The playoff permutations are enough to make your head spin, possibly even explode.
But if you’re a Dolphins fan clinging to hopes of the team’s first playoff berth since 2008, here’s what you should do besides root for the Dolphins:
Root against Baltimore.
Root against Cincinnati.
And if the Dolphins should finish tied with Baltimore, pray that there’s a third team tied with them, and that Miami has the best conference record of the three.
A quick primer on where the Dolphins stand in the playoff race, with four games remaining for each team:
• The Dolphins and Ravens are 6-6 — a game ahead of the 5-7 Steelers, Jets, Chargers and Titans for the final playoff spot — and the Ravens would win the tiebreaker against Miami if they’re the only two teams that finish tied for the AFC’s sixth playoff spot because Baltimore beat Miami on Oct. 6.
The good news, from a Dolphins perspective, is that the Ravens have a challenging remaining schedule: Minnesota, at Detroit, New England and at Cincinnati. The Dolphins play at Pittsburgh, home against the Patriots, at Buffalo and home against the Jets.
So if the Dolphins go 3-1 in the final month, they would win a two-team tiebreaker with Baltimore if the Ravens finish out 2-2, which is a possibility because Baltimore has three teams with winning records on its schedule. (Miami only has one.)
• If there’s a three-team tie, it’s not so clear cut. Baltimore wouldn’t necessarily win the tiebreaker over the Dolphins in a three-team tie. (That still has to play out.)
Head-to-head cannot be used to break a three-way tie for a wild-card berth involving teams in different divisions — unless all three teams played each other. Conference record would then be used as a tiebreaker.
Hypothetically, if San Diego finished tied with the Dolphins and Ravens, then Miami (5-3 in conference) could grab the sixth spot if it finishes with a better conference record than the Chargers (3-6 in conference) and the Ravens (6-4 in conference). That’s because the Ravens and Chargers aren’t playing this season.
Keep in mind the Ravens still have two games left against NFC teams; Miami has none. Any Baltimore loss would help, but losses in its two AFC games (Patriots and Bengals) would be especially helpful to Miami in a three-team tie for the last spot.
The third three-team tiebreaker — if needed — would be record against common opponents, minimum four games.
• Another possible way for the Dolphins to make the postseason: If Baltimore catches Cincinnati (8-4) to win the AFC North. The Bengals’ remaining schedule isn’t easy: Indianapolis, at Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Baltimore.
If Baltimore beats the Bengals in their season finale and if the teams finish with the same record atop the AFC North, the Ravens would win the tiebreaker and claim the division title. That’s because Baltimore already beat Cincinnati, and a Week 17 win would give the Ravens a two-game sweep of the season series.
Under that scenario, the Dolphins would win a two-team tiebreaker against Cincinnati by virtue of their win against the Bengals on Halloween.
• If the Dolphins lose to the 5-7 Steelers on Sunday, Pittsburgh would win a two-team tiebreaker against the Dolphins and still have two more home games (Bengals, Browns) sandwiched between a visit to Green Bay. So Pittsburgh still very much looms as a threat to Miami.
• There’s a good chance the Colts (8-4) or Bengals (8-4) will be the No. 3 seed, and the Dolphins beat both this season. If the Dolphins make the playoffs, they would almost assuredly be the No. 6 seed and would meet the No. 3 seed.
Coach Joe Philbin suggested Monday he would make no mention of the playoff picture to his players. But he gladly spoke about other issues that pleased him:
• Asked what the Dolphins are doing especially well, Philbin said: “We’re starting to get the turnover margin where we want it. It’s starting to be on the plus side. [Plus 2, to be exact]. Our offense in two-minute [situations] has been really, really good. Defensively, we’re starting to inch up toward the type of defense we all want to be. We’re ninth in the league in points allowed.”
• On the Dolphins rushing for 125 yards (72 of those from Lamar Miller) against the Jets’ usually stiff run defense: “I’m delighted. [Offensive coordinator] Mike Sherman did a great job sticking with the run.”
• He said his beleaguered offensive line “seems to be improving. We had 25 first downs. It’s a tribute to those guys. We didn’t make a lot of mistakes up front.”
• On Olivier Vernon, whose 10 sacks are tied for the NFL’s fifth most: “[Defensive coordinator] Kevin Coyle and the defensive staff do a good job moving him around. He did a good job on the matchups he had.”