The Miami Dolphins may have been eliminated from the playoffs last week, but their season is far from over.
The 'Fins still have five games remaining on their 2011 slate, and almost all of these matchups contain some serious playoff implications. Most of Miami's upcoming opponents probably expect to roll through with an easy victory, but if the Dolphins have shown anything over the past few weeks, it's resilience.
Miami might be the best 3-8 team in recent history, and they have an awesome chance to play spoiler. Four of their next five games should have playoff ramifications, so Matt Moore and Co. could significantly alter the 2011 playoff picture.
How so? Here's six potential scenarios.
On Sunday, the Raiders must trek across the country to face the 'Fins in Sun Life Stadium. Oakland currently holds a slim one-game lead over Denver in the AFC West, and losing to Miami could prove catastrophic.
The Broncos will face the lowly Vikings on Sunday, and their remaining schedule is significantly easier than the Raiders'. If Miami can topple Oakland this weekend, they will put Carson Palmer and Co.'s chances of winning the AFC West—and hence chances of hosting a home playoff game—in great danger.
A few weeks ago, Miami's Week 14 tilt versus the Philadelphia Eagles looked like a sure loss. However, Philly has imploded, and they will not make the postseason unless they win out—and even then, there's a chance they miss out.
If Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin recover from their respective injuries, then Philly could definitely win all of these games, including their upcoming trip to Miami. If the Dolphins fall to the Eagles, they could help shake up the NFC playoff picture.
Four AFC teams currently possess a record of 8-3. Those teams include the Texans, Patriots, Ravens, and Steelers. All four will battle for home-field advantage over the next five weeks, but New England is the clear-cut favorite to win it.
However, the Dolphins will march into New England in Week 16 with a chance to derail the Patriots' home-field hopes. This game could essentially be Miami's Super Bowl, and they will get up for it. If the 'Fins can upset the Pats, they might open the door for the Steelers or Ravens to seize the AFC title.
No NFL team is more volatile than the New York Jets. But despite their erratic play, they are only one game behind the Cincinnati Bengals for the final AFC playoff spot. At this rate, the Jets will be competing for that last playoff berth until the final week of the season, when they face the Dolphins in Miami.
New York hasn't swept Miami in a season since Rex Ryan took over as head coach, and this year might not be any different. The Dolphins have improved tremendously since the last time these two teams met, and anything can happen in a home game versus a bitter, divisional rival.
By defeating the Jets, the 'Fins just might eliminate Gang Green from the postseason and open the door for another team to clinch a berth.
Before any of these aforementioned scenarios can occur, the Dolphins must continue playing with same intensity and passion they have been over the past few weeks.
Now that their playoff dreams are gone, it might be difficult for the 'Fins to get up for meaningless games; however, Tony Sparano has proven that if he can do one thing, it's inspire his team. Miami can be the league's biggest spoiler over the remainder of the season, but they won't be successful unless they maintain their fire.
When Texans quarterback Matt Schaub was ruled out for the season with a foot injury, Houston's Super Bowl hopes diminished. But when Schaub's replacement, former Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, suffered a season-ending collarbone injury on Sunday, the team's Super Bowl hopes were all but executed.
Fifth-round draft pick T.J. Yates played decently in relief of Leinart, but the Texans have been on the hunt for a veteran quarterback who can help revive their championship dreams. One name that has surfaced is Sage Rosenfels.
Rosenfels, who is currently on Miami's roster, spent three years in Houston and compiled a 6-4 record as a starter there. He could feasibly ask the Dolphins to release him and seize the Texans' starting role.
Rosenfels is no superstar, but he would provide a substantial upgrade and help Houston maintain their spot in the AFC standings. And, who knows, maybe he could win them a playoff game or two.