The Miami Dolphins must have felt good about their place in the playoff field a few weeks ago.
They were 8-3 and still had hopes of winning the AFC East. There was a tough two game road trip to California, but they had to lose one more game with Tua Tagovailoa not injured.
Less than two weeks later, after losses to the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers, the Dolphins must be wondering how secure their playoff spot is.
There should be no panic at 8-5, but the schedule won’t be easy. The Dolphins play the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night and that is a tough game. They then host the Green Bay Packers, who are unable to make that game close. After that, the Dolphins are with the New England Patriots (warm-weather team in the cold + Bill Belichick provides a challenge) before hosting the New York Jets in the Finals.
There is a doomsday scenario where the Dolphins could lose all four of those games. That is unlikely, but possible. And 1-3 for the rest is not that crazy. And would Miami be a wild card team at 9-8? Well, maybe. The Chargers have an easy remaining schedule (hence getting the No. 7 seed in this week’s projection) and head-to-head tiebreaker. The Jets have a win over the Dolphins and a sweep would go a long way for them. The Patriots are not dead yet. If the Dolphins finish 9-8, it will be much more stressful than they hoped.
The Dolphins will probably get things together and win a few games. The defense has been doing a good job lately getting the Dolphins’ receivers away, and coach Mike McDaniel will have to figure that out. McDaniel has had a good season and he will probably have to get used to it. Miami has been a good team for most of the season and it shouldn’t fade that easily.
It’s just a bit more nervous for the Dolphins than a few weeks ago. Unless they upset the Bills, who need to keep winning to keep ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, things will get even more stressful in Miami.
Here are the week 15 fixtures that will have the biggest impact on the playoffs:
Thursday night’s game could result in our first division title. San Francisco would take the NFC West with a victory over the Seahawks. They would lead Seattle by three games with three to go, and they would have the tiebreaker due to a season sweep. Seattle doesn’t have a great chance of winning the NFC West even with a win, but the Seahawks need to win games to stay in a wild card spot.
The Lions are one of the most popular teams in the NFL. They have won five of six and their playoff hopes are still alive after a 1-6 start. The Jets are also in the wild card mix, but at 7-6, they don’t want to take a home loss to Detroit.
The Chargers’ win against the Dolphins last week was huge for their playoff hopes. But the AFC is tough and the Chargers need to keep winning. They face the Titans, who aren’t in much danger of blowing up the AFC South, but they’ve lost three in a row and need to start playing better.
The Buccaneers are 6-7 and suddenly in danger of losing the NFC South to the Carolina Panthers. Tampa Bay is not playing well. In this week’s projection, we have the Panthers expected to come from behind and take the division. The Panthers have already beaten the Buccaneers 21-3 this season, and if they win the rematch on January 1, they’ll have the tiebreaker and a great shot at the NFC South title. The Bengals are playing well and are tied with the Baltimore Ravens at 9-4 for first place in the AFC North. Due to tiebreaker issues, Cincinnati will probably have to make sure it is at least tied with Baltimore going into Week 18 if it wants to win the division.
This is the biggest game of the week for the playoff picture, even if it’s between two mediocre NFC East teams. These teams were tied two weeks ago, so the winner (if there is one) takes the tiebreak. They have identical 7-5-1 records, so getting a win and the tiebreaker is huge in the wild card race. It’s hard to imagine at least one of these teams failing to make the playoffs, and the winner of this Sunday night game will have a huge advantage.