13 of the 16 AFC teams are 3-4 or better right now. Jacksonville is 2-5. The Jets are 2-5 and in last place in the AFC East. Gosh that felt great to say, I’m going to say it again and put it in bold and all caps: THE JETS ARE 2-5 AND IN LAST PLACE IN THE AFC EAST. Cleveland is 0-7. Everybody else is in a logjam in the middle of the AFC playoff picture, with 9 of those aforementioned 13 teams being 3-4 or 4-3. The road to the Playoffs will require the Miami Dolphins do something that’s a bit out of our comfort zone: finish the season strong.
Realistically, 10-6 has to be the benchmark, so we have very little margin for error. For all you lovable, mathematically-disinclined individuals, that means we have to finish 7-2. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the rest of our schedule from a “macro” point of view:
- We get to play a divisional opponent (Jets) after a bye week - we get extra preparation, they do not.
- We finish the season with New England at home, who will likely have nothing to play for (although I wouldn’t put it passed Bill Belichick to play starters against us if it meant keeping a divisional opponent out of the Playoffs).
- We’re staying out west for our back-to-back games on the left coast, reducing the “3 time zone difference” effect for the 2nd of the 2 west coast games.
- After the Jets game, we go 5 out of 7 games on the road.
- 2 of those 5 road games are in East Rutherford and Orchard Park in the dead of winter.
- We only get to play the AFC West 1 time this year - the division who proves the most formidable in terms of claiming Wild Card spots at this particular point.
By my estimation, considering the 9 remaining games, 3 of those remaining games are “must-wins” and 6 games are “toss-ups”. In other words, we cannot lose any must-wins and we have to finish 4-2 in the toss-up games. I didn’t say this was going to be easy.
Week 9: Vs. Jets
This game is a must-win. This is one of those games that we have to win; it wouldn’t technically eliminate us mathematically, but it would create such a thin margin for error that it’d be nearly impossible to make the Playoffs. We have to finish 7-2, and you don’t do that by losing the 1st of the 9 games after you are coming off of a bye and your opponent is not.
November 6th is my birthday. All I want is for us to kick the Jets ass, damnit!
Week 10: @ San Diego
Toss-up. This was very nearly in the “must-win” category, but I’m trying to be as realistic as possible with games that could give the Dolphins fits and this is one of them. This will be the 1st of 2 games in Cawl-ee-faw-nee-yuh (like Arnold Schwarzenegger says it), and going across 3 time zones is a hard road game for players to do. Football players are regimented machines, which is why much thought is given towards travel plans and trying to adjust the players’ bodies and minds to the change in time.
Phil Riv is a baller, flat out. This game might give us trouble, but it’s a W that would go a long way in this Disney-movie-ish Playoff run we’re trying to muster. San Diego is in last place in their division, and it’ll be a mighty difficult predicament to lose to them in Week 10 and then have to turn around and root for them to beat divisional opponents who have a better record than both the Dolphins and Chargers. The Chargers would have a head-to-head tiebreaker over us, and we’d likely be dependent on them to win key late-season games against AFC West divisional opponents. That’s not good.
Week 11: @ LA
This game is a must-win. It appears the Jared Goff bandwagon is picking up steam in Los Angeles, so we’re squaring off against a rookie with very limited starting experience and a weak receiving corps. If we can stop the run like we did against Cincinnati and Buffalo, we put ourselves in the driver’s seat.
We’re staying out west for a reason, and the benefit should be evident in this game.
Week 12: Vs. SF
This game is a must-win. I don’t see a scenario where you lose to a 1-6 team and make the Playoffs. We’re at home against a bad team. End of story. But why is it that sometimes these games prove to be the most difficult for us?
***That’s right, we very likely have to come out of the bye and go 4-0 to have a realistic chance at the Playoffs, at the very least 3-1. 2-2 spells certain doom. ***
Week 13: @ Baltimore
Toss-up. The Ravens are a hard team to figure out right now, but an early December game in Baltimore seemed like a tougher proposition a few years ago. They’re currently 1-2 at home, and are not the trench warfare-ists they used to be. This is a fellow 3-4 team, so it obviously helps with the Playoff picture in terms of tiebreakers if the Ravens should keep pace at this juncture in the season.
I’ll be in the 4th row for this game. If we don’t win this game, it’s not because I didn’t drink enough beer. I’m not leaving Baltimore with functioning vocal chords.
Week 14: Vs. Arizona
Toss-up. This is a dangerous Arizona team, despite what their record suggests. We get to play this game at home, but this will be a brawl if we emerge victorious. David Johnson and company are one year removed from being the #1 offense in the NFL and they can return to form at any moment.
Of the 6 “toss-up” games, this is the hardest in my humble opinion.
Week 15: @ Jets
Toss-up. I know the Jets are off this year, but this is a division game and rules usually get thrown out the window when it comes to divisional games. Todd Bowles game-planned us beautifully last year and it will say a lot about an Adam Gase team how we execute in East Rutherford, late in the season, with a wind chill of 10 degrees.
The 1st Jets game is a must-win because we have the extra week to prepare. This game is a true toss-up - and if the Jets are mathematically eliminated from the Playoffs at this point, they’ll pull out every trick play and aggressive tactic to make us stumble on our path. No love lost like a divisional opponent scorned.
Week 16: @ Buffalo
Toss-up. Not only will they have revenge on the mind for beating them at their own game this past Sunday, but if they are out of Playoff contention, they’ll pull out every tr-...oh wait, you’ve already heard this spiel before. And you know it’s true because we’ve seen it before. Rex Ryan will do whatever it takes to screw us over, albeit he did it as the head coach of the Jets. But we know what he’s capable of.
They will likely have Sammy Watkins back, and if healthy, rates right up there with the Arizona game in terms of difficulty.
Week 17: Vs. New England
Toss-up. Although it seems very likely the Patriots will have the #1 seed in the AFC at this point, it’s also quite hypothetical at this stage in the game. I don’t want to assume a victory over the Patriots, despite our success at home against them in recent memory. Obviously if they have nothing to play for, it swings this game, and potentially our season, in a major way. But considering we aren’t even in Week 8 yet, it’s best to treat this game as a true toss-up.
We must win: vs. NYJ, @ LA, vs. SF. Lose any of these games and our Playoff chances are all but dead.
We must finish 4-2: @ SD, @ Balt, vs. Ariz, @NYJ, @ Buff, vs. NE.
Unlike this article, the Dolphins just need to focus on one game at a time. However, as fans, the next 4 upcoming games determine the season, as it possesses the 3 must-win games and one of the easier toss-up games. The cynical, jaded Dolphins fan in me makes me aware that the dagger usually pierces us in mysterious ways.
How do you see this shaking out? Can we make a legitimate Playoff push, or do the ghosts of near-Playoffs past come and tag us in the balls when we least expect it?