While the likewise 6-6 Baltimore Ravens currently hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Miami and the AFC‘s sixth seed, their final three opponents each boast winning records. There’s a strong chance Baltimore will lose at least once more, and if it doesn’t, it could capture the AFC North crown.
In said scenario, the Cincinnati Bengals would become the Dolphins’ primary competition for the sixth seed. Thanks to a win over Cincinnati in Week 9, the Dolphins would qualify for the playoffs if they finished the season tied with Marvin Lewis‘ team for the final wild-card spot.
So, if the Dolphins win their remaining four games and the Ravens do the same, Miami would only need the Bengals to lose in Week 14, Week 15 or Week 16 to get in. In the unlikely scenario that the Ravens win out and the Bengals win every remaining game but their Week 17 showdown with Baltimore for the AFC North title, the Dolphins could still qualify for the postseason if the Kansas City Chiefs finished the season at 1-3 in their final four games.
Once the NFL’s last remaining unbeaten, the Chiefs are losers of three straight and will finish 2013 playing three of their final four contests on the road. Finishing 10-6 and tied for the final wild-card slot with the Dolphins remains a possibility. In that case, the Dolphins would take the tiebreaker thanks to a superior conference record.
To make a long story short, the Dolphins will almost assuredly make the playoffs if they can finish 10-6. But let’s be honest, these Dolphins are anything but consistent. More likely than not, Miami will drop at least one more game.
The next two weeks in particular will be daunting for the Dolphins. In Week 14, the Dolphins will square off against a beatable but formidable Pittsburgh Steelers team. Not only is the game on the road, but conditions could be less than ideal, with the possibility of snow in the forecast.
If the Dolphins can overcome that hurdle, they would still have a showdown with the AFC East-leading New England Patriots at home in Week 15. Tom Brady and company will have plenty to play for being that they are currently in a heated battle with the Denver Broncos for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. And even though the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets are two less-than-stellar opponents, anything is possible in division games, and it would be quite the achievement for the Dolphins to beat both in the final two weeks of the season.
With a loss in any of the matchups mentioned above, which will all be difficult to emerge victorious from, the Dolphins’ playoff hopes would take a considerable hit. They won’t be dead, but they will certainly be gasping for air. With a 9-7 finish to the 2013 season, the Dolphins would need the Ravens to lose twice, the Bengals to lose three times, or the Chiefs to lose four times in the final four weeks of the year to realistically make the playoffs.
Technically, the Dolphins could also still get in if the Tennessee Titans or San Diego Chargers won the rest of their games and Baltimore lost once more. In said scenario, the Dolphins could emerge from a three-way tie with the Ravens and the other 9-7 team with the best conference record. But in all likelihood, the Titans and Chargers will each lose at least once in four tries.
The race for the AFC’s final playoff spot remains a clouded mess. Winning is the only way to provide any clarity for the Dolphins. And by winning, I mean winning every remaining game — a tall task for an inconsistent team.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.