The Miami Dolphins did not do themselves any favors last weekend when they were blown out by the Baltimore Ravens. That being said, however, the team still does have a path to the Playoffs in 2016, but it is a path in which they are going to need some help. Luckily for them, that help is not that difficult to see as a possible - and maybe probable - outcome to the remaining games on the schedule.
The Dolphins are currently chasing the AFC West for a Wildcard spot. The Oakland Raiders are in the lead, while both the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos are currently holding the two Wildcard positions in the AFC. Those three teams, however, all have to play each other over the remaining four weeks of the season, starting tonight with the Raiders visiting Kansas City. As those teams battle with each other, Miami could, if they are able to fix the issues the Ravens exposed, take advantage of the losses and move themselves back into the Playoff picture.
All across the AFC there are games that can help or hurt Miami in the chase for their first postseason appearance since 2008. Here are this week’s games, and the Dolphins fans’ rooting guide:
AFC Playoff Picture heading into Week 14:
1. Oakland Raiders (10-2)
2. New England Patriots (10-2)
3. Baltimore Ravens (7-5)
4. Houston Texans (6-6)
5. Kansas City Chiefs (9-3)
6. Denver Broncos (8-4)
Oakland Raiders (10-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-3)
The Dolphins need the Raiders to win the AFC West, because it is nearly impossible to think Miami is going to be able to make the three games in four weeks to surpass the Raiders if they fall into the Wildcard position. Kansas City will be an easier - not easy, but easier - catch for Miami. Root for: Oakland.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Buffalo Bills (6-6)
This game is a little confusing to pick. I am always a little reticent to select an AFC East team as the team for whom to root, but in this case, it probably is the right choice. Miami is currently tied with the Steelers and hold the head-to-head tie break. They are a game ahead of the Bills, and do hold a head-to-head tie break, with a game still to play between the two division rivals. A loss by the Bills could (assuming a Miami win), push them two games behind the Dolphins with three games to play, which might be insurmountable and would be a good thing for Miami. A loss by the Steelers (again assuming a Miami win), would push the Steelers a game behind the Dolphins, keeping the tie-break fro even being needed. The win by the Bills to improve their record would factor into a strength of schedule/victory tie-break more than a Pittsburgh win, given Miami plays Buffalo twice. Finally, and this is probably the biggest reason why a Steelers loss makes the most sense, Pittsburgh losing would keep them from replacing the Ravens as the AFC North leader (assuming the Ravens were to lose), which keeps Miami from having to contend with Baltimore as a Wildcard contender since the Ravens hold the head-to-head tie-break. Root for: Buffalo.
(2017 considerations: The Dolphins will play the AFC North team that finishes in the same relative position Miami finishes in the AFC East. Given the difficulty Miami has with Baltimore, keeping them in the Division leader position might be a great thing for the 2017 schedule for the Dolphins as well.)
Denver Broncos (8-4) at Tennessee Titans (6-6)
Miami is a game behind the Broncos in the AFC Wildcard hunt. That makes this a pretty straight forward choice. A loss by the Broncos to an AFC team in the Titans also helps Miami with the conference-record tie-break and, since the Dolphins lost to the Titans this year, helps Miami with the common games tie-break as well. Root for: Tennessee.
Arizona Cardinals at Miami Dolphins (7-5)
Obviously, root for Miami. Sadly, this is a game against an NFC team, it does not help them in the conference record tie-break. Root for: Miami.
San Diego Chargers (5-7) at Carolina Panthers
The Dolphins beat the Chargers earlier this year, so San Diego winning here could help Miami down the road with the tie-breaks. Root for: San Diego.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-7-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-12)
Really, this game does not have any bearing on Miami’s playoff chances, other than possibly giving the team a 1-12 team in the strength of victory/schedule tie-breaks rather than an 0-13. More importantly, it is in here because no one wants to see a team (other than the Jets) go 0-16 on the year. Root for: Cleveland.
New York Jets (3-9) at San Francisco 49ers
Speaking of the Jets, they are playing and it is not against the New England Patriots. That almost always equals wanting to see them lose. A win by the 49ers could help Miami’s strength of victory/schedule tie-breaks, so that is a bonus (ignore the part in the Bills’ write-up about the record counting twice for the AFC East opponent). Root for: San Francisco.
Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams
This is a pure strength of victory/schedule game. The Dolphins beat the Rams. The Broncos and Chiefs both lost to the Falcons. A Rams win here increases Miami’s strength of victory/schedule while it hurts the AFC West teams’ strength of schedule. Root for: Los Angeles.
Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at New England Patriots (10-2)
8:30 pm, Monday
Accepting the fact that the Patriots have started to pull away from the Dolphins in the AFC East, now three game up, this game is likely more about the Ravens in the AFC Playoff picture. If they lose this game, while the Steelers win, the Ravens move into the Wildcard hunt, and they have that head-to-head advantage over the Dolphins now, so it is more important for them to win and stay in the AFC North lead. Root for: Baltimore.
Games not considered
Houston Texans (6-6) at Indianapolis Colts (6-6)
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles
Minnesota Vikings at Jacksonville Jaguars
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
(Note: The Texans at Colts game features two AFC teams, but has no bearing on the Dolphins’ playoff chances since Miami did not face either club this year, and the loser will be 6-7 and, likely, struggling to keep in the Wildcard hunt.)
AFC Standings after Week 14 rooting guide
1. Oakland Raiders (11-2)
2. New England Patriots (10-3)
3. Baltimore Ravens (8-5)
4. Tennessee Titans (7-6)
5. Kansas City Chiefs (9-4)
6. Denver Broncos (8-5)
Tie break: Denver over Miami based on common games:
Denver (2-2): Wins over Bengals, Chargers; Losses to Chargers, Titans
Miami (1-2): Wins over Chargers; Losses to Bengals, Titans