CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Here’s something that might be difficult to believe: The Dolphins are still very much alive in the AFC playoff race.
Despite all their woes, including a brutal minus-63 point differential (sixth-worst in the NFL), Miami goes into Monday night’s game at Carolina just a half-game behind the Bills for the No. 6 spot in the AFC.
There appear to be three superior teams in the conference at this point: New England (7-2), Pittsburgh (7-2) and Kansas City (6-3). Beyond that trio, there are seven teams between 4-6 and 6-3. At 4-4, the Dolphins are currently in seventh place.
What does that mean? It means this might be a year in which 10 wins is not the threshold for making the playoffs.
It’s a rough schedule for the Dolphins, tonight being one of their hardest remaining games, but 8-8 or 9-7 isn’t out of the question at this point.
They have home games left against Tampa Bay (3-6), Denver (3-6) and Buffalo (5-4). The downside is they’re a huge underdog at Carolina (6-3), they play New England twice and have December visits to the Bills and Chiefs.
If Miami can scrape together nine wins, that’s been good enough to make it as a wild card seven times in the previous 10 seasons. Detroit made it last year at 9-7.
It’s not worth counting teams that made it with a single-digit victory total by virtue of winning their division. Obviously the Dolphins aren’t in that kind of situation. Every playoff team at 8-8 or worse (Carolina went 7-8-1 in 2014 and Seattle got in at 7-9 in ’10) over the last decade only made it because they were in a terrible division.
Even if 9-7 is good enough for the No. 6 spot, however, the Dolphins would be seriously vulnerable to tie breakers. Of the other six teams in that aforementioned second tier, Miami already has losses to Baltimore and Oakland. The Dolphins beat Tennessee, which currently stands to make it as a division winner, and went 1-1 against the Jets.
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