The Miami Dolphins are currently listed as the 11th ranked team in the AFC, sitting with a 6-5 record heading into a Monday Night Football contest against their AFC East rivals, the New York Jets. The next five teams in front of them, however, all have 7-5 records, which Miami will tie with a win over the Jets. What will that do to the playoff picture?
Sunday could not have gone better for Miami. The teams that needed to lose for Miami to make up ground all lost. The New Orleans Saints beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. The San Diego Chargers beat the Baltimore Ravens – a win that does elevate San Diego to 8-4 on the season and into the top Wildcard position, but given their ending schedule of home against the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos, followed by road trips to the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, there are still likely losses coming for the Chargers. The Broncos beat the Chiefs, dropping Kansas City to 7-5, and, as strange as it is, a win from the Buffalo Bills helped Miami as well, because it knocked the Cleveland Browns to 7-5. Essentially, every loss the Dolphins needed to get them into AFC Wildcard contention happened.
Even the loss they needed to keep the AFC East alive happened when the Patriots dropped their game to the Green Bay Packers. Miami, with a win over the Jets tonight, would sit two games behind New England, with a head-to-head contest still to play. If the Patriots stumble again – and next week against the Chargers is a possibility – the Dolphins could still find themselves in position to claim the division, especially if they complete the season sweep of New England.
Back to the Wildcard, in a six way tie, the first step is to eliminate all teams from the same division, leaving just the top remaining team from each. In this case, the Ravens, Browns, and Steelers are all involved from the AFC North and the Bills and Dolphins from the AFC East. The Ravens come out on top from the North, based on head-to-head tie breaks over both the Steelers and Browns. The Dolphins will move ahead of the Bills based on a 3-1 division record compared to Buffalo’s 3-2.
That leaves the Ravens, Dolphins, and the Chiefs (AFC West) as the remaining 7-5 teams. The Chiefs, who currently hold the sixth, and final, Wildcard spot, are in that position based on conference record over the Ravens, with a 5-4 record beating the 3-5 AFC record from the Ravens. When Miami jumps into this fray, they bring with them a 6-3 conference record (assuming a Jets win, once again), and suddenly find themselves sitting on top of the 7-5 battle for a playoff spot. (The head-to-head loss to the Chiefs does not come into play for Miami since it cannot be used in a three-way tie in which all three teams have not played each other. Miami has not played the Ravens yet this year, and Kansas City and Baltimore do not face off.)
With a win tonight, the Dolphins are in the driver’s seat to make the playoffs. December football comes down to nothing but wins. Miami can be in the right position after three-quarters of the regular season is complete. Now it is just about executing and getting results. Last year, in this same situation with two games to play, the Dolphins saw their chances slip away. Are they a different team this year? If so, it starts tonight with a win over a team that has just two victories on the year. Win this, and everything falls into place.