It's week 16, and the Dolphins are tied for an AFC Wildcard spot with a 8-6 record with a small chance of winning the AFC East. 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 Chargers pulled off the upset against the Broncos, the Panthers beat the Jets, the Cardinals narrowly beat the Titans, and the Steelers dominated the Bengals. The results that went against the Dolphins' interests were the Chiefs dominating the Raiders and the Lions choking against the Ravens.
In the poll for the previous article, only 38% of folks correctly predicted 4 of the 6 non-Dolphins matchups going the Dolphins' way, so this was an unexpectedly good week for the Dolphins in addition to the narrow victory over the Patriots. The Bengals' defeat means the Dolphins FINALLY control their own destiny once again if and only if they win all of their remaining games. If the Dolphins lose during the next 2 weeks, the Dolphins' playoff hopes would once again depend on other teams losing.
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 (11)
The vast majority of games fall into this category because so many teams are eliminated from AFC playoff contention.
New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers
Dallas Cowboys vs. Washington Redskins
Cleveland Browns (4 - 10) vs. New York Jets (6 - 8)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. St. Louis Rams
Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks
New York Giants vs. Detroit Lions
Denver Broncos (11 - 3) vs. Houston Texans (2 - 12) - Peyton Manning is putting up historic passing numbers, and he's playing against an outmatched Houston Texans team. Wow, the 2013 season really is just like the 2004 season for Manning all over again! I'd expect a Broncos win.
Tennessee Titans (5 - 9) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (4 - 10)
Pittsburgh Steelers (6 - 8) vs. Green Bay Packers
Chicago Bears vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Atlanta Falcons vs. San Francisco 49'ers
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 tiebreak advantage over the Dolphins.
Root for the Minnesota Vikings to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals (9 - 5) - As usual, root for the Bengals to lose since a Bengals defeat helps the Dolphins by giving the Ravens a chance to win the AFC North. The Dolphins' head-to-head tiebreak advantage against the Bengals makes them a more favorable team for the Dolphins to compete against for a wildcard spot than the Ravens, who have a head-to-head tiebreak advantage over the Dolphins. In addition, if both the Bengals and Ravens lose this week and the Dolphins beat the Bills to improve to 9-6, the Dolphins can clinch a playoff spot this week, as explained in an article earlier this week.
Category 3 Games: AFC team vs. AFC team matchups (3)
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 San Diego Chargers (7 - 7) to defeat the Oakland Raiders (4 - 10) - I know it may seem counter-intuitive to root for one of the few remaining AFC Wildcard contenders, but as I discussed last week, it's all about tiebreaks. The Dolphins have a good shot at reaching 9 or 10 wins with upcoming games against the Bills and Jets. Meanwhile, the Chargers cannot win more than 9 games this season anymore, so the Chargers are more likely to tie the Dolphins than surpass them. The Chargers lose both the conference record tiebreak (4-6 compared to Fins' 7-3) and head-to-head tiebreak with the Dolphins.
Therefore, fans should root for the Chargers to win because any tiebreak scenario involving the Dolphins and Chargers with or without a third team likely favors the Dolphins because of those tiebreakers, and the only way the Dolphins could lose a wildcard spot to the Chargers is if the Fins go 0-2 to finish the year (a disaster).
Root for the Kansas City Chiefs (11 - 3) to defeat the Indianapolis Colts (9 - 5)
- The Colts have clinched the AFC South, and the Chiefs winning their 11th game clinched a playoff berth for them as either the 5th seed Wildcard team or the AFC West champion because neither the Dolphins nor Ravens can match their 11 wins. However, a Colts defeat this week opens the door to the Dolphins claiming a higher seed if the Dolphins somehow win the AFC East. While this game is very unlikely to affect the Dolphins, Dolphins fans have a reason to root for the Chiefs this week because of the chance
the Dolphins win the division and claim a top-4 seed.
Root for the Baltimore Ravens (8 - 6) to defeat the New England Patriots (10 - 4) in the 4:25 p.m. game IF the Dolphins win against the Bills (1 p.m. game) and IF the Bengals win against the Vikings (1 p.m. game). If the Dolphins lose the 1 p.m. game and/or if the Bengals lose against the Vikings, root for the Patriots to win this game - This gets complicated, so bear with me.
If the Dolphins lose to the Bills in the early afternoon game, no matter what else happens on Sunday, the Dolphins are out of the AFC East race because the Fins would be 8-7 with 1 game left, and the Patriots already have won 10 games so far. In this scenario, the only way the Dolphins are making the playoffs is with a wildcard spot, so it would make sense to root for the Ravens (who currently hold the 6th seed) to lose. This is clear cut.
