Sorting out the AFC playoff picture is a lot like Hillbilly Handfishin’, the practice of catching catfish underwater with one’s bare hands.
Just stick your hands in the mud and see what you can pull out.
But here is why the Miami Dolphins will be the ones to surface above all others.
Others falling behind
It’s no surprise that the Baltimore Ravens and the Miami Dolphins are the only two teams left fighting for the sixth playoff seed that do not have a losing record. The mess that existed five weeks ago has begun to sort it out.
Over that span, Miami, Baltimore and Pittsburgh are the only teams in wild-card contention to post a winning record of 3-2. Pittsburgh, however, is struggling to overcome a horrendous 0-4 start and currently sits at 5-7.
The San Diego Chargers and the Tennessee Titans have gone 2-3, while the Buffalo Bills, the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns and the Oakland Raiders have all but destroyed their postseason hopes by going 1-4.
Baltimore and Miami now hold a 1.0-game lead over the others in the pack, though the Ravens own the tiebreaker over the Dolphins.
Miami has superstars starting to reach potential
Despite all of the questionable decisions made by general manager Jeff Ireland, one call he got right was bringing in cornerback Brent Grimes. Grimes has had an outstanding season and has been arguably the most consistent player on Miami’s roster this season.
He has consistently matched up on opponents’ best receivers and has prevented big games, helping to close off one side of the field on defense. His four interceptions are tied for fourth in the league and second in the AFC. His pick-six against Cincinnati in Week 9 essentially helped win the game and keep Miami’s playoff hopes alive.
Another pleasant surprise has been the play of defensive end Olivier Vernon. Vernon has 10.5 sacks on the season, good for fifth in the league.
Although certainly the beneficiary of having established pass-rushing monster Cameron Wake on the other side, Vernon’s play is starting to warrant some serious attention from opposing offenses. If Vernon can keep up his solid play, the Dolphins will have two excellent pass-rushers down the all-important stretch of the season.
At long last, it seems as if receiver Mike Wallace is starting to put it together. Despite recording only one touchdown in his first 10 games in a Dolphins uniform, Wallace has now scored two touchdowns in his last two games, racking up 209 yards receiving—his most in any two-game stretch this season.
If Ryan Tannehill can become more accurate with his deep throws, Wallace will be an agonizing threat for Miami’s opponents down the stretch.
Miami’s four remaining opponents (at Pittsburgh, vs. New England, at Buffalo, vs. NYJ) have a combined record of 23-25, with New England being the only team currently holding a winning record. The Dolphins have an even split of two home games and two away games to close out the season.
Baltimore faces four opponents (vs. Minnesota, at Detroit, vs. New England, at Cincinnati) with a combined record of 27-20-1, with three of those teams currently holding winning records. The Ravens also have an even split of two home games and two away games.
Miami holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Jets and the Chargers, and can end the Steelers’ playoff hopes Sunday with a win. The Dolphins have a 1.5-game lead over the Titans in conference play (which play at Denver next week).
Sitting at the No. 7 spot in the playoff picture now, the Dolphins only need the Ravens to lose one more game, and they would control their own playoff destiny.
With the easiest road ahead of all those fighting for a spot, the Miami Dolphins will be the sixth seed in the AFC.
Like handfishin’, it may not be pretty, but patience will bring some clarity to otherwise muddy matters.