NFL Primer: After a trying week, play resumes with two games Saturday


The NFL returns to the field with two games on Saturday after one of the most sobering weeks in its history.

The Kansas City Chiefs play the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday afternoon. The Tennessee Titans play the Jacksonville Jaguars Saturday night. Both games have a big impact on the playoffs. But football considerations meant little in recent days after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin had to be resuscitated on the field by medical staff during Monday night’s game in Cincinnati.

“I know this has been a tough week for everyone,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday.

At the end of the week there were very encouraging signs of Hamlin’s recovery after suffering cardiac arrest on the field on Monday. His doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said Thursday that he is making significant and notable progress. He used his hands and feet and could communicate by writing messages on a pad, they said, adding that his neurological functions appeared intact.

By Friday, doctors had removed Hamlin’s breathing tube and he spoke to Bill’s players and coaches via video call. Coach Sean McDermott said the positive news about Hamlin’s recovery had been comforting to the Bills and allowed them to prepare for this weekend’s game.

“That was certainly a little relief from the pressure valve that allowed more football to get into the canal,” McDermott said Friday.

Damar Hamlin spoke to his team after the breathing tube was removed overnight

The Bills host the New England Patriots in Orchard Park, NY on Sunday. But first on Saturday, the Chiefs play for AFC first place and the Titans and Jaguars play for the AFC South title.

The Chiefs lead the Bills in the No. 1 race by a half game and can win them with a win over the Raiders. That would give the Chiefs their only first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. But it wouldn’t necessarily guarantee them a home field advantage through the AFC championship game.

The NFL decided Thursday not to reschedule the Bills-Bengals game, which was canceled in the first quarter and later postponed. The league’s team owners voted Friday to ratify changes to the playoff format recommended by Goodell and approved by the NFL’s Competitions Committee on Thursday, which could allow the AFC title game to be played at a neutral venue in certain circumstances if the Bills or Bengals reach the game as a road team. These scenarios will partly play out this weekend.

The stakes are much clearer in the Titans Jaguars game. The winner will capture the division title and host a first-round playoff game as the No. 4 next weekend. The loser is likely done for the season, although the Jaguars would retain some wildcard opportunities.

The Titans are on a six-game losing streak. They would be a winner under .500 division, at 8-9, with one win. The Jaguars have won four in a row to level their record at 8-8. Doug Pederson, her first-year coach, has improved results from quarterback Trevor Lawrence as a sophomore, the top overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

All teams have the option, the league said, of outlining the “3” in blue or red at each 30-yard line. All players can wear Love for Damar 3 t-shirts while warming up. Teams have also been encouraged to support Hamlin momentarily before the game this weekend, the NFL said.