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2021 NFL playoff picture Week 16: Dolphins having clear path to postseason

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

Win. Loss. Loss. Loss. Loss. Loss. Loss. Loss. The Miami Dolphins’ first eight weeks of the 2021 season had analysts and fans calling for the firing of general manager Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores. As the Dolphins prepare for their Week 16 Monday Night Football game against the New Orleans Saints, their hard work over the past few weeks has turned things around. Now this club sitting at 7-7 and in the midst of a six-game winning streak. Week 16 gave Miami something they did not have before the games started - control. The Dolphins, despite a 1-7 start, including a seven-game losing streak, are in control of their playoff life now.

There is no more help needed. There is no more scoreboard watching with the hope that this team or that one stumbles down the stretch. Miami is fully in control on their march toward the postseason. Of course, additional help would be nice, but that 1-7 team from eight weeks ago is now able to rely on no one to get them into the playoffs.

The week started with the Tennessee Titans beating the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night. A loss by the Titans could have helped Miami in the long-run, with the potential that the Indianapolis Colts, who hold the head-to-head tie break over the Dolphins this year, could overtake Tennessee. Getting the Colts out of the Wildcard hunt and adding Tennessee, who Miami faces in Week 17, to the chase and giving Miami a shot at picking up the head-to-head tie break made sense. But, the game was not a critical one for Miami.

Plus, in an everything-comes-up-aqua type of weekend, the 49ers losing to the Colts could lead to Miami getting a better draft pick in 2022. The Dolphins, as part of this year’s first-round trades, hold San Francisco’s first-round pick next year.

With the Titans game decided, that set up Miami’s needs for the Saturday games. Rooting-wise, losses from both the Cleveland Browns and the Colts were on the chart. By the end of the day, Miami was 50-50 on their results. The Green Bay Packers beat the Browns, but the Colts managed to beat the Arizona Cardinals. The Browns dropped to 7-8 with the loss, a half-game behind Miami, but the Colts pushed to 9-6, 1.5 games ahead of the Dolphins. It is not a killer result, but it does mean Miami is going to need help if they want to get as high as the fifth seed in the playoffs.

Cleveland dropping out of the way was helpful. It was not the top result the Dolphins needed on the weekend, however. That came in the early games on Sunday, when the Buffalo Bills beat the New England Patriots. The move pushed the Bills to 9-6 and the AFC East lead. The loss made the Patriots 9-6 as well, but now they are in the sixth position in the playoffs and still have a game against the Dolphins to close out the season. New England, once the darling of the analysts who were ready to declare the Patriots back after one down year, is within striking distance of Miami.

Also in the early games, the Houston Texans upset the Los Angeles Chargers, knocking LA down to 8-7 on the season. The Cincinnati Bengals also beat the Baltimore Ravens, which knocks Baltimore down to 8-7 as well. Suddenly, there are three teams at 8-7, and Miami at 7-7 with a game in hand. Could the Dolphins have the path open up to them to leap into the seventh seed at the end of Week 16?

That came down to one game. While the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders were playing - and a Raiders loss would be helpful - it really did not have much impact on the Dolphins this week. The key game in the late slate was the Pittsburgh Steeles at Kansas City Chiefs contest. Pittsburgh entered the week 7-6-1, edging ahead of all the .500 teams because of the tie on their record. An 8-6-1 team would remain ahead of the 8-7 clubs, meaning the Steelers were in a position to hold on to a Wildcard position. Except, they did not bother to show up on Sunday, getting blown out 36-10 by the Chiefs.

It was almost a perfect weekend for the Dolphins, who could be 8-7 by the end of Monday night. They are facing the New Orleans Saints, who are always a tough matchup in the Superdome, but New Orleans has been crushed by positive coronavirus tests this week. Can Miami take advantage of a wounded New Orleans club?

If Miami wins tonight, they move to 8-7, pushing them into a tie with the Ravens, Chargers, and Raiders. The four-way tie, based on NFL rules, is thinned by removing teams from the same division. The Chargers beat the Raiders earlier this year, knocking Las Vegas out of the tie before their head-to-head win over the Dolphins can even be a factor. With the Dolphins, Ravens, and Chargers remaining, Miami comes out on top with a three-way tie break.

After this week, Miami has the Titans in Week 17, the hosts the Patriots in Week 18. Wins in each of those games puts Miami at 10-7 on the year, in second place in the AFC East, and in the playoffs with no one able to knock them out. The Dolphins control their own path to the postseason this year. Three more wins and they are in.

It is not an easy stretch, but for a team that started 1-7 and looked like they could be headed to another rebuild, this has been an impressive turnaround. No team in NFL history has even started 1-7 and made the playoffs. Could Miami’s climb back continue all the way to the playoffs? Monday night is the first step toward history.