The NFL began scheduling playoff games in 1933, the same year construction on the Golden Gate Bridge began and Prohibition was repealed.
In the eight decades since, a team thriving after a four-game, in-season losing streak has been, at least in football circles, almost as noteworthy.
Only 26 clubs have ever qualified for the postseason after such a skid, including just five in the past decade, according to STATS Inc.
But the Dolphins, who dropped four in a row earlier in the year, don’t just have a chance to buck history. It would be an upset if they didn’t.
The Dolphins’ win over New England combined with the Bengals’ loss in Pittsburgh not only made Miami the odds-on favorite to earn the AFC’s second wild card, but also it also made them the overwhelming favorite to do so.
As of Monday afternoon, the analytics website Football Outsiders put the Dolphins’ odds of making the playoffs at a whopping 73.7 percent. That made the outcome of the Ravens-Lions game Monday night game, once seen as critical to the Dolphins’ hopes, not that important.
Why? The Bengals’ loss already assured that if the Dolphins can finish the regular season with wins over the Bills and Jets — teams that are a combined six games under .500 — Miami is in the playoffs, no matter what anyone else does.
But that’s ground already covered. Now here’s something you might not have known:
If the football gods deal an inside straight, the Dolphins can actual end up with a first-round bye and a home playoff game. No question, it’s a long shot. Football Outsiders puts the chances at 1 in 125.
Bye is possible
But there is a path. It includes the Dolphins winning out, the Patriots losing out, and the Colts, Ravens and Bengals losing at least once between now and New Year’s.
Crazy? Sure. But no more bizarre than one teammate accusing another of physical and emotional abuse, making those allegations public and throwing his entire franchise into turmoil.
Of course, in Dolphins headquarters, such talk is shunned. When asked Monday about controlling their own playoff path, coach Joe Philbin responded: “I’m not sure I know what context you are referring to.”
He later said his whole focus is on beating the Buffalo Bills.
So while there might not be a team-wide edict to not utter the “P” word, Philbin is certainly hoping to lead by example.
“I don’t think that far ahead,” said offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, when asked about the rare opportunity presented to the Dolphins. “Two weeks from now, that’s a lifetime — two lifetimes.”
Sherman and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle did both acknowledge, however, that beating the Patriots on Sunday was a big deal. The Dolphins have been chasing New England for the past 13 seasons and hadn’t bested Bill Belichick since 2009.
“It feels great,” a grinning Coyle said. “It was hard, but we knew it would be.”
Sherman told his players Saturday that the Patriots game was another chance to prove the Dolphins belonged in the conversation with the better NFL teams. They had such a chance in New Orleans back in September, but fell flat, the first of four consecutive losses that nearly derailed the season.
“This opportunity exists for us to go out there against a really good football team and make some noise,”ﾠSherman told the group. “And that’s what we’re doing right now, we’re making noise. That’s about it.
“We’re playing as hard as we can play and coaching as hard as we can coach,” Sherman added. “And we’re taking it one day at a time. However it ends up, it ends up.”
Odds are, it probably won’t end up with a home playoff game. Even after Sunday’s loss, the Patriots still have a 97.6 percent chance to win their fifth consecutive division championship.
The far more likely scenario, then, is the Dolphins get in as the sixth seed, meaning that all of their playoff games would be played on the road. But considering their list of possible first-round opponents — New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Baltimore — the Dolphins would enter the postseason with confidence.
They have gone 3-2 against those teams this year, and led in the second half in both their losses.
“We’ve grown a lot,” said Ryan Tannehill, who has a 103.2 passer rating in December. “I think to a man each of us has gotten stronger to some extent throughout the adversity we faced off the field, the adversity on the field we’ve gone through this entire second half of the season.
“Guys are tough in there,” Tannehill added. “I love playing with those guys. I love those guys. To be able to be on the field with them is a lot of fun.”