It's week 13, and the Dolphins are currently tied for an AFC Wildcard spot despite a 5 - 6 record. 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 Cardinals defeated the Colts and the Ravens blew out the Jets. The results that went against the Dolphins' interests were the quietly improving Steelers defeating the Browns, the Chargers defeating the Chiefs, the Titans defeating the Raiders, and the Broncos choking against the Patriots. Despite only 2 out of 6 results going the Dolphins' way, the Dolphins still would have been in the lead for a playoff spot had they defeated the Panthers...but that didn't happen. Instead, the Dolphins are tied for the 6th seed, so it's important to see how the other wildcard contenders perform over the next few weeks because tiebreaks could prove the difference between a shot at a Cinderella run in the playoffs versus yet another January with no Dolphins games.
In the poll for the previous article , only 30 % correctly predicted 2 of the 6 non-Dolphins matchups going the Dolphins way, so this was a disappointing week for the Dolphins in more ways than just our loss to the Panthers. 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 15 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 unless they're playing an AFC team that is still relevant.
Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Carolina Panthers
Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings
Arizona Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Eagles
St. Louis Rams vs. San Francisco 49'ers
New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks
New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins
Category 2 Games: AFC team vs. NFC team matchups (2)
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 Atlanta Falcons to defeat the Buffalo Bills (4 - 7) - Credit to the Bills for being a respectable 4 - 7 despite a carousel at QB due to injuries and an entirely new coaching staff installing new systems on both offense and defense. They're definitely a team to be watched next year. However, they're still a division rival only 2 losses away from playoff elimination, so we'd all appreciate it if they'd lose to an NFC team this week.
Root for the Dallas Cowboys to defeat the Oakland Raiders (4 - 7) - Again, I have to give credit to the Raiders, who are carrying a burden of over $50 million in dead-money (out of a $123 million salary cap) yet are only 1 win behind the Dolphins. However, I think the Raiders are set for a rough finish to the year, which ideally starts this week against an NFC team.
Category 3 Games: AFC team vs. AFC team matchups (6)
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 to defeat Indianapolis Colts (7 - 4) the Tennessee Titans (5 - 6)
- This is a quietly important game with playoff implications for both the wildcard spot and the fate of the AFC South. After this game, the Titans' upcoming schedule has 2 "easy' games against the Jaguars and Texans plus 2 difficult games against the Cardinals and Broncos. The Colts meanwhile have been blown out a couple of times recently after losing Reggie Wayne to injury and with Trent Richardson struggling to average 3 yards per carry since being traded. After this game, the Colts have 2 "easy" games against the Jaguars and Texans but 2 difficult games against the Chiefs and the Bengals. I think it's better for the Dolphins for the Titans to lose and the Colts (who have already won 7 games) to win the AFC South. However, if the Titans win, the Colts seriously could collapse down the stretch given how bad they've looked recently unless they turn things around fast. If that happens, the Dolphins would have a head-to-head tiebreak over the Colts.
Root for the Pittsburgh Steelers (5 - 6) to defeat the Baltimore Ravens (5 - 6) - The Ravens have a head to head tiebreak advantage and conference record tiebreak advantage over the Dolphins, while the Steelers have an upcoming game against the Dolphins and a conference record tiebreak disadvantage against the Dolphins. Therefore, we should root for the Steelers in this game against the Ravens, and then hope the Dolphins beat them head to head. Our game against the Steelers in a couple of weeks is almost certainly a must-win if we want to be able to clinch a playoff spot in week 17 without having to rely on other wins/losses at that point.
Root for the Jacksonville Jaguars (2 - 9) to defeat Cleveland Browns (4 - 7) - The Jaguars are out of the playoff race. The Browns are still (barely) in the playoff mix, so the choice as a Dolphins fan is obvious in this game. Time to root for Chad Henne like it's 2009 all over again: Go Chad Henne, Go!
Root for the Cincinatti Bengals (7 - 4) to defeat the San Diego Chargers (5 - 6) - The Bengals are still the favorites to win the AFC North, unless they collapse with a tough remaining schedule including games against the Colts, Steelers, and Ravens. Meanwhile, the Chargers kept their playoff hopes alive by beating the Chiefs last week. The Dolphins have a head-to-head tiebreak advantage over both teams in this game, but things could get interesting if the Bengals collapse down the stretch and another AFC North makes a run. However, assuming the Bengals are future AFC North winners, it makes sense to root for the Chargers to lose this game and fall behind in the wildcard race.
Root for the Houston Texans (2 - 9) to defeat the New England Patriots (8 - 3) - Another straightforward matchup. The Patriots are 3.5 games ahead of the Dolphins in the AFC East race, which is a nearly insurmountable lead, unless they begin losing games they "should" win, like this week's game against the reeling Texans.
Root for the Denver Broncos (9 - 2) to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs (9 - 2) - The Broncos probably will win the AFC West, so the Broncos winning doesn't hurt the Dolphins. The Chiefs will probably win the first wildcard spot, but it's not impossible that they stumble down the stretch as they've suffered injuries recently and haven't looked as dominant defensively. Therefore, it does help the Dolphins for the Chiefs to lose and therefore keep the #5 seed in play (at least theoretically).
If those 8 games all go in favor of the Dolphins, and if the Dolphins defeat the New York Jets (5 - 6), the new standings would be...
#1 seed - AFC West leader Denver Broncos (10 - 2)
#2 seed - AFC South leader Indianapolis Colts (8 - 4) - earns #2 because of conference record tiebreak (6 - 2) over the Bengals (6 - 3)
#3 seed - AFC North leader Cincinnati Bengals (8 - 4) - earns #3 because of conference record tiebreak (6 - 3) over the Patriots (5 - 3)
#4 seed - AFC East leader New England Patriots (8 - 4)
#5 seed - Wildcard #1 Kansas City Chiefs (9 - 3)
#6 seed - Wildcard #2 Miami Dolphins (6 - 6) - earns #6 because of conference record tiebreak (5 - 3) over the Steelers (5 - 4)
Teams in the Hunt - Pittsburgh Steelers (6 - 6), New York Jets (5 - 6), Cleveland Browns (4 - 8), Oakland Raiders (4 - 8), San Diego Chargers (5 - 7), Tennessee Titans (5 - 7), Buffalo Bills (4 - 8)
Eliminated - Jacksonville Jaguars (3 - 9), Houston Texans (3 - 9)
So - any big disagreements? Oh, and don't forget to vote