The Miami Dolphins are currently 4-5 on the year, in last place in the AFC East, and on the wrong side of the AFC playoffs cut line. All that said, they are just one game under .500, one game behind the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets in the division, and one game from being tied for the last Wildcard spot, with seven games to play. The road to the postseason will not be easy, but it is not an impossible path either.
ESPN's Bill Barnwell put together on Friday a list of teams he thinks could be in position to make a run to the postseason, "crashing" the playoffs party. As he writes, "Every year it seems, some team on the outskirts of the NFL playoff picture launches into an unexpected winning streak during the second half of the season and propels itself into a stunning playoff berth."
He counts the list down from 10, with the Dolphins coming in as the second most likely team in the NFL, and the top team poised to make the unexpected run the AFC (only the Chicago Bears are ranked ahead of them on the overall list).
Barnwell writes of the Dolphins' playoff chances:
Having salvaged their playoff hopes with a come-from-behind victory over the Eagles in Philadelphia last week, the Dolphins can still claim serious designs on a playoff run. There's certainly talent here, even after the season-ending injury to Cameron Wake; the Dolphins have leaned on Lamar Miller during the Dan Campbell era with plenty of success, and Ndamukong Suh has elevated his game in Wake's absence. They remain paper-thin, but this is a team that ranks first in the league in variance on a per-game basis, which is promising when you consider their chances of suddenly breaking out and going on a hot spell.
They have virtually no shot at winning the AFC East and will have to rely on a wild-card berth to make the postseason, but that's not out of the question. Five of Miami's final seven games are at home, and while they still have one more game against the Patriots, that will come in Week 17. If the Pats aren't going for 16-0, they'll likely have the first seed wrapped up and sit their starters for a good chunk of that contest. And otherwise, the Dolphins don't have an especially difficult schedule; their toughest game is against the Jets in two weeks. Miami is still a flawed team, but nobody on this list is close to perfect.
Miami is currently in the 10th position, four spots out of the playoffs. Ahead of the Dolphins are two more 4-5 teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders. The AFC East holds the first position on the outside of the playoffs with the Jets in the 7th spot and the last position in the postseason tournament with the Bills in the 6th position, both with 5-4 records. Miami will have to surpass the Bills, who hold the head-to-head record advantage over the Dolphins having swept the season series, but there are plenty of games still on the schedule for Miami to find their way into the Wildcard positioning.
As Barnwell points out, Miami has five of their last seven games at home, starting this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. If Miami can come away with wins in Sun Life Stadium, they should be in position to claim their first berth in the playoffs since 2008, when Chad Pennington led the team to an 11-5 record and the AFC East division title. Miami has not had a winning record since - but could be looking to end that this year. Especially if Barnwell's thoughts of Miami being able to put together a run prove to be true.