The Dolphins are currently competitive in the race for the AFC East as well as an AFC Wildcard spot. The Phinsider has been providing weekly updates on the AFC playoff picture, but think of this article as a "companion" series that 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 Redskins defeated the Chargers, the Eagles defeated the Raiders, the Chiefs defeated the Bills, the Browns beat the Ravens, and the Colts defeated the Texans. However, going against the Dolphins' interests, the Jets defeated the Saints, the Titans defeated the Rams, and the Patriots beat the Steelers (which as a silver lining, knocked out the Steelers from realistic playoff contention).
In the poll for the previous article, 46% of you correctly predicted 5 of the 8 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 13 upcoming non-Dolphins games into 3 categories.
Category 1 Games: NFC team vs. NFC team matchups (6)
These 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.
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 tiebreak over the Dolphins if they're in contention for a wildcard spot.
Root for St. Louis Rams to defeat the Indianapolis Colts(6 - 2) - I was tempted to call this a meaningless game from the Dolphins' perspective since the Colts seem very likely to win the AFC South. If the Colts were up against an AFC team, I'd actually root for the Colts to win since I don't consider them likely competitors for a wildcard spot. However, an NFC team like the Rams earning an additional win doesn't hurt the Dolphins in any playoff scenario. Meanwhile, it's at least theoretically possible the Colts stumble due to their injuries on offense (Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen, Vic Ballard and Donald Thomas), as another team like the Tennessee Titans make an improbable AFC South run, which could leave the Colts as wildcard contenders with the Dolphins having a head to head tiebreak advantage. So the Rams winning this week is slightly more helpful, but the Colts winning isn't a big deal.
Root for the Arizona Cardinals to defeat the Houston Texans(2 - 6) - The Texans are longshot wildcard contenders if new quarterback Case Keenam allows them to make a late-season push as their schedule eases up.
Category 3 Games: AFC team vs. AFC team matchups (4)
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 Pittsburgh Steelers(2 - 6) to defeat the Buffalo Bills(3 - 6) - The Bills have a head to head tiebreak advantage over the Dolphins (for now) and are still (barely) within realistic striking distance of the AFC East title. The Steelers are very unlikely to claim an AFC Wildcard spot after a 2-6 start. Therefore, it would be best for the Dolphins if the Steelers beat the Bills, which would strand the Bills in 4th place in the AFC East and leave them another game behind in the wildcard race.
Root for the Jacksonville Jaguars (0 - 8)to defeat the Tennessee Titans(4 - 4) - Those of you who miss rooting for Chad Henne, I've got great news! The Titans are a surprising 4 - 4 and play in the weak AFC South, making the Titans a wildcard contender since they're unlikely to catch up to the Colts. The Jaguars are "unlikely" to win a wildcard spot after an 0 - 8 start, so it would be best for the Dolphins if the Henne-led Jaguars beat the Titans. GO CHAD HENNE!
Root for the Cincinnati Bengals (6 - 3)to defeat the Baltimore Ravens(3 - 5) - The Ravens have a head to head tiebreak over the Dolphins due to their week 4 win and are one game behind the Dolphins in the wildcard race. The Bengals are leading the AFC North and are unlikely to be competing with the Dolphins for a wildcard spot late in the season unless the Ravens or Browns make an improbable run at the AFC North title. Therefore, it helps the Dolphins if the Bengals defeat the Ravens, forcing the Ravens further behind in the Wildcard race.
Root for the Denver Broncos(7 - 1)to defeat the San Diego Chargers(4 - 4) - The Broncos are almost guaranteed to either win the AFC West or claim the top wildcard spot/5th seed. The Chargers are unlikely to win the AFC West but could win a wildcard spot with a late season push. Therefore, it helps the Dolphins more for the Broncos to beat the Chargers, which would hurt the Chargers' chances of catching up to the Dolphins in the wildcard race.
If those 7 games all go in favor of the Dolphins, and the Dolphins defeat the Buccaneers, the new standings would be...