The Dolphins don't play on Sunday, but other games could impact the team's playoff future. 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 games are worth keeping an eye on (besides the Dolphins games, of course), and what outcome would help the Dolphins.
The goal is for the Dolphins to either be a wildcard playoff team or winners of the AFC East. Therefore, with 12 games remaining this weekend + Monday, I've broken up the games into 3 categories.
Category 1 Games: NFC team vs. NFC team matchups
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.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers
Minnesota Vikings vs. Dallas Cowboys
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Seattle Seahawks
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers
Category 2 Games: AFC team vs. NFC team matchups
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 the New Orleans Saints to defeat the New York Jets (4 - 4) - Rooting for the Jets to lose shouldn't be a hard sell for Dolphins fans.
Category 3 Games: AFC team vs. AFC team matchups
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 Kansas City Chiefs (8 - 0) to defeat the Buffalo Bills (3 - 5) - The Bills have a head to head tiebreak advantage over the Dolphins (for now) and are within semi-realistic striking distance of the AFC East title. The Chiefs are almost certainly going to claim an AFC Wildcard spot (if not the AFC West title) after an 8-0 start. Therefore, it would be best for the Dolphins if the Chiefs 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 Cleveland Browns (3 - 5) to defeat the Baltimore Ravens (3 - 4) - The Ravens have a head to head tiebreak advantage over the Dolphins due to their week 4 win, but I think they are unlikely to win the AFC North unless the Bengals collapse, making the Ravens a wildcard contender. The Browns have a head to head tiebreak disadvantage against the Dolphins due to their week 1 loss and are unlikely to win the AFC North, so they're technically a wildcard contender as well. I think it would be best for the Dolphins if the Browns beat the Ravens because that would leave both the Ravens and the Browns a game behind the Dolphins in the loss column. A Ravens victory allows the Ravens to tie the Dolphins at 4-4 (with a tiebreak advantage).
Root for the Pittsburgh Steelers (2 - 5) to defeat the New England Patriots (6 - 2) - ....Can both these teams lose? Anyway, the Patriots (for now) have a head to head tiebreak over the Dolphins and have the lead for the AFC East. The Steelers are a future Dolphins opponent but are 2 games behind in the loss column behind the AFC North-leading Bengals. This is a bit of a toss-up:
If you think the Dolphins have no chance to catch up to the Patriots in the AFC East, you should root for the Patriots to beat the Steelers, who are a threat to claim a wildcard spot.
However, I think the Dolphins have a shot at the AFC East, so I'm rooting for the Steelers in this to help the Dolphins gain ground in the AFC East race.
Root for the Indianapolis Colts (5 - 2) to defeat the Houston Texans (2 - 5) - The Colts have a head to head tiebreak disadvantage against the Dolphins due to their week 2 loss but seem likely to win the AFC South. The Texans don't play against the Dolphins this year and are unlikely to win the AFC South but could win a wildcard spot with a late season push. Therefore, it helps the Dolphins more for the Colts to beat the Texans, which would keep the Colts as AFC South leaders and hurt the Texans' chances of catching up to the Dolphins in the wildcard race.
If those 8 games all go in favor of the Dolphins, the new standings would be...
#1 seed - AFC West leader Kansas City Chiefs (9 - 0)
#2 seed - AFC South leader Indianapolis Colts (6 - 2)
#3 seed - AFC North leader Cincinnati Bengals (6 - 3) - earns #3 because of conference record tiebreak over Patriots
#4 seed - AFC East leader New England Patriots (6 - 3)
#5 seed - Wildcard #1 Denver Broncos (7 - 1)
#6 seed - Wildcard #2 Miami Dolphins (4 - 4) - earns #6 because of conference record tiebreak over Chargers
Teams in the Hunt - San Diego Chargers (4 - 4), New York Jets (4 - 5), Baltimore Ravens (3 - 5), Tennessee Titans (3 - 5), Oakland Raiders (3 - 5)
So - any big disagreements?