The Dolphins are 1-0 since I began using cheerleader pictures to help foster optimism, so I'll keep up that trend as long as I can delude myself into thinking it has some sort of impact on the football field.
It's week 12, and 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 Bears defeated the Ravens, the Panthers defeated the Patriots, the Colts defeated the Titans, the Bills defeated the Jets, the Bengals defeated the Browns, the Raiders defeated the Texans, and the Broncos defeated the Chiefs. With the Dolphins beating the Chargers, the only result that went against the Dolphins' interests was the Steelers defeating the Lions.
In the poll for the previous article, only 30 % correctly predicted 7 of the 8 non-Dolphins matchups going the Dolphins way, so it's safe to say last week was "unexpectedly good" for the Dolphins. 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 13 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 (7)
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 allow them to sit their starters late in the season wouldn't benefit the Dolphins. Also, if an AFC team is basically eliminated from playoff contention, then it's not worth tracking their progress.
New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Detroit Lions
Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers
Chicago Bears vs. St. Louis Rams
Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants
San Francisco 49'ers vs. Washington Redskins
Houston Texans (2 - 8) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (1 - 9) - I'm comfortable eliminating both the Texans (who have 8 losses with games against the Colts, Broncos, and Patriots coming up) and the Jaguars (already with 9 losses) from the playoff race.
Category 2 Games: AFC team vs. NFC team matchups (1)
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 tiebreak over the Dolphins.
Root for the Arizona Cardinals to defeat the Indianapolis Colts (7 - 3) - With the Jaguars and Texans combining for 3 wins this year, and the Titans stuck with Ryan Fitzpatrick after Jake Locker's season-ending injury, the Colts are almost guaranteed to win the AFC South, so I was tempted to put this game in the "irrelevant" category. However, while a win by an NFC team like the Cardinals would never hurt the Dolphins' playoff chances, a Colts win could hurt the Dolphins if the Colts somehow finish this season with a winning record without winning the AFC South. That's very unlikely to happen unless the Titans go nearly undefeated in their final games, but it's possible, so the Colts losing is the preferred outcome.
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 Oakland Raiders (4 - 6) to defeat the Tennessee Titans (4 - 6)
- While the Raiders are tied with the Titans, their remaining schedule after this game is very difficult with games against the Broncos, Chiefs, and Chargers - plus 2 games against the decent Jets and Cowboys. The Raiders could go 0 - 5 the final 5 weeks. The Titans schedule by comparison is a bit easier with 2 "easy' games against the Jaguars and Texans, 1 game against the decent Cardinals, and "only" 2 tough games against the Colts and Broncos. Ideally, the Raiders beat the Titans this week, and both teams stumble down the stretch.
Root for the Baltimore Ravens (4 - 6) to defeat the New York Jets (5 - 5) - There are a lot of reasons to root for the Jets to lose. First, they're the Jets. Second, the Jets are currently in the lead for a wildcard spot, so a defeat allows the Dolphins to surpass them. Third, the Jets only have 1 upcoming game against a team over 0.500 (the Panthers), while the Ravens can look forward to 3 of their 5 remaining games being against the Lions, Patriots, and Bengals (all winning teams). So a loss by the Jets would be very helpful for the Dolphins, even if the Jets lose to another AFC wildcard contender like the Ravens.
Root for the Cleveland Browns (4 - 6) to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers (4 - 6) - The Browns are one of the few AFC teams that has been playing better as the year has gone on, but the Dolphins have a head-to-head tiebreak against them. The Steelers have also quietly gone on a hot-streak recently, and the Dolphins still have an upcoming game against the Steelers that could give the Steelers a head-to-head tiebreak if the Dolphins lose. The Dolphins would be in better shape if they were to finish the year in a close race against the Browns rather than the Steelers, so it helps the Dolphins if the Browns defeat the Steelers, forcing Pittsburgh further behind in the Wildcard race.
Root for the Kansas City Chiefs (9 - 1) to defeat the San Diego Chargers (4 - 6) - The Chiefs' remaining schedule gets a bit tougher after this game with 3 games against the Broncos, Colts, and a rematch with the Chargers, but they have 2 "easier" games against the Redskins and Raiders. They're close to a complete lock for a wildcard spot, so the Chargers are the team who the Dolphins are more realistically competing with for a playoff spot. While the Dolphins have a head to head tiebreak over the Chargers, it'd be better if they fell behind so the tiebreak wasn't needed.
Root for the Denver Broncos (9 - 1) to defeat the New England Patriots (7 - 3) - Another straightforward matchup. The Broncos probably will win the AFC West, so the Broncos winning doesn't hurt the Dolphins. The Patriots are only 2.5 games ahead of the Dolphins in the AFC East race, which is a tough but not insurmountable lead, and a Patriots defeat helps the Dolphins in the AFC East race.
If those 6 games all go in favor of the Dolphins, and the Dolphins defeat the Carolina Panthers, the new standings would be...
#1 seed - AFC West leader Denver Broncos (10 - 1)
#2 seed - AFC South leader Indianapolis Colts (7 - 4) - earns #2 because of conference record tiebreak (5 - 2) over the Bengals (5 - 3)
#3 seed - AFC North leader Cincinnati Bengals (7 - 4) - earns #3 because of conference record tiebreak (5 - 3) over the Patriots (4 - 3)
#4 seed - AFC East leader New England Patriots (7 - 4)
#5 seed - Wildcard #1 Kansas City Chiefs (10 - 1)
#6 seed - Wildcard #2 Miami Dolphins (6 - 5)
Teams in the Hunt - Baltimore Ravens (5 - 6), New York Jets (5 - 6), Cleveland Browns (5 - 6), Oakland Raiders (5 - 6), San Diego Chargers (4 - 7), Tennessee Titans (4 - 7), Buffalo Bills (4 - 7), Pittsburgh Steelers (3 - 7)
So - any big disagreements? Oh, and don't forget to vote