Two 7-5 teams face off on Sunday in an effort to position themselves for the post season. At the end of the day, one will be 8-5 and in prime position to claim a spot on the AFC side of the bracket; the other will be 7-6 and their playoff chances will officially be on life support. Those two teams are, of course, the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins, who will kickoff at 1pm ET Sunday.
As Dolphins fans, we have all discussed how important this game is in terms of Miami's postseason dreams. Realistically, the Dolphins have to reach 10 wins this season, meaning they need to win three of their next four contests. While none of the four opponents are cake walks, the path seems to be easiest with a win over the Ravens; otherwise, Miami will have to beat the New England Patriots in Foxboro, an extremely tough task.
The Dolphins need to win on Sunday. The Ravens need to win on Sunday. Both cannot, and that's what makes this game so critical in the AFC playoff picture. While we all know it's critical for those two clubs, it turns out, it is actually the most important game on the NFL schedule.
FiveThirtyEight.com has broken down the entire NFL Week 14 schedule, as well as the percent chance each team has to make the playoffs based on the results for that game. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals game will have repercussions felt by both of those teams, as well as in Cleveland, San Diego, Kansas City, Houston, and Miami. With a Cincinnati win, the Bengals go from a 80.3% chance to make the playoffs up to a 92.3%, while San Diego will see their playoff chances move up from 41.3% to 42.0%, the Chiefs will move from 43.6% to 44.1%, Houston will go from 13.1% to 14.1%, and the Dolphins go from 46.2% to 46.7%.
Then there is the Ravens at Dolphins game. Along with Baltimore and Miami, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Kansas City, and the Buffalo Bills will all see their playoff chances change with the results. Buffalo is in the weird situation of needing to root for their AFC East rivals, as they actually increase by 0.3% with a Miami win, while a Baltimore win hurts Buffalo's chances with a 0.5% decrease. Likewise, Pittsburgh and Cleveland want a win by their division rival, where a Ravens win increases Pittsburgh chances by 3.9% and Cleveland's by 1%. Kansas City is helped by a Dolphins win, going up 0.8%.
Then there are the two teams actually playing. Currently, Miami has a 46.2% chance to make the postseason. A win, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, jumps them up 22.5%, giving them nearly a 70% chance of making the tournament. A loss would drop Miami down 32.3%, or to having just a 13.9% chance of making the playoffs.
Baltimore enters tomorrow's game with a 38.2% chance of clinching a playoff berth, with a win jumping them 29.4%, or up to a 67.6% chance of January football. A loss to the Dolphins takes them down to just a 17.7% chance.
The Dolphins' 55% swing on the result of the game is the highest number for any team in the NFL this week, and the Ravens' 50% swing is the second most in the league. The game leads the league in total playoff chance swing as well, with teams moving a total of 114% between six clubs. The next closest is the Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals game, with a 101% swing total spread over 20 teams, with the results impacting both the AFC and NFC races.
The Dolphins' playoff chances will also see swings from the Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns game (+0.7% with Colts win, -1.1% with Browns win), the Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars contest (-0.7% with Texans win, +1.6% with Jaguars win), the Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos game (-2.6% with Bills Bin, +0.6% with Broncos victory), the Chiefs at Cardinals (-3.8% with Chiefs win, +3.3% with Cardinals victory), and the New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers game (+2.2% with Patriots win, -3.6% with Chargers win).
That Patriots-Chargers game, however, has another aspect. While a Patriots win helps the Dolphins' chances of making the playoffs, it would all-but guarantee a New England division championship, something Miami opens the day with a 7.4% chance of winning. A New England victory over San Diego moves the Dolphins down to a 3.4% chance of winning the division, while a San Diego victory would move Miami to a 13.9% chance of taking the top spot in the AFC East.
This weekend will go a long way to deciding how the AFC playoff picture ultimately becomes the AFC playoffs. The top game in determining how things will look when the regular season ends is the Ravens at Dolphins, a game that both teams need to keep their playoff dreams realistic. Miami will need to come out firing on all cylinders if they want to be on the right side of that 55% swing.