before Week 18.
Year-Long Fantasy League Consequences
For the vast majority of year-long fantasy football leagues, Week 17 is the final week of the playoffs. Numerous players on the Bills’ and Bengals’ high-powered offenses are rostered in most formats. Many leagues may not have contingency rules in place for this sort of scenario. Others may still have COVID-19 contingencies on the books, which could also apply in this scenario. So what are commissioners to do?
The best approach probably involves some sort of wait-and-see mentality. Until we know more on Hamlin’s status, don’t expect much from the league in terms of resolving last night’s game. Currently, the NFL has vacated the stats from the game. That means many leagues show zeroes for Bills and Bengals in lineups. If the game is continued or replayed before the end of the regular season, the stats could count. Commissioners, especially those whose teams may be involved in active games, should definitely reach out to the rest of the league. State where the championships stand and get feedback, especially if money is involved. I don’t recommend making a unilateral decision on your own without hearing from the affected parties.
One option, as stated, is to wait and see what happens with the game. If it’s played, plug the stats in as normal and crown a champion maybe a week late. Players could share the championship (and any prize money) equally as another option. Players could be allowed to substitute from their bench for any Bills or Bengals players in their lineups. Scores could be accepted as they are now, without the game. Undoubtedly, the decision about how to handle this will cost some players a league title. Work to find an agreeable solution. If you’re one of those affected, please remember no one asked for this scenario. We’d all much rather have woken up to a complete Week 17 and a healthy Damar Hamlin. We play a game that relies on a game. In the grand scheme, it’s not worth sacrificing friendships or your human decency.
Public League Platforms’ Stances
It’s worth reading through the rules for your leagues again to see if there’s a plan. Several popular league hosting platform sites have released statements on the situation. Yahoo! leagues have a League Note stating that the game status is “undetermined” at this time and directing players to an article for updates. Sleeper tweeted several posts related to the game, with the most relevant being this:
Rise to the Championship runs dynasty leagues hosted on MyFantasyLeague.com. They announced they would wait for the end of the regular season or a definitive statement on the status of the game before finalizing championships. There has been no official statement yet from the NFL’s own fantasy league site. ESPN’s fantasy hosting site has posted the following: “The Bengals vs Bills game on Monday, January 2nd has been postponed by the NFL. The current matchup period will be extended. We will provide more information as it becomes available.”
Continue to check with your league hosting sites and commissioners for information on fantasy results.
If you are playing any DFS format, it would be a good idea to check the rules and regulations for a relevant policy. FanDuel has addressed the situation here.
DraftKings has apparently already cancelled and refunded contests, sending an email to affected customers. As stated, check with your individual host site’s rules and regulations.
Most sportsbooks look prepared to void all action that involved the game. BetMGM Customer Support tweeted the following Tuesday:
Caesars Sportsbook is responding similarly:
Hard Rock Sportsbook tweeted this statement:
Continue to check with your sportsbook for betting information.
Where Things Stand for Hamlin
Meanwhile, Damar Hamlin remains at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in critical condition. Like everyone, we await word on his condition and certainly hope for his recovery. Whether or not Hamlin will ever return to the field is a question for the future. According to Brian Scott, his treatment will most likely center on “providing much needed oxygen to his vital organs while on a ventilator and letting science and human physiology work in concert to try and heal any damage that may have occurred while he was in cardiac arrest.” Accordingly, Scott adds that it will likely be some time before the full extent of any possible brain or organ damage from Hamlin’s time in cardiac arrest is known.
For those seeking immediate updates and ongoing coverage, CNN has been actively covering the situation. In the meantime, the Bills returned to Buffalo last night following the suspension of the game and presumably will prepare to host New England this Sunday. Players and teams from around the league have expressed support and concern. If you wish to express your own support, consider donating to Hamlin’s charity foundation. Hamlin began the initiative to support a toy drive for the Chasing M’s Foundation. You can donate towards the drive, as well as leave a note of encouragement.
Thank you for reading.
Again, our thoughts and prayers go out to Damar Hamlin, his family, and the Buffalo Bills. Remember to check Belly Up Fantasy Sports for more fantasy and betting analysis and insight. Rankings, strategies, and betting advice will help you cash in. More NFL coverage is available on the main Belly Up site and Belly Up Media. Got something to say? Leave a comment below, follow me on Twitter @SttChaseFFB, and catch me on the Belly Up Fantasy Live podcast each week.
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