There will be no poring over playoff permutations at Dolphins headquarters this week.
But Dolphins fans are certainly encouraged to do that, and this should give them hope:
Not only are the Dolphins playing their best football since September, but Baltimore — their chief challenger for the final AFC playoff spot — faces a daunting schedule.
Whereas the 7-6 Dolphins play one quality team (the Patriots Sunday at Sun Life Stadium) and two with losing records (at Buffalo and home against the Jets), the 7-6 Ravens close with games against three division leaders: at Detroit, New England and at Cincinnati.
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So even though the Ravens would win a two-team tiebreaker against the Dolphins, playoffstatus.com gives the Dolphins a 55 percent chance of making the playoffs, compared with 33 percent for the Ravens.
A few points to keep in mind:
• The Dolphins would win a two-team tiebreaker with San Diego (6-7) by virtue of their victory over the Chargers last month.
Nevertheless, a strong case could be made for the Dolphins to root for the Chargers.
Here’s why: If the Dolphins and Ravens finish 1-2 in their final three games, and if San Diego goes 2-1, the Dolphins would win a three-time tiebreaker if the Ravens’ two losses are against AFC teams (Patriots and Bengals).
In three-team tiebreakers, head-to-head is not used if all three teams are from different divisions and didn’t play each other. The Chargers and Ravens don’t meet this season, which renders the Ravens’ win against the Dolphins moot in this scenario.
Conference record then would be used as the tiebreaker. And in this scenario — with Baltimore losing to the Patriots and Bengals to close the season — the Dolphins would have a better conference record than the Ravens or Chargers.
The Dolphins are 6-3 in the AFC, Baltimore 6-4 and San Diego 3-6. San Diego’s three remaining games: at Denver and home against Oakland and Kansas City.
Best won-loss percentage in common games would be the next three-team tiebreaker.
• If the Jets (5-7) finish tied with the Dolphins and Ravens for the final playoff spot, that wouldn’t help Miami. That’s because in three-team wild card ties involving two teams from the same division, the Jets/Dolphins tie would be resolved first.
If Miami wins that tiebreaker (and that still has to play out), Baltimore would earn the nod based on beating Miami. The Jets, incidentally, finish with these games: at Carolina, home against Cleveland and at the Dolphins.
• The Dolphins would win the AFC East only if they win their final three games and the Patriots lose their final three. Miami would win the tiebreaker based on superior division record in that scenario.
The Patriots have two challenging games (at Dolphins, at Ravens), but will be heavily favored in their finale, at home against Buffalo.
• There’s still a chance the Ravens could catch the Bengals in the AFC North, which wouldn’t necessarily hurt Miami.
If Baltimore goes 3-0 and the Bengals go 1-2, the teams would be tied and Baltimore would win the tiebreaker, presuming they win at Cincinnati in their season finale.
The Dolphins would then win a two-team head-to-head tiebreaker with Cincinnati if they’re tied for the last wild card spot.
Cincinnati’s remaining schedule: at Pittsburgh and home games against Minnesota and Baltimore.
Among the developments that pleased Dolphins coaches in Sunday’s win against Pittsburgh:
• Tight end Charles Clay’s continued excellence (97 yards on seven receptions and two TDs):
“I see him beaming with confidence,” offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. “As long as he keeps the attitude he has currently and listens to his coach, he’ll keep getting better. He’ll have a chance to be real special, I believe.”
• Ryan Tannehill’s strong day; his 95.5 passer rating was his second-best of the season:
On Saturday, Sherman warned Tannehill that there could be rain and snow Sunday. To that, Tannehill said: “It won’t be a problem. Don’t worry about it.”
Did Sherman believe him? “When he tells me stuff, I believe him. When he tells you he’s going to do something, he does it.”
• Daniel Thomas’ 105 yards rushing — two off his career high — on 16 carries, which happened after he missed a game with an ankle injury.
“On Wednesday, we never envisioned him even playing this week,” Sherman said. “It’s a credit to our training staff and to him. I’m sure he wasn’t 100 percent but he played as if he was.”
• Key defensive contributions from Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon and others. Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle called cornerback Nolan Carroll “one of the most valuable players on the field” Sunday. “He has really stepped up his game of late.”