Adam Gase dumped a cold bucket of reality on a suddenly recharged Dolphins locker room (and fan base), daring to dream about the postseason once again.
“It [was] a good win for us because that was the most important game of that week,” Gase told reporters Tuesday, “and I know you want more than that, but really, if we lose next week, nobody really is going to give a s---.”
Particularly since Miami’s chances of returning to the playoffs will approach zero without a win in Buffalo.
Monday night’s rollicking win over the Patriots did nothing more than give the Dolphins a chance — and a slim one at that — to play in January.
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FiveThirtyEight puts their odds at 6 percent. But a loss in the snow Sunday would drop those chances under 1 percent.
Real talk: Miami’s season comes down to Sunday. And the Sunday after that in Kansas City. And the Sunday after that in Miami Gardens against the Bills.
Any realistic scenario of the Dolphins reaching the postseason begins with the Dolphins winning out.
But that alone will not be enough. Not with seven teams vying for three playoff spots.
The Titans are 8-5, but have the toughest road left (games against the Rams and Jaguars in the last two weeks of the season).
The AFC West is a jumbled mess, with the Chiefs and Chargers, both 7-6, controlling their destiny, and the Raiders (6-7) needing help.
The Bills (7-6) are very much alive, but the Dolphins can essentially eliminate them with a sweep (the teams play in Week 15 and 17).
In truth, the biggest roadblock between the Dolphins and the playoffs is Baltimore, which owns the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to the 40-0 victory a few weeks back. The Ravens also have the easiest remaining schedule, playing the Browns, Colts and Bengals.
Complicating matters: The Dolphins need to avoid a two-way tie with the Ravens. A three-way tie with Baltimore and an AFC West team at 9-7 should put Miami in, based on conference record (the Dolphins would be 8-4).
The Dolphins own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Titans and Chargers, and would have them against the Chiefs and Bills if they run the table.
Confused yet? That’s exactly how the NFL wants it. The league is designed to have most of its member clubs playing meaningful football late in the season, and in the AFC at least, the plan has worked again.
So let’s take the same approach as Gase does with his players: Focus on one week at a time.
Nothing can be decided this week, but the Dolphins’ chances would skyrocket with a couple of upsets in the coming days.
FiveThirtyEight says Miami will be overwhelming favorites to get in should it run the table and if these teams all win in Week 15: the 49ers against the Titans, the Cowboys against the Raiders and the Browns against the Ravens.
Saturday night’s Chargers-Chiefs game, surprisingly, has next to no impact on Miami’s chances.
Dolphins players wanted nothing to do with this conversation in a celebratory locker room early Tuesday, and for good reason: A week and a half ago, Miami was far more likely to have a top-five pick than have a ticket to the tournament.
But something tangible changed when they drummed the Broncos. A team without confidence suddenly was overflowing with it.
“I think anytime you get in a situation where you’ve lost five games in a row, no matter how you win that game, it’s nice to win a game,” Gase explained. “And then confidence can really build throughout a week the next week. I think that’s really what happened for us. Guys came in with a purpose in the Denver game, did a good job, and then when we went through practice last week, there was a different way about how we were at practice.
“There was no change in effort or execution or anything like that, but it seemed like guys were walking around different, like they felt good about what we had going on and how they were going to perform,” Gase continued.
Added safety Michael Thomas: “It just shows what can happen when we actually play together. Not to talk too much about what we did different in practice, but guys realized, we’ve got to start making game-changing plays. It’s got to be a conscious effort. You’ve got to go out there and make it happen. The guys took that and ran with it, translated to the field. Denver game we got a taste of it. We’re trying to keep it going.”