Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat; the Miami Dolphins are not a playoff caliber team. While steps are being taken in the right direction, this current incarnation has no business being in the championship tournament. That being said, with only two weeks remaining in the season, the Dolphins playoff flame still burns and that’s more than can be said for the rival New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, so Dolphins fans will surely take what they can get. In fact, the Dolphins have a decent chance of surviving another week and reaching Week 17 with still a faint playoff breath.
In order to survive another week, the Dolphins must gain their revenge on a slumping Bills team at home this week and hope for a Pittsburgh Steelers victory versus the Cincinnati Bengals. With that, they would need a whole lot of pieces to fall into place in Week 17 in order to reach the promised land. While they would certainly be massive underdogs in the playoffs, let’s face it, as fans of a team whom has struggled in recent history, any positive momentum is worth getting excited for. And so, here is what must happen for the Dolphins to achieve a most unlikely playoff berth and the likelihood of each happening:
- First, the Dolphins must take care of their own game at home against the Bills. With the Bills coming off a shellacking at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, it is possible they will come out angry and determined to sweep the Fins out of the playoffs. But it’s also just as possible that they will look the part of a bad team packing it up for the offseason. Either way, regardless of their playoff hopes this year, step one in moving up the ladder of the NFL elite is to assert your dominance over the dregs of your division, which the Bills certainly are. This is a game the Dolphins should win… I give this a 70% chance.
- Next, the Steelers must win their showdown with the Bengals. While the Steelers are known for having been a mixed bag this season, the Bengals haven’t exactly been the pinnacle of consistency themselves, suffering through a 4 game losing streak earlier in the year. The Steelers aren’t what they once were, but they are at home and do have a history of dominance over this Bengals team so they do amount to slight favorites. I give the Steelers a 55% chance of victory.
- While the Jets have been eliminated themselves, complicated NFL tiebreaking procedures do still render them relevant to other teams’ playoff fates. Because the Dolphins will lose a tie-breaker in division to the Jets if they both finish 8-8, in order for the Dolphins to have a chance at the playoffs, the Jets must lose again over the next two weeks. With the San Diego Chargers coming to New York and a trip to Buffalo on the docket, the schedule is fairly forgiving. Fortunately, however, these are the Jets we are talking about – they are atrocious. I give them a 40% chance to beat San Diego at home and a 40% chance to win in Buffalo. This calculates to an 84% chance to lose one of the two games as needed.
- Going to Week 17, the Bengals face their other AFC North nemesis the Baltimore Ravens. While the Ravens too have been slumping, their dominance over the Bengals has been historic in recent years. And with the strong possibility that they will be faced with losing the division in Week 17 if they fall to the New York Giants in Week 16, they will be motivated to avoid a first round playoff matchup with the New England Patriots. As such, I expect the Ravens to exert their typical form on the Bengals. I give the Bengals a 60% chance to lose this game in Cincy.
- So far, this actually seems rather possible, but this is where it gets particularly difficult – in Week 17, the Steelers host the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers did lose to the Browns in Week 12 of this year, but that was in Cleveland with Charlie Batch at the helm, and let’s just say the Browns didn’t exactly lay the wood down on the Steelers. The Browns would need to drastically step up their performance from the first matchup in order to get the job done. I give the Browns only a 30% chance of delivering the victory the Dolphins would need.
- Finally, the final piece of the puzzle would come from the Dolphins themselves, who would need to go into Foxboro and defeat the Patriots in Week 17. The good news is that with the Patriots recent loss to the San Francisco 49ers, they are likely already locked into the 3 seed. While they aren’t known for resting their players in the final week, they are known for being highly strategic. I realize most if not all readers are Dolphins fans, but tell me honestly, who do you think Bill Belichick would rather play in a 3/6 matchup in the first round… the Dolphins or Big Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers? If it gets to this point, there’s at least a possibility Belichick has a change of heart over prior years and rests starters in this matchup, not because they need the rest, but simply because he would rather the Dolphins win so that he can face them in the first round of the playoffs. Even still, this is a tall task for the Fins, and I give them only a 35% chance of beating the Patriots in New England.
If you do the math on all of these probabilities, it calculates out to a 2.04% chance of the Dolphins making the playoffs this year. That’s about 1 in 50 times. So no, it isn’t likely, but I bet 15 weeks ago you didn’t think the Dolphins would make the playoffs even 1 in 50 times, so it’s not all bad. And hey, the Jets have a 0.00% chance of making the playoffs (but they do have a 100% chance of making fools of themselves every time they are on national TV), and that has to make everyone smile.