PLAYOFF PICTURE

Despite their 20-13 loss at New England, the Dolphins are virtually assured of making the playoffs. We examine the various scenarios.<P>

WINNING THE AFC EAST

The following have to happen:

-- New England must lose to Carolina;

-- The Dolphins must beat both Atlanta and Buffalo;

-- The Jets must lose one of their last two games, vs. Buffalo or at Oakland

The bottom line is the Dolphins lose all tiebreaker scenarios in the AFC East, and therefore must win the division outright. The Jets beat the Dolphins because of head-to-head competition, and New England beats them because of division record. The Jets win a three-way tiebreaker because of head-to-head competition, and the Jets also would win a two-way tie with New England.

GETTING A FIRST-ROUND BYE:

For that to happen, the Dolphins obviously have to win the AFC East, which means finishing 11-5 and having New England and the Jets lose. The only other necessity would be Oakland losing one of its final two games, at Denver or at home against the Jets.

The Dolphins cannot finish with the No. 1 seed in the AFC because Pittsburgh already has 12 wins, and the best Miami can do is go 11-5.

MAKING THE PLAYOFFS:

The only way the Dolphins can be knocked out of the playoffs is if they finish in a tie for the last playoff spot with two or more teams at 9-7, and the Jets are one of those teams. That's because the first step toward breaking the wild-card tie is eliminating the lower teams in each division by using the division tiebreaker. That means the Jets would knock out the Dolphins because of their sweep of Miami.

GETTING A HOME GAME IN THE PLAYOFFS:

If the Dolphins wind up winning the AFC East, they obviously will have a home game in the playoffs, but they can get one as a wild card, too.

One possibility is the Dolphins finishing 11-5 (with victories over Atlanta and Buffalo) and the Jets or New England losing. That would make the Dolphins the No. 4 seed, and they would host the No. 5 seed (either Baltimore, New England or the Jets).

The Dolphins could still get the No. 4 seed even with another loss, but the Jets then would have to lose their last two and Baltimore would have to lose one of its last two (at Tampa Bay, home against Minnesota).

The Dolphins cannot get a home game in they finish 9-7.


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