The NFL playoff picture is starting to come into focus. We are just reaching the halfway mark of the season, with teams playing either their eighth or ninth game of the year this weekend. We start our weekly tracking of the playoff standings today, as well as looking at who the Miami Dolphins are facing, and how that game impacts the playoff picture.
AFC Playoff Picture (through Week 8):
1. Denver Broncos (6-1) - AFC West division leader
2. New England Patriots (6-2) - AFC East division leader
3. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2-1) - AFC North division leader
4. Indianapolis Colts (5-3) - AFC South division leader
5. San Diego Chargers (5-3) - AFC West #2
6. Buffalo Bills (5-3) - AFC East #2
AFC Playoff Contenders (through Week 8):
Baltimore Ravens (5-3)
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)
Kansas City Chiefs (4-3)
Miami Dolphins (4-3)
Cleveland Browns (4-3)
Houston Texans (4-4)
5-3 record teams:
The Chargers, Bills, Ravens, and Steelers are all 5-3, with tiebreakers needed to decide who claims the two Wildcard playoff positions. The first step in a multiple team tiebreaker is to eliminate all-but-one team from the same division. In this case, the Ravens win the tie breaker over the Steelers due to head-to-head results. The Chargers then have the best conference record (4-2), which gives them the fifth position. The Ravens and Bills are both 2-3 in the conference, so a strength of victory tiebreak was used, with Buffalo (.516) ahead of Baltimore (.408). The Bills take position six, the Ravens go into the seventh slot, one position outside the current playoff picture, and the Steelers are eighth.
Of interest with the 5-3 teams, the Steelers have an identical 4-2 conference record as the Chargers and would have the advantage on strength of victory, meaning they would claim the fifth position, if not for losing the head-to-head tiebreak with the Ravens.
4-3 record teams:
The Chiefs, Dolphins, and Browns are all 4-3, but none are in the same division, so the tiebreaks move directly to head-to-head matchups and conference record. The Chiefs have the advantage on Miami after defeating the Dolphins earlier this year. The have the advantage on the Browns with a 3-2 conference record, compared to Cleveland's 3-3. Kansas City goes into the ninth position, while the Dolphins claim the tenth spot with a 3-2 conference record. Cleveland falls into eleventh.
The rest of the conference:
Tennessee Titans (2-6)
New York Jets (1-7)
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7)
Oakland Raiders (0-7)
None of the teams in the conference have been officially ruled out of the playoffs as of yet. The Jets win the tiebreaker with the Jaguars based on conference record (1-4 to 1-5).
Dolphins upcoming opponents:
San Diego Chargers (5-3), 5th place AFC
This is clearly a key game in figuring out the playoff picture in the weeks ahead. Not only is San Diego a game ahead of the Dolphins in the chase for a Wildcard berth, but it is also a game that could go a long way in tie breaker scenarios as well. San Diego looks like they will be a good team, so a Miami win here will give them the head-to-head tiebreaker, help with the conference record while hurting the Chargers, and will also help Miami's strength of victory, assuming San Diego gets back to winning after the Miami game.
A win against the Chargers could move Miami up into the playoff picture, if some other help happens.
Three key AFC Week 9 games:
New York Jets at Kansas City Chiefs (1pm ET Sunday) - The Jets have only won once this year, pushing them far enough back in the AFC East and in the Wildcard chase that a win will not hurt Miami. A loss by the Chiefs, however, would be extremely beneficial to the Dolphins, knocking Kansas City down to 4-4 on the year.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (4:25pm ET Sunday) - The Dolphins are not out of the AFC East hunt, sitting a game-and-a-half back of the Patriots. A Miami win and a Patriots loss this week could tighten up that race perfectly for the Dolphins, who currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker on New England.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (8:30pm ET Sunday) - This game helps Miami however it turns out, with both teams sitting just ahead of the Dolphins in the Wildcard chase. Ideally, Baltimore wins, since the Dolphins will play the Ravens later this year and, with a win, would then hold the head-to-head tie breaker, as well as a better strength of victory. A Pittsburgh loss would also damage their conference record, which, as discussed above, would currently win over the rest of the teams in the Wildcard hunt if not for the head-to-head loss to the Ravens already once this year.
As he does every week, Phinsider author KIH004 will bring you a full breakdown of every team to root for during Week 9.