AFC Playoff Picture

Final Home Game Could Be AFC East Title Tilt

Heading out of this season’s long homestand, Thiscouldbtheyear.com predicted the Dolphins would hold a 5-3 record. From that point on, we estimated Dolfans and media would close their eyes and witness visions of playoffs.

We urged emotional caution during this period as we predicted twin losses in California.

However, the Dolphins swept the San Diego Chargers and Los Angeles Rams in gutty, come-from-behind performances. The victories — whether you call them luck or the much hoped-for change in team culture — shifted the dynamics of our 7-9 season prediction (issued the week between he final exhibition game and Opening Day).

As usual, the season and future opponents have evolved into a favorable schedule for the Dolphins. Barring catastrophic injuries to key players — and we saw the offensive line struggle minus Mike Pouncey, Brandon Albert and Laremy Tunsil — the Dolphins look stronger than most of their remaining opponents.

HANDICAPPING THE REMAINING SCHEDULE

This Week: San Francisco 49ers — Should be a lock victory as the Niners have a long road trip and own a 1-9 record. They’re horrific and offer no real threats on either side of the ball.
Current Prediction: Same as our pre-season pick a W.
Record: 7-4.

@ Baltimore — The Ravens always give the Dolphins trouble. While we do not prescribe to year-over-year trends in the NFL (due to roster turnover), we’re not quite sure what to make of the Ravens and what sort of challenges they’ll provide at home. The Dolphins have won games based on gumption and keeping things close. They’ll have to do the same here.
Current Prediction: Sticking with our pre-season projection as a loss.
Record: 7-5.

Hosting Arizona — The Cardinals continue to disappoint after pre-season pundits painted them as the NFC’s Super Bowl entrants. This remains a dangerous home game because the Cardinals, if they play to their potential, are a Super Bowl contender. However, they haven’t offered many glimpses of that potential this season.
Current Prediction: We’re upgrading this from a pre-season loss to a victory.
Record: 8-5

@ Gang Green — Weather could be a factor in these late-season New York games. However, the Jets cannot score points. They boast a solid run defense, but that didn’t help them when the teams met in Miami. If the weather conditions require a running game, this might play into Jet hands. However, we see the Dolphins sweeping the season series.
Current Prediction: Victory in front of the New York’s knuckle-dragging masses. This is an update from a pre-season loss projection.
Record: 9-5

@ Buffalo — LeSean McCoy was not at his best in the first meeting between these two teams. But the Bills looked sharp in knocking out the Bengals in Cincinnati this past week. They are capable of playing a spoiler role. With the Ryan Bros. running their defense you know they’ll be challenging in that department. The question for them is always their QB play, McCoy’s health and warm bodies at the receiver positions.
Current Prediction: We’re going to remain cautious as Buffalo provides a tough environment this time of year for warm-weather clubs and stick to our loss prediction. Aside from the final home game, this game represents the true barometer for where the Dolphins lie in terms of overall quality.
Record: 9-6

Home vs. New England — The Patriots would have to lose four games to reach the 9-6 mark at this stage of the season. Highly unlikely. HOWEVER, if we are wrong and the Dolphins simply run the table, they’d enter this game 11-4 and it’s entirely possible the Patriots could drop two more games (they face the Jets twice and have to travel to Denver).
Current Prediction: Same as before, VICTORY.
Record: 10-6, Wild Card

AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE: THE REALITY

AFC WEST: The final six weeks of the season features AFC West showdowns among all the contenders. We should see one team emerge and two fade.

NEW ENGLAND: Will end up with home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

OAKLAND: They have a tough remaining schedule with Carolina and road games in KC, Denver and San Diego. Gird for a collapse.

KANSAS CITY: The Chiefs are simply not that good. They allowed Tampa Bay to basically dominate them at Arrowhead Stadium this past week and their offense appears anemic. Andy Reed is a good coach, but never seems to get over the hump to domination. Same can be said for QB Alex Smith.

DENVER: The Defending Champs remain a formidable team. They might present the biggest challenge to New England in the Conference. But they play Kansas City twice, New England and host Oakland in their finale. The Tennessee Titans, who are emerging, could offer an upset opportunity.

IF THE DOLPHINS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS

We predict the Dolphins could actually reach the AFC Championship Game if healthy.

Again, we urged emotional restraint during this period of success, however, the facts remain the facts. The Houston Texans and Baltimore are both flawed teams. The Raiders and Chiefs can be beaten and there’s a good chance they won’t have records good enough to earn home field advantage.

We see the Dolphins winning their first round game for the first time in 16 seasons. If they hit the road in Denver or New England, it ends there.

SLEEPER TEAMS

The Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs since 2008 and haven’t won a playoff round since 2000. Say what you want; they remain a sleeper team.

Pittsburgh owns a benign schedule down the stretch against Indy and the Giants, at Buffalo and Cincy and home to Baltimore and Cleveland.

THE NET OF IT

The Dolphins might actually provide Dolfans with an exciting Holiday season and hope. Now if they’ll only change the uniforms and logo all would be right again.

Tradition Matters