The formula is simple: Win the next two games and the Dolphins are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
If the playoffs began today, the Dolphins would be out. That's because the Bengals (9-5) hold the lead for the AFC North and the Ravens (8-6) hold a tiebreaker over the Dolphins (8-6) as a result of a head-to-head win.
However, the playoffs do not begin today, and the Bengals and Ravens are on a playoff-deciding collision course in their Week 17 contest; one way or the other, one of those two AFC North teams could be eliminated from the playoffs even if they combine for the maximum number of wins they can achieve through the final two weeks.
They play each other on Dec. 29, so that's a maximum of two wins for one team and one for the other.
Let's assume (for the sake of simplicity) that the Dolphins are going to win their next two games. One of two scenarios would play out:
- If the Bengals win their next two games, they finish 11-5 and are in the playoffs as AFC North champions; that means the Ravens can finish no better than 9-7, and would be behind the Dolphins in that scenario.
- If the Ravens win their next two games, they finish 10-6 and are in the playoffs as AFC North champions; that means the Bengals can finish no better than 10-6, and would therefore be tied with the Dolphins, but the Dolphins hold the tiebreaker because of their head-to-head victory.
The Dolphins already lost to the Bills, 23-21, in Miami this season, and they now must travel to Buffalo for a climate change. The Dolphins play host to the reeling Jets in the season finale after beating the Jets handily, 23-3, at MetLife Stadium just a few weeks ago.
There's a scenario where the Dolphins could clinch a playoff spot this week, too. If the Ravens and Bengals both lose their games and the Dolphins win, they'd be in the playoffs by virtue of finishing better than at least one of those two teams.
Heck, even the AFC East division title is still up for grabs; the Dolphins must win both of their last two games, and the Patriots must lose both of their last two games, in order for the AFC East to have a new champion for the first time since 2008 (the last time the Dolphins won it).
None of it matters, though, unless the Dolphins win their last two games, but for the first time in a long time, the Dolphins' playoff fates are in their hands and their hands alone.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
Editor's note: Due to a typographical error, an earlier version of this article misstated that only one AFC North team would make the playoffs. That sentence was intended to be directly connected to the Dolphins winning their final two games. We regret the error.