The fifth seed in the AFC playoffs is virtually a lock to go to either the Denver Broncos or the Kansas City Chiefs. Both teams currently sit at 9-1, and whichever team does not win the AFC West will most likely finish with the top Wild Card spot.
The sixth seed, however, is a much bigger question mark. With a conference muddled in mediocrity, there are several teams still in the hunt for January, but with two wins in the past three games, the Dolphins have re-entered the discussion of postseason contenders.
Looking ahead, some things stand out about those teams as it relates to their chances to clinch that final spot.
|Team||Record||Win % of remaining opponents||Div. games remaining|
|New York Jets||5-5||.483||2|
|San Diego Chargers||4-6||.689||4|
Of the eight teams on the list above, the Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders are the only three that won in Week 11. It may also help Dolphins fans to know that Ryan Tannehill is the third-rated passer of any of the eight starting quarterbacks left in the hunt, behind Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and Titans QB Jake Locker.
The Dolphins have one of the harder remaining schedules of any team still in the hunt, but they also have the benefit of four division games remaining. If they can win three of those four games (two against the Jets, one each against the Bills and Patriots), they should be able to pick up that final playoff spot.
Who gets the sixth seed in the AFC?
Another note: the Dolphins only face two teams with a winning record (Panthers and Patriots) in the final six games of the season, and both of those games are at home, where the Dolphins are currently 3-2 this season. The Jets, currently in control of their own destiny for the sixth seed in the playoffs, face just one team with a winning record (Panthers), and that is on the road.
The Dolphins' upcoming game against the Panthers is a big one, no doubt, but the two games between the Jets and Dolphins could ultimately determine which of those two teams ends up with the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs. Obviously, other teams are in the hunt, but a sweep of that series by either team would go a long way in locking up a postseason berth.
None of the Dolphins' remaining games are layups. The Steelers and the Bills are the only remaining teams that are below .500. One problem for the Dolphins as well is that they don't match up particularly well with most of their last six opponents. The Panthers, Jets, Patriots and Bills all rank in the top 10 rushing teams in the NFL, whereas the Dolphins have struggled to stop the run.
If the Dolphins want the only playoff spot that looks reasonably available, they'll have to earn it.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.