The Dolphins' Playoff Scenarios

With one week left in the NFL regular season, only one specific playoff spot has been locked in, that being Kansas City at the No. 5 seed in the AFC. The rest is a jumbled picture, and nowhere is it more complex than the battle for the last playoff spot in the AFC. And the Dolphins are right in the middle of that logjam.

To clear up some confusion, the reason the Dolphins can't make the playoffs if they lose against the Jets can be found in the first step used to break wild-card tiebreakers involving three or more teams: The AFC playoff race is really convoluted because no team totally controls its fate. The Dolphins, Baltimore and San Diego all will enter the final weekend with an 8-7 record, but all of them need more than just a victory to land that final AFC playoff berth.

For the Dolphins, it's very simple. First, they have to beat the Jets because a loss mathematically eliminates them, and we'll explain why a little later. In fact, of the three teams at 8-7, Baltimore is the only one that could lose and still make the playoffs.

Back to the Dolphins, in addition to beating the Jets, they also need one of the following two things to happen: 1) Baltimore loses at Cincinnati OR 2) San Diego beats Kansas City at Qualcomm Stadium.

Simply put, this is who tiebreaker involving the Dolphins with a 9-7 record would shake out:

-- Dolphins and Baltimore tied at 9-7: The Ravens get the tiebreaker because of their head-to-head victory.

-- Dolphins and San Diego tied at 9-7: The Dolphins get the tiebreaker because of their head-to-head victory.

-- Dolphins, Baltimore and San Diego all tied at 9-7: The Dolphins get the tiebreaker based on conference record (because Baltimore and San Diego didn't face each other in the regular season, head-to-head competition doesn't apply).

The Dolphins could wind up tied for sixth in the AFC standings even with a loss against the Jets if the Ravens and Chargers also lose, but that also would put the Jets at 8-8 and it's the Jets who would serve as the tiebreaking factor eliminating the Dolphins.

That's because of the first step to break a wild-card tie involving three or more clubs reads as such:

"1. Apply division tie breaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division prior to proceeding to step 2. The original seeding within a division upon application of the division tie breaker remains the same for all subsequent applications of the procedure that are necessary to identify the two Wild-Card participants."

A Jets victory Sunday means a Dolphins split in the series, so head-to-head doesn't apply. The next division tiebreaker is division record. Under this scenario, the Jets would finish 3-3 in AFC East games while the Dolphins would be 2-4. Therefore, the Jets would finish ahead of the Dolphins in the AFC East standings, eliminating the Dolphins from playoff contention.

The Jets already are eliminated because a four-way tie at 8-8 involving Baltimore, Miami, the Jets and San Diego would go to Baltimore. If it became a five-way tie with Pittsburgh also in the mix, then the Steelers would get the last playoff spot.

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