History doesn’t repeat itself, Mark Twain may or may not have said, but it often rhymes.
The Dolphins better hope fate is an iconoclast.
Because they don’t want history to repeat or rhyme, starting Sunday in Minnesota.
But it’s remarkable how similar this season feels to last.
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After beating the Patriots in Week 14 to improve to 7-6, the Dolphins are in the exact same spot they were following a home win against New England in 2017:
Winners of two in a row, near .500, with a playoff spot in reach.
If they had won their final three a year ago, they would have gotten in. Instead they wilted, losing their all three.
And while we cannot say for certainty that wins over the Vikings, Jaguars and Bills to close out the season will absolutely punch their ticket this year, it would be an enormous shock if the Dolphins miss out on the playoffs at 10-6.
“I like where we’re at,” Dolphins Gase said Monday, some 16 hours after the Miami Miracle. “We’re alive. One week at a time. But if you’re not excited right now, you might as well go find something else to do.”
The Dolphins will enter the final three-game stretch as the AFC’s eighth seed, but in a four-way tie for the final playoff spot with Baltimore, Indianapolis and Tennessee.
That much we know. What we don’t gets messy.
The Dolphins own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Titans. The Colts would get in over Miami in a two-way tie due to their Week 12 win over the Dolphins. The Ravens and Dolphins will not play this season and have the same conference record (6-4), but Baltimore as of now owns the next applicable tiebreaker: best winning percentage in common games.
This alone would make an astrophysicist’s head spin. But two additional teams could complicate things further: The Steelers (7-5-1) and Broncos (6-7).
Either Pittsburgh or Baltimore will almost certainly win the AFC North. The team that doesn’t might miss the playoffs altogether. The Broncos needs to win out and get a ton of help.
Looking for hope? Here’s some: The Dolphins have the group’s easiest remaining strength of schedule. Their final three opponents have a .381 combined winning percentage.
So how do they get in? There are too many scenarios to count, but the most likely path includes winning out, and rooting for the following:
The Titans beat the Colts in the regular-season finale and either the Ravens lose to the Chargers or the Steelers lose to the Patriots or Saints. Each is plausible. None is assured.
If you really want to blow your mind, try to figure out a five-way tie at 9-7, which also could happen.
Confused yet? Don’t be. Things will be much clearer this time next week.
But for now, here’s a brief look at the six teams that will fill out the AFC’s playoff picture:
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1, 62 percent to reach the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight): Week 15 vs. New England (9-4); Week 16 at New Orleans (11-2); Week 17 vs. Cincinnati (5-8). Remaining strength of schedule: .641
Miami Dolphins (7-6, 20 percent): Week 15 at Minnesota (6-5-1, not reflecting Monday night’s result); Week 16 vs. Jacksonville (4-9); Week 17 at Buffalo (4-9). Remaining strength of schedule: .381.
Baltimore Ravens (7-6, 55 percent): Week 15 vs. Tampa Bay (5-8); Week 16 at Los Angeles Chargers (10-3); Week 17 vs. Cleveland (5-7-1). Remaining strength of schedule: .526.
Tennessee Titans (7-6, 35 percent): Week 15 at New York Giants (5-8); Week 16 vs. Washington (6-7); Week 17 vs. Indianapolis (7-6). Remaining strength of schedule: .462.
Indianapolis Colts (7-6, 27 percent): Week 15 vs. Dallas (8-5); Week 16 vs. New York Giants (5-8); Week 17 at Tennessee (7-6). Remaining strength of schedule: .513.
Denver Broncos (6-7, 5 percent): Week 15 vs. Cleveland (5-7-1); Week 16 at Oakland (3-10); Week 17 vs. Los Angeles Chargers (10-3). Remaining strength of schedule: .474.
What’s striking: How much sway the Chargers, Giants and Bengals have over the Dolphins’ fate — even though Miami plays none of those teams down the stretch.
The Dolphins probably cannot afford a loss. But if they are to lose one of their final three, it better come this Sunday. The Vikings are in the NFC, so it would not weaken their conference record, which might be what breaks a multiteam tie.
Gase had no time for such permutations Monday. In his mind, he needs to win them all.
How much wiggle room does his team have?
Gase added: “It’s a different feeling when you’re fighting for your football lives. You never know what’s going to happen. You never know if with one game, it’s over.”