The NFL playoff picture continues to evolve as each week of the season is completed. At the end of Week 12, the Miami Dolphins were the 11th placed team, stuck behind an entire clump of teams a game ahead of them. With the Monday Night Football conclusion, the Dolphins have vaulted all the way to the sixth position, currently holding the last spot in the postseason on the AFC side.
AFC Playoff Picture (through Week 13):
1. New England Patriots (9-3) - AFC East division leader
2. Denver Broncos (9-3) - AFC West division leader
3. Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1) - AFC North division leader
4. Indianapolis Colts (8-4) - AFC South division leader
5. San Diego Chargers (8-4) - AFC West #2
6. Miami Dolphins (7-5) - AFC East #2
AFC Playoff Contenders (through Week 13):
Kansas City Chiefs (7-5)
Buffalo Bills (7-5)
Baltimore Ravens (7-5)
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)
Cleveland Browns (7-5)
Houston Texans (6-6)
9-3 record teams:
The Patriots win the tie break over the Broncos based on head-to-head record.
7-5 record teams:
Here's where the fun is. There are currently six teams all sitting at 7-5, all vying for one playoff sport (San Diego at 8-4 is in the other Wildcard). The first step in a multi-team, non-divisional, playoff tie break is to eliminate teams from the same division until just one remains. For the AFC North, that's the Ravens, the Steelers, and the Browns, with Baltimore wining over the other two clubs based on head-to-head records. In the AFC East, the Dolphins top the Bills based on division record. That leaves Miami, Baltimore, and Kansas City as the three teams remaining, with Miami winning the tie break based on conference records (Kansas City's head-to-head win over Miami cannot be used, because the three teams have not (and will not - Chiefs do not play Ravens this year) played each other. Miami claims position six, the last playoff spot. The other five teams are all back into consideration for the seventh position, with the Ravens again coming out on top in the AFC North elimination. The Chiefs, Bills, and Ravens then fall into order with the Chiefs in position seven because they have the best conference record among the three, the Bills in eighth with the second best, and the Ravens in ninth with the lowest conferece record(the Steelers and Browns would be under consideration for each of those positions, but would again lose tie breaks to the Ravens). Finally, with just the Steelers and Browns remaining, the Steelers win the tenth position tie break with a better record in common games than the Browns, who take eleventh.
Tennessee Titans (2-10)
New York Jets (2-10)
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
Oakland Raiders (1-11)
Another three way tie, with the Titans and Jaguars both from the AFC South. Tennessee eliminates the Jaguars due to head-to-head record, then the Titans take position above the Jets based on strength of victory. The Jets come in over the Jagaurs based on conference record.
Dolphins upcoming opponents:
vs Baltimore Ravens (7-5), 2nd AFC North, 9th AFC
The winner of this game keeps themselves in the hunt for the Wildcard spot. The loser puts themselves in the position of needing a lot of help. It really is that simple. For Miami, a win here, coupled with a New England loss to the Chargers, would mean the AFC East lead would be up for grabs when Miami travels to Foxboro in Week 15.
Three key AFC Week 14 games:
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (1pm ET Sunday) - Cincinnati is on top of the AFC North right now, and Miami needs them to stay there. The weird tie that they have in their record means even if Miami ties them in the win column, they are half-a-game ahead of the Dolphins. A win from the Bengals keeps them comfortably in the AFC North lead and knocks Pittsburgh down another notch, which also helps Miami's Wildcard chances.
Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals (4:05pm ET Sunday) - The Dolphins cannot bet on a three-way tie bailing them out with their head-to-head loss to the Chiefs earlier this year. Arizona is sliding back into the clutches of the rest of the NFC West, having lost two straight games, while Kansas City has fallen from being ahead of the Denver Broncos in the AFC West to being third, behind the Chargers. Both teams will be looking to get back to winning, with Miami needing the Cardinals to pull out the victory and send the Chiefs home with a sixth loss on the year.
New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers (8:30pm ET Sunday) - This is probably the biggest game of the week, in terms of Miami's playoff chances. The funny part is, a loss by either team helps the Dolphins. If San Diego falls to 8-5, it could open the top Wildcard spot for Miami, moving them from the fight for the final position into a more comfortable battle for the fifth seed. If the Patriots lose, the AFC East is back in play for Miami, who, with a win over Baltimore, would find themselves one game behind the division leaders heading into the second-half of their annual division series. Miami already won the first meeting, so a Dolphins win gives them the head-to-head tie break.
As he does every week, Phinsider author KIH004 will bring you a full breakdown of every team to root for during Week 14.