San Diego’s unlikely win over the Broncos on Thursday night throws a wrench in the two-team race between the Ravens and Dolphins for the sixth playoff spot in the AFC.
The upset puts one berth in play for the three contenders, with a plausible path for each of them to get the sixth and final spot in the AFC postseason field. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald explains that the San Diego victory potentially helps — and potentially hurts — the hometown Dolphins.
Since Miami lost to the Ravens and beat the Chargers, Miami loses a two-team tiebreaker to the Ravens and wins a two-team tiebreaker over San Diego. The Chargers’ presence in a three-team tie with the Ravens and Dolphins could still give Miami the No. 6 seed.
Let’s assume the Dolphins (who play the Patriots, Bills, and Jets) and Ravens (who play the Lions, Patriots, and Bengals) win two of their final three games and the Chargers win in Week 16 and 17 (at home against the Raiders and Chiefs). As Jackson breaks it down, if Baltimore’s loss comes against the Patriots or Bengals, the Dolphins would win the three-way tie based on conference record.
If the Ravens beat the Patriots and Bengals, Baltimore would emerge as the playoff team, based on the Chargers dropping out of the three-team race based on having the worst conference record, and the Ravens advancing on the head-to-head win over Miami.
If each of the three teams is one game worse, with the Dolphins and Ravens finishing 1-2 and the Chargers splitting their last two games, Miami wins the three-team tiebreaker only if the Ravens lose both to the Patriots and Bengals. If Baltimore beats either New England or Cincinnati, Baltimore gets the berth.
For the Chargers, the analysis is far simpler: Finish with a better record than either Miami or Baltimore. It happens if San Diego holds serve at home against Oakland and Kansas City, and if the Ravens and Dolphins each lose at least two of their final three games.
While that may seem unrealistic, it’s not nearly as unrealistic as San Diego rolling in to Denver and holding Peyton Manning to 20 points.