Miami Dolphins

A detailed look at the Dolphins’ playoff tiebreakers (spoiler alert: they’re bad)

Will these Dolphins fans have reason to cheer come January?
Will these Dolphins fans have reason to cheer come January?

The bad teams that fueled the Dolphins’ unexpected surge might be the very same ones that ultimately keep them out of the playoffs.

While Miami is currently tied with Denver for the AFC’s sixth and final Wild Card spot at 8-5, the Dolphins do not control their own destiny.

Yes, they could finish 11-5 and miss the playoffs.

In fairness, they could also finish 9-7 and make the playoffs, although neither scenario is particularly likely.

But this is entirely plausible: The Dolphins finish 10-6 and end up on the outside of the dance looking in.

Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins coach, talks to the media about quarterback Ryan Tannehill's knee injury he suffered in the Fins victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

That’s because the Dolphins lose most every tiebreaker involving the Broncos, even if the Steelers surrender the AFC North crown to Baltimore and also go 10-6.

Here’s the math:

If Pittsburgh, Denver and Miami finish tied at 10-6, the Steelers would get in because of their commanding lead in conference record. The Steelers would finish at 8-4 in the AFC and a game clear of both the Dolphins and Broncos if all go 10-6.

And if it’s Denver alone with Miami at 10-6, the Broncos would go because they have a huge cushion in strength of victory. (The Broncos and Dolphins haven’t played this year, so there is no head-to-head.)

This is where the Dolphins’ soft schedule hurts them.

Put simply, they have beaten some awful teams. The Dolphins have just one win against a club with a winning record (the Steelers, who are 8-5). They have beaten winless Cleveland and 1-12 San Francisco.

Put it together, and Miami has a ghastly strength of victory percentage of .322, fourth-worst in the AFC.

The Broncos’: .418.

Denver also has the Dolphins in checkmate in common opponents, which is a more important tiebreaker than strength of victory. If both teams win out to get to 11-5, the Broncos will have the edge 3-2 to 2-3 and get that final Wild Card spot.

But even if Denver loses to New England, the Dolphins beat the Patriots and both teams go 10-6, they would be tied at 2-3 in common opponents. That’s where strength of victory comes in.

Tiebreakers at 9-7 are even worse for the Dolphins, as the Titans and Ravens could enter the equation then. Both teams own head-to-head wins over Miami.

So what is Miami’s path the postseason?

It’s fairly straight-forward: Finish a game ahead of Denver.

The Dolphins either need to win out and have the Broncos lose once or go 2-1 and have the Broncos lose two of three games down the stretch. If that happens, the Dolphins will get in, regardless of what else transpires.

Now, if Matt Moore reels off three straight pressure wins after not starting a game in five years, he’ll be worth every penny the Dolphins have spent on him since 2011.

But more likely than not, the Dolphins will lose one of their last three (at the Jets, at the Bills and home against the Patriots).

Still, one loss wouldn’t necessarily be fatal.

The Broncos have the most grueling finishing stretch of any team in football. Their final three opponents -- New England, Kansas City and Oakland -- have a combined winning percentage of .795.

So it’s more likely the Broncos don’t win again than win out.

We’ll leave you with one more bit of good news, Dolphins fans: If the Ravens, Steelers and Dolphins all finish 10-6 and the Broncos go 9-7, Baltimore would win its division and Miami would get in over Pittsburgh due to a head-to-head win on Oct. 16.

▪  The Dolphins’ 2017 London game against the Saints will be held at Wembley Stadium either in Week 3 (Sept. 24) or Week 4 (Oct. 1), the league announced Tuesday.

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

Related stories from Miami Herald