Since talk of Miami making it to the playoffs has gone from a "punchline" in pre-season to "plausible" midway through the season, I'm going to quickly write a weekly post looking at Miami's projected season win-loss total and the state of the AFC Playoff Race.
If the season were to end today.....(Week 8), here are the standings according to NFL.com
#1 Seed - AFC South champion: Houston Texans (6-1)
#2 Seed - AFC North champion: Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
#3 Seed - AFC East champion: New England Patriots (5-3)
#4 Seed - AFC West champion: Denver Broncos (4-3)
#5 Seed - Wildcard #1: Miami Dolphins (4-3)
#6 Seed - Wildcard #2: Indianapolis Colts (4-3)
So that's where Miami is now, but the real question is, "Where will Miami be at the end of the season?"
The website Football Outsiders collects data about how well a team's offense, defense, and special teams have performed so far, then it adjusts those performances based on the strength of their opponents.
For example, a team that earns 100 rushing yards against the Miami Dolphins' elite run defense is rated more highly than a team that earns 100 rushing yards against the Indianapolis Colts' poor run defense, since the Dolphins run defense is much better than the Colts defense.
It then runs computer simulations to "project" how many wins each team will finish the season with based on the strength of their upcoming opponents.
So here are the playoff odds for all the AFC teams, based on Football Outsiders.
Click the image to enlarge.
To sum up, Miami is currently 4-3. On computer simulations of the entire NFL season, the Miami Dolphins' mean number of wins is 9.4, which is up from the 8.7 wins they "projected" 10 days ago in my previous writeup. The projected number of wins has gone up for 2 reasons -
1. The Dolphins completely dominated the Jets, so Miami's rating as a team ("DVOA") went up.
2. Some of the Dolphins' future opponents, such as Seattle, had a bad game since their last simulation, so simulations show Miami is more likely to beat them.
Beating the Jets, who are/were a Wildcard contender, increased our odds of making the playoffs by over 20% - it was a hugely important game. I favor these projections because they don't look just at wins and losses. They factor in how well each team played in their wins and losses, and judge that based on the strength of their opponent. That's why Football Outsiders ranked the Dolphins high even when the team was 3-3. Miami had played well in 5 out of our 6 games, so their computer calculations rated Miami as "better" than a 3-3 team that was blown out in 3 losses.
Focusing on the AFC:
Baltimore Ravens (5-2)
Projected wins - 9.6
AFC North winner - 52.3% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 27.4% chance
The Ravens' playoff odds dropped after their terrible game against the Texans, which happened after serious injuries on their no longer elite defense. Their projected wins will continue to drop if it becomes clear that the Ravens are struggling to overcome their injury issues, but they remain AFC North favorites for now.
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
Projected wins - 9.5
AFC North winner - 46.2% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 29.8% chance
The Steelers are strong favorites to claim a Wildcard spot and might overtake the Ravens for the AFC North, given their recent wins over the Bengals and Redskins.
Cincinnati Bengals (3-4)
Projected wins - 6.7
AFC North winner - 1.3% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 5.4% chance
The Bengals have lost to the Dolphins, Ravens, Steelers, and Browns. That makes it very difficult for them to claim either the AFC North (with a poor 1-3 division record) or a Wildcard spot (they would lose on tiebreaks to 3 likely AFC playoff teams).
Cleveland Browns (2-6)
Projected wins - 5.0
AFC North winner - 0.2% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 0.5% chance
The Browns are 2-6, and 2-6 teams rarely make the playoffs. They'll likely be mathematically eliminated after 3 more losses.
Houston Texans (6-1)
Projected wins - 12.1
AFC South winner - 99.0% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 0.8% chance
The Texans are so much better than the rest of their division that they're not a threat to take a Wildcard spot - it's almost guaranteed they win the AFC South.
Indianapolis Colts (4-3)
Projected wins - 7.0
AFC South winner - 1.0% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 9.4% chance
Now, you might say, "Why do the Colts have only a 9.4% chance of winning the Wildcard when they have the same 4-3 record as Miami?" You have to remember that the projections aren't based only on wins and losses - margin of victory matters as well.
The Dolphins won 2 of their 4 wins by 20+ points, and narrowly lost 2 of their 3 losses in overtime.
The Colts narrowly won all 4 of their wins, and were blown out by the Jets and the Bears, plus they lost by 5 points to the Jaguars (who are a very bad team). Narrow wins over the Packers, Browns, Vikings, and Titans by a TD or less don't outweigh those big losses. However, the Colts playoff odds go up dramatically if they beat Miami on Sunday and earn a potential playoff tiebreak against Miami.
