PLAYOFF POSSIBILITIES

It is absolutely amazing that with only one week left in the 2002 regular season there are still so many playoff possibilities involving AFC teams, but that is the reality of the situation.

Three division winners in the conference already have been determined, with Pittsburgh taking the AFC North, Tennessee winning the AFC South and Oakland capturing the AFC West.

But eight of the other 13 teams in the conference remain alive for the remaining three playoff spots, with only Cincinnati, Houston, Jacksonville and Buffalo eliminated from playoff contention.

Even Baltimore at 7-8 is still alive, although the Ravens need a victory and losses by six different teams (New England, the Jets, Cleveland, Denver, San Diego and Kansas City) to make the playoffs.

The Dolphins' situation actually is pretty clear.

A victory over New England on Sunday gives the Dolphins the AFC East title. A loss puts them in a position of needing the Jets to lose at home to Green Bay in a 4:15 p.m. game.

If they win, they could be anywhere from the first to fourth seed, although grabbing one of the top two seeds (along with the first-round bye) will require a lot of help.

The only way that happens is if, in addition to the Dolphins winning, two of the three AFC division champs lose.

Pittsburgh play at home against Baltimore on Sunday, Oakland plays host to Kansas City on Saturday, and Tennessee plays at Houston on Sunday.

So, in all likelihood, the Dolphins will be involved in the wild-card round if they make the playoffs.

We can tell you that if the Dolphins win at New England and there are no major upsets this weekend, then the Dolphins would play host to the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the playoffs.

That's because under that scenario, Oakland would finish 11-5 and be the No. 1 seed, Tennessee would be 11-5 and the No. 2 seed, Pittsburgh would be 10-5-1 and the No. 3 seed, the Dolphins would be 10-6 and the No. 4 seed, and the Colts would finish 10-6 and be the No. 5 seed if — as expect — they beat Jacksonville at the RCA Dome on Sunday.

We won't even get into the other possibilities as far as first-round matchups because, frankly, there are just too many of them.


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