After enduring two decades of domination by the New England Patriots, the Miami Dolphins are finally looking at their AFC nemesis in the rearview mirror thanks to an impressively quick rebuild under second-year coach Brian Flores.
Miami is one win away from double digit-victories for the first time since 2015. The bad news for Dolphins fans is that their team is also one loss from potential disaster according to the NFL Week 16 playoff scenario – and their next two opponents would be happy to help let the misery commence.
The Miami Dolphins are in a tight playoff race
In 15 of the past 17 seasons, at least one NFL team has gone from a last-place divisional finish one season to qualifying for the playoffs the next – and six teams have done it in the past three seasons alone. Entering NFL Week 16, the Miami Dolphins (9-5), Arizona Cardinals (8-6), and Washington Football Team (6-8) remain in contention to accomplish the feat.
Miami’s final two games are Dec. 26 vs. the Las Vegas Raiders and Jan. 3 vs. the Buffalo Bills. The Raiders (7-7) are barely clinging to life in the AFC playoff race and figure to be desperate in the Saturday night game. The Bills have clinched the AFC East but are in a multi-team dogfight for the No. 2 seed, which could translate into an extra home game in the playoffs.
The Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts are battling for the AFC South title with identical 10-4 records. The Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) are a game up on the Cleveland Browns (10-4) in the AFC North, with the Baltimore Ravens close at 9-5. And, the Raiders are lurking as longshots out of the AFC West.
The bottom line: The Dolphins are one of five teams fighting for three wildcards under the NFL Week16 playoff scenario, and the schedule over the final two weeks is not kind to them.
The NFL Week 16 playoff scenarios for the other AFC teams
The AFC playoff race is coming together as the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills have wrapped up division championships. Additionally, the Pittsburgh Steelers have clinched a berth. The Steelers capture the AFC North this weekend if they beat the Indianapolis Colts or the Cleveland Browns lose to the New York Jets.
The Browns have to be loving the possibilities in the NFL Week 16 playoff scenario. Cleveland guarantees its first postseason berth since the 2002 season by beating the Jets and watching the Colts, Baltimore Ravens, or Miami Dolphins lose.
Meanwhile, the Colts also have a favorable scenario if they pull off the victory against the suddenly slumping Steelers. An Indianapolis win coupled with losses by Baltimore or Miami puts the Colts in the playoffs.
On the other hand, a Colts loss positions the Tennessee Titans to win the AFC South by beating the Green Bay Packers. Winning gets the Titans at least a wildcard berth provided that the Dolphins or Ravens lose.
Finally, the Kansas City Chiefs seem headed for an anticlimactic finish. The Chiefs clinch the first-round bye in the AFC playoffs with a victory over the Atlanta Falcons or by watching the Steelers or Bills lose.
The NFL Week 16 playoff scenarios for NFC teams
Only the Green Bay Packers have clinched an NFC division title, but the NFL Week 16 playoff scenario lays out simple paths for the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks to upgrade from their current wildcard berths status.
Seattle (10-5) wraps up the NFC West by beating the Los Angeles Rams (9-5) in what figures to be one of Sunday’s best games. The Rams could still clinch their playoff spot despite losing as long as the Chicago Bears also lose or the Arizona Cardinals win.
Meanwhile, the Saints take care of business in the NFC South if they beat the Minnesota Vikings in a rare Christmas Day game or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose to the Detroit Lions on Sunday. The Washington Football Team can win the NFC East with a combination of their own victory over the Carolina Panthers and a New York Giants loss.
The Buccaneers and Cardinals are positioned to clinch wildcard berths. Tampa Bay clinches either by beating the Lions or with a Bears loss. Arizona has to win its game against the San Francisco 49ers for that loss by the Bears to wrap it up for them.
Finally, Green Bay has an opportunity to clinch the first-round bye. But it would require the Packers beating Tennessee and Seattle losing.