However, what if the Dolphins win against the Bills at 1 p.m.? Then things get interesting.
If the Dolphins win at 1 p.m. and if the Bengals lose to the Vikings, that creates a "double-edged sword" situation - the Ravens losing to the Patriots at that point would allow the Dolphins to clinch a playoff spot a week early (Hooray!), but the Patriots winning that game would also mean the Dolphins lose the AFC East race (Booooo!).
So, would Dolphins fans prefer to clinch a playoff spot this week and lose the AFC East, or would they prefer to have a shot at the AFC East in week 17, even if being in that situation puts the wildcard spot in jeopardy by potentially requiring a week 17 win over the Jets?
There was an article with a poll asking that question earlier this week, and 58% of fans said they'd rather clinch a playoff spot early by winning on Sunday, having the Bengals lose, AND having the Ravens lose to the Patriots, even though the Patriots winning that game would mean the Dolphins no longer could win the AFC East.
By contrast, only 42% of fans said they'd rather delay clinching a playoff spot by instead having the Ravens win against the Patriots, thereby giving the Dolphins a chance at the AFC East in week 17 if the Dolphins beat the Jets and if the Patriots lose to the Bills. In this "higher risk, higher reward" scenario, the Dolphins have a shot at winning the AFC East entering week 17, but if they fall flat on their face and lose to the Jets, the Dolphins could end up missing the playoffs.
Hence my advice: If the Dolphins lose this week, root for the Patriots to defeat the Ravens because the Dolphins' hopes of reaching the postseason depending on the AFC Wildcard spot.
If the Dolphins win this week and if the Bengals lose this week, root for the Patriots since a Ravens defeat allows the Dolphins to clinch a spot a week early.
If the Dolphins win this week and if the Bengals win this week, then root for the Ravens since the Dolphins would not be able to clinch a playoff spot this weekend if the Bengals win, so a Bengals victory means the Dolphins are going to have to play hard against the Jets in week 17 regardless of what the Ravens do this week. Therefore, fans should prefer to be in a situation where a win against the Jets gives them at least a small chance of beating the Patriots for the AFC East. For that to be a possibility, that requires that the Ravens defeat the Patriots. In this case, a Dolphins win against the Jets in week 17 guarantees a wildcard playoff spot, and a Dolphins win + the Bills somehow beating the Patriots in Foxboro in the regular season finale would make the Dolphins 2013 AFC East champions.
If those 4 games all go in favor of the Dolphins, and if the Dolphins defeat the Buffalo Bills (5 - 9), the new standings would be...
#1 seed - AFC West leader Denver Broncos (12 - 3) - earns AFC West lead and #1 seed over the Chiefs because of head-to-head tiebreak (Broncos swept them)
#2 seed - AFC East leader New England Patriots (11 - 4) [clinched AFC East]
#3 seed - AFC North leader Cincinnati Bengals (9 - 6) - earns #3 because of head to head tiebreak over the Colts
#4 seed - AFC South leader Indianapolis Colts (9 - 6) [clinched AFC South]
#5 seed - Wildcard #1 Kansas City Chiefs (12 - 3)
#6 seed - Wildcard #2 Miami Dolphins (9 - 6) [clinched #6 seed early]
Teams in the Wildcard Hunt that are eliminated this week - Baltimore Ravens (8 - 7)*, San Diego Chargers (8 - 7)
*Ravens can make the playoffs as AFC North champions but can't win the wildcard spot in this scenario because their only way to catch up to the 9-win Dolphins is by winning in week 17. However, winning in week 17 against the Bengals in this situation makes the Ravens AFC North champions, not a wildcard team, because the Ravens will have swept the Bengals.
Previously Eliminated (8+ losses) - Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers
I chose the "Dolphins clinch the playoffs early" scenario as more favorable than the "Dolphins stay alive in the AFC East hunt" scenario since 58% of fans said they'd prefer to clinch early.
Summary for this week: A Dolphins win + a Ravens defeat + a Bengals defeat = Dolphins clinch #6 seed early (Pats win AFC East).
A Dolphins win + a Ravens win + a Bengals defeat = Dolphins have a chance to clinch either an AFC East title or wildcard berth in week 17.
A Dolphins win + a Ravens defeat + a Bengals victory = Dolphins have a chance to clinch only a wildcard berth in week 17 (Pats win AFC East).
A Dolphins win + a Ravens win + a Bengals victory = Dolphins a chance to clinch either an AFC East title or wildcard berth in week 17.
A Dolphins loss = Dolphins are still alive but once again depend on other teams losing/winning to make the playoffs
So - any big disagreements? Oh, and don't forget to vote.