It's week 14, and the Dolphins are currently tied for an AFC Wildcard spot with a 6-6 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 Cowboys defeated the Raiders, the Jaguars beat the Browns, the Falcons defeated the Bills, the Bengals defeated the Chargers, the Colts defeated the Titans, and the Broncos beat the Chiefs. The results that went against the Dolphins' interests were the Ravens defeating the Steelers and the Texans choking against the Patriots. The Patriots' win virtually guaranteed them the AFC East, and the Ravens' win means the Dolphins do not control their own destiny, even if they win all of their remaining games, so the Dolphins are dependent on tiebreaks and/or the Ravens losing to have a shot at the playoffs.
In the poll for the previous article, only 20% of folks correctly predicted 6 of the 8 non-Dolphins matchups going the Dolphins' way, so this was an unexpectedly good week for the Dolphins in more ways than just the blowout victory over the Jets. 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)
Category 2 Games: AFC team vs. NFC team matchups (4)
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 Baltimore Ravens (6 - 6) - The Ravens have a head-to-head tiebreak advantage over the Dolphins but lose on the conference tiebreak with a 6-4 AFC record (60% win percentage) versus the Dolphins' 5-3 AFC record (62.5% win percentage). Therefore, Ravens come out ahead of the Dolphins if there is a 2-way tie, but they probably lose to the Dolphins in the event of a 3-way tie (unless all 3 teams have played each other, which would allow for the head-to-head tiebreak to be used.) It's safer to hope for the Ravens to fall behind in the playoff race than for a 3-way tie, so hopefully the Ravens start losing this week.
Root for the Washington Redskins to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs (9 - 3) - The Chiefs have nearly clinched a playoff spot, but their 3 game losing streak has meant the 5th seed is still in play as long as they continue to lose. Most expect the Chiefs to (eventually) clinch the 5th seed, but the Chiefs losing against an NFC team can't hurt the Dolphins and might help if the Chiefs go on a prolonged losing streak.
Root for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to defeat the Buffalo Bills (4 - 8) - The Bills are already eliminated from the AFC East race, and they're just 1 loss away from being virtually eliminated from the wildcard race.
Root for the New York Giants to defeat the San Diego Chargers (5 - 7) - The Chargers are out of the AFC West race, but they've managed to hang in the AFC Wildcard race. The Chargers lose both the conference record tiebreak (3-6 compared to Fins' 5-3) and head-to-head tiebreak with the Dolphins, and they are 1 loss away from being practically eliminated.
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 Indianapolis Colts (8 - 4) to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals (8 - 4) - Both teams are likely division winners who have lost head-to-head match-ups against the Dolphins, so why root for the Colts? Well, the Colts have basically clinched the AFC South. The Texans and Jaguars are fighting for the #1 overall pick, and the Titans were swept by the Colts and are only 1 loss away from being eliminated from the AFC South race. That means wins by the Colts can't hurt the Dolphins because the Colts are not competing for a wildcard spot this year.
However, if the Bengals lose this game, then that could allow the Ravens to win the AFC North, which could benefit the Dolphins since the Ravens (unlike the Bengals) have the head-to-head tiebreak advantage over the Dolphins. If the Bengals lose at least once in the next 3 weeks before their week 17 game against Ravens, then the Dolphins would regain control of their own destiny. That's because either the Bengals or Ravens would be guaranteed a loss or tie in their week 17 game against each other. If the Bengals lose before that game, the Dolphins winning out would mean the Dolphins would either finish with 1 more win than the Ravens (if the Ravens lose in week 17) or in a tie with the Bengals (if the Bengals lose in week 17), with the head to head wildcard tiebreak in the Dolphins' favor.
Long story short - the Colts losing games doesn't help the Dolphins since the AFC South is so bad. The Bengals losing could allow the Ravens to win the AFC North (taking them out of the wildcard race), leaving the Bengals stuck competing against the Dolphins for a wildcard spot with both the head-to-head and conference record tiebreaks going in favor of the Dolphins if the Bengals lose to the Colts this week. Go Colts!
Root for the Cleveland Browns (4 - 8) to defeat the New England Patriots (9 - 3) - The Patriots have nearly clinched the AFC East, but the race is not over yet. The Browns lose the head-to-head tiebreak to the Dolphins as well as the conference record tiebreak (3-6 for them vs. 5-3 for the Dolphins), and with the Browns two games behind, the Browns are not realistic threats for a wildcard spot anymore. An unlikely Patriots' defeat keeps the AFC East (barely) within reach of the Dolphins.
Root for the Oakland Raiders (4 - 8) to defeat the New York Jets (5 - 7) - As usual, root for the Jets to lose because, A. They're the Jets, and B. They're still in the wildcard race. Meanwhile, the Raiders are two games behind the Dolphins with 3 games against the Chiefs, the Chargers, and the Broncos coming up, so their season is basically over even if they win this week.
Root for the Denver Broncos (10 - 2) to defeat the Tennessee Titans (5 - 7) - By sweeping the Chiefs, the Broncos are a sure bet to win the AFC West, so wins by them don't hurt the Dolphins' playoff chances. However, after this game, the Titans' upcoming schedule has 2 "easy' games against the Jaguars and Texans and only 1 difficult game against the Cardinals, so it's important that the Titans not pull off any upsets.
If those 8 games all go in favor of the Dolphins, and if the Dolphins defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers(5 - 7), the new standings would be...
#1 seed - AFC West leader Denver Broncos (11 - 2)
#2 seed - AFC South leader Indianapolis Colts (9 - 4)
#3 seed - AFC North leader Cincinnati Bengals (8 - 5) - earns #3 because of head to head tiebreak over the Patriots