I honestly don't have any football-related reasons I can use to convince you that the Dolphins are a playoff-caliber team until we start playing much better, so I'm resorting to cheerleader pictures to help foster optimism
Incredibly, the Dolphins are currently competitive in the race for the AFC East as well as an AFC Wildcard spot. This article series talks about what upcoming games are worth keeping an eye on (besides the Dolphins games, of course), and what outcome would help the Dolphins.
Last week, in the Dolphins favor, the Giants defeated the Raiders, the Rams defeated the Colts, the Cardinals defeated the Texans, the Steelers beat the Bills, the Jaguars defeated the Titans (Go Chad Henne!), and the Broncos defeated the Chargers. However, going against the Dolphins' interests, the Ravens defeated the Bengals, and the Dolphins
played like a team that is leaderless despite being up against a team that everybody agrees IS leaderless lost to the Buccaneers.
In the poll for the previous article, 68% of you correctly predicted 6 of the 7 non-Dolphins matchups going the Dolphins way, so your cautious optimism proved to be wise. Let's see what matchups we'd like to go our way this week.
The goal is for the Dolphins to either be a wildcard playoff team or winners of the AFC East. Therefore, I've broken up the 14 upcoming non-Dolphins games into 3 categories.
Category 1: Irrelevant Games, such as NFC team vs. NFC team matchups or games featuring AFC non-threats (6)
NFC vs. NFC games don't affect the Dolphins given that the Dolphins' final 5 opponents are all AFC teams. That means any NFC team that wins enough games to build up a cushion for a playoff seed and sits their starters late in the season wouldn't benefit the Dolphins. And of course, if an AFC team is basically eliminated from playoff contention, then it's not worth tracking their progress.
Washington Redskins vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
San Francisco 49'ers vs. New Orleans Saints
Green Bay Packers vs. New York Giants
Minnesota Vikings vs. Seattle Seahawks
Arizona Cardinals vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (1 - 8) - I'm comfortable eliminating the Jaguars from the playoff race. Call it a hunch.
Category 2 Games: AFC team vs. NFC team matchups (3)
It makes sense to root for the NFC team to win, unless it benefits the Dolphins to have that AFC team to win their division because they have a head-to-head wildcard spot tiebreak over the Dolphins.
Root for the Chicago Bears to defeat the Baltimore Ravens (4 - 5) - The Ravens continue to be playoff contenders and have a head-to-head tiebreak over the Dolphins.
Root for the Detroit Lions to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers (3 - 6) - The Steelers' playoff hopes are still barely alive, and they play the Dolphins later this year.
Root for the Carolina Panthers to defeat the New England Patriots (7 - 2) - This is straightforward: Patriots haven't QUITE wrapped up the AFC East yet, but they need to start losing ASAP to stop that from happening.
Category 3 Games: AFC team vs. AFC team matchups (5)
In this group, you usually root for the AFC team that either isn't in the AFC East or isn't a wildcard contender (either because they're likely division winners or because they've lost too many games). These are the toughest matchups to pick in terms of what helps the Dolphins, so I'll explain my reasoning more in-depth.
Root for the Indianapolis Colts (6 - 3) to defeat the Tennessee Titans (4 - 5) - The Colts aren't quite the guaranteed AFC South winners they were thought to be two weeks ago. Their passing offense has looked mediocre without Reggie Wayne, they can't get their run game with Trent Richardson going, and their defense (while much improved from last year) is still far from elite. However, the Jaguars are looking to the draft, the Texans are a mess that not even a QB switch to Case Keenam can fix, and the overachieving Titans just lost quarterback Jake Locker for the year due to a terrible Lisfranc foot injury. Therefore, I don't see any AFC South team catching up to the Colts, leaving the Titans as the only credible AFC Wildcard team in that division.
Root for the Buffalo Bills (3 - 7) to defeat the New York Jets (5 - 4) - This week, in addition to the wonderful feeling we all get as Dolphins fans, we also get to be Buffalo Bills fans too! Hooray - twice the fun! The Bills are 1 more loss away from being eliminated as even a wildcard contender, but they're playing the Jets, who are a very credible wildcard team with a 1 game lead over the Dolphins and a soft remaining schedule. Any losses by the Jets would be very helpful for the Dolphins, even if they came at the hands of another AFC East rival like the Bills.
Root for the Cincinnati Bengals (6 - 4) to defeat the Cleveland Browns (4-5) - The Cleveland Browns are one of the few AFC teams that has been playing better as the year has gone on, and they're only a win away from becoming very credible AFC North and wildcard contenders. Luckily, the Dolphins have head to head tiebreaks against both teams in this game, but I believe that the Dolphins would much rather finish the year in a race against the Browns than against the Bengals. Therefore, it helps the Dolphins if the Bengals defeat the Browns, forcing the Browns further behind in the Wildcard race.
Root for the Oakland Raiders (3 - 6) to defeat the Houston Texans (2 - 7) - While the Raiders have a 1 game lead, their remaining schedule is incredibly difficult with games against the Broncos, Chiefs, and Chargers. The Texans schedule by comparison is much easier with 2 games against the Jaguars coming up, so ideally, the Raiders beat the Texans to give the Dolphins some breathing room in the AFC wildcard race.
Root for the Denver Broncos (8 - 1) to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs (9 - 0) - While the Chiefs deserve a lot of praise for turning things around this year, I think most people expect the Broncos to finish with a better record than the Chiefs, leaving the Chiefs as a wildcard team we're "competing" against. I put "competing" in quotes because the Chiefs would basically have to go near winless from here on out for the Dolphins to catch up, but it's at least theoretically possible. Last, as Dolphins fans, we have a reason to root for unbeaten teams to lose - we don't want Mercury Morris to be angry. Therefore, I think it'd be more helpful for the Broncos to beat the Chiefs.
If those 8 games all go in favor of the Dolphins, and the Dolphins defeat the San Diego Chargers, the new standings would be...
#1 seed - AFC West leader Denver Broncos (9 - 1)
#2 seed - AFC South leader Indianapolis Colts (7 - 3) - earns #2 because of conference record tiebreak over Patriots
#3 seed - AFC East leader New England Patriots (7 - 3)
#4 seed - AFC North leader Cincinnati Bengals (7 - 4)
#5 seed - Wildcard #1 Kansas City Chiefs (9 - 1)
#6 seed - Wildcard #2 New York Jets (5 - 5) - earns #6 because of division record tiebreak over Dolphins*
Teams in the Hunt - Miami Dolphins (5 - 5), San Diego Chargers (4 - 5), Tennessee Titans (4 - 6), Cleveland Browns (4 - 6), Baltimore Ravens (4 - 6), , Oakland Raiders (4 - 6), Buffalo Bills (4 - 7), Pittsburgh Steelers (3 - 7), Houston Texans (2 - 8)
So - any big disagreements? Oh, and don't forget to vote:
*(credit to DaPhins for pointing out tiebreak error in earlier post)