Tennessee Titans (3-5) -
Projected wins - 5.6
AFC South winner - 0.0% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 1.1% chance
The Titans (like the Colts) have narrowly earned their wins while being blown out in some of their losses. Teams like that are unlikely to make the playoffs.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)
Projected wins - 4.2
AFC South winner - 0.0% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 0.2% chance
1-6 teams usually don't make the playoffs. The Jaguars likely will be mathematically eliminated after 3 more losses.
Denver Broncos (4-3)
Projected wins - 11.0
AFC West winner - 96.5% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 1.8% chance
The Broncos have the only elite quarterback in the worst division in football (AFC West). The rest of their schedule is a joke, so like the Texans, they're near guaranteed to win their division and are not a threat to take a Wildcard spot.
Oakland Raiders (3-4)
Projected wins - 7.4
AFC West winner - 1.8% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 17.6% chance
The Raiders have a shot at a Wildcard spot, but the Dolphins have a head-to-head tiebreak advantage because of Miami's week 2 blowout win.
San Diego Chargers (3-4)
Projected wins - 7.0
AFC West winner - 1.7% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 14.2% chance
The Chargers' playoff odds fell dramatically after losing to the Browns. Norv Turner will likely be fired finally.
Kansas City Chiefs (1-6)
Projected wins - 4.1
AFC West winner - 0.0% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 0.1% chance
The Chiefs are the frontrunners for the #1 overall pick in the draft. They likely will be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs after 3 more losses.
New England Patriots (5-3)
Projected wins - 10.7
AFC East winner - 77.8% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 18.3% chance
The Patriots look back on track after beating down the Rams by a score of 45 to 7. They become a Wildcard team only if Miami overtakes them for the AFC East title.
Miami Dolphins (4-3)
Projected wins - 9.4
AFC East winner - 20.6% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 56.0% chance
The Dolphins have an excellent shot at a Wildcard spot given how well Miami has played, and a 1 in 5 chance of overtaking the Patriots (difficult but doable). Defense and special teams are top-10 by their numbers, but offense is ranked only 20th, so that needs to improve.
New York Jets (3-5)
Projected wins - 6.9
AFC East winner - 0.9% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 10.6% chance
The Jets can keep their hopes alive, but their offense and special teams need to improve quickly to have a shot.
Buffalo Bills (3-4)
Projected wins - 6.8
AFC East winner - 0.6% chance
AFC Wildcard winner - 6.9% chance
The Bills are still alive, but they need some wins against tough opponents. The Bills are 1-7 in their past 8 division games, and they have 4 more division games coming up, so it doesn't look good.
So here are the playoff seeds and win-loss records based on the Football Outsiders projections
#1 Seed - AFC South champion: Houston Texans (12 - 4)
#2 Seed - AFC West champion: Denver Broncos (11 - 5)
#3 Seed - AFC East champion: New England Patriots (11 - 5)
#4 Seed - AFC North champion: Baltimore Ravens (10 - 6)
#5 Seed - Wildcard #1: Pittsburgh Steelers (10 - 6)
#6 Seed - Wildcard #2: Miami Dolphins (9 - 7)
In the Hunt (>5% chance at a Wildcard spot) - Oakland Raiders (7 - 9), San Diego Chargers (7 - 9), Indianapolis Colts (7 - 9), New York Jets (7 - 9), Buffalo Bills (7 - 9), Cincinnati Bengals (7 - 9)
The goal should always be becoming the AFC East champion. However, if that doesn't work, a wildcard spot is definitely in reach.
8 Things to Root For
1. Miami Dolphins win/Indianapolis Colts lose - if Dolphins beat Colts, Dolphins own a tiebreak against the Colts AND are an extra win ahead of the Colts, so this game has serious playoff implications
2. Pittsburgh Steelers lose to the New York Giants + 3. Oakland Raiders lose to Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Giants and Buccaneers are NFC teams, so it's better for Miami for NFC teams to win rather than possible AFC Wildcard teams like the Steelers and Raiders.
4. Baltimore Ravens lose to the Cleveland Browns + 5. San Diego Chargers lose to Kansas City Chiefs - The Browns and Chiefs have almost no shot at a Wildcard spot, so it's better for Miami for those "hopeless" teams to earn "meaningless" wins rather than the Ravens and Chargers, who might be Wildcard teams.
6. Buffalo Bills lose to Houston Texans + 7. Cincinnati Bengals lose to Denver Broncos - The Texans and Broncos have a near 100% chance to win their divisions, so it's better for Miami for division winners to earn "extra" wins rather than the Bills and Bengals, who are chasing after Wildcard spots.
8. New York Jets and New England Patriots lose to the Bye Week - Yeah, I wish the Jets and Pats could earn a loss in their bye-week...