Dolphins are still in good shape, but now there is an apocalyptic path

The Miami Dolphins should have been feeling good about their spot in the playoff field a couple of weeks ago.

They were 8-3 and still had hopes of winning the AFC East. There was a tough two-game road trip to California, but they still hadn’t lost a game that didn’t involve Tua Tagovailoa’s injury.

Less than two weeks later, after losses to the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Chargers, the Dolphins must question how secure their playoff spot is.

There shouldn’t be panic at 8-5, but the schedule won’t be easy. The Dolphins play the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night and it’s a tough game. Then they host the Green Bay Packers, who are unable to shut out that game. After that the Dolphins are up to the New England Patriots (hot team cold + Bill Belichick makes a challenge) before hosting the New York Jets in the finale.

There is an apocalyptic scenario where the Dolphins could lose all four of these games. It’s unlikely, but possible. And 1-3 otherwise isn’t that crazy. Would Miami be a wildcard team at 9-8? Well, maybe. The Chargers have an easy remaining schedule (so they get the No. 7 seed in this week’s showings) and head-to-head tiebreakers. The Jets have a win over the Dolphins and a sweep would go a long way for them. The Patriots aren’t dead yet. If the Dolphins finish 9-8, it will be a lot more stressful than they hoped.

(Yahoo Sports graphic by Michael Wagstaffe)

(Yahoo Sports graphic by Michael Wagstaffe)

The Dolphins will probably get things together and win a couple games. Defenses have done well recently by pulling off Dolphins wide receivers, and head coach Mike McDaniel will have to figure that out. McDaniel had a good season and will likely have an adjustment. Miami has been a good team for most of the season and shouldn’t fade away that easily.

He’s just a little more nervous about the Dolphins than he was a couple weeks ago. Unless they upset the Bills, who have to keep winning to stay ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs for the #1 seed in the AFC, it’s going to get even more stressful in Miami.

Here are the Week 15 games that will have the biggest impact on the playoff picture:

Thursday night’s game could lead to our first division title clinched. San Francisco would clinch the NFC West with a win over the Seahawks. The 49ers would lead by three games in Seattle with three left, and would have the tiebreaker due to a season sweep. Seattle doesn’t have much of a chance of winning the NFC West even with a win, but the Seahawks need to win games to stay in a wildcard position.

The Lions are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. They won five of six and their playoff hopes are still alive after a 1-6 start. The Jets are also in the wild card mix, but at 7-6 they don’t want to suffer a home loss to Detroit.

The Chargers’ win last week against the Dolphins was huge for their playoff hopes. But the AFC is tough and the Chargers have to keep winning. They face the Titans, who aren’t in much risk of blowing up the AFC South, but have lost three in a row and need to start playing better.

The Buccaneers are 6-7 and suddenly in danger of losing the NFC South to the Carolina Panthers. Tampa Bay is not playing well. In this week’s projections we have the Panthers come from behind to win the division. The Panthers have already beaten the Buccaneers, 21-3, this season and if they win the rematch on Jan. 1, they’ll have the tiebreaker and have an excellent shot at the NFC South title. The Bengals are playing well and are tied with the Baltimore Ravens at 9-4 for first place in the AFC North. Due to tiebreaker issues, Cincinnati probably needs to make sure they are at least tied with Baltimore going into Week 18 if they are to win the division.

This is the biggest playoff game of the week, even if it’s between two mediocre teams in the NFC East. These teams tied two weeks ago, so the winner (if there is one) wins the tiebreaker. They have identical 7-5-1 records, so getting a win and tiebreaker is huge in the wild card contest. It’s hard to imagine that at least one of these teams won’t make the playoffs, and the winner of this Sunday night game will have a massive lead.

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