With their 16-13 win at the Jets Monday night, the Dolphins joined five other clubs tied at 7-5. And if the playoffs started now, they would be the No. 6 seed, leaving the Chiefs, Bills, Ravens, Steelers and Browns out in the cold.
So how did the Dolphins pull that off?
Oddly enough, their season-opening win vs. the Patriots nearly three months ago is a big part of the answer.
The Dolphins’ victory over New England was a divisional triumph, one of three in four tries for Miami thus far. And that 3-1 AFC East record is superior to Buffalo’s 3-2 division mark, which thus places the Dolphins ahead of the Bills in the playoff-seeding pecking order, per the NFL’s tiebreaking rules. The first two-team divisional tiebreaker — head-to-head record — is rendered moot because Miami and Buffalo split a pair of games earlier this season.
Division record is the next tiebreaker. And the Bills come up just short, with losses at Miami and vs. New England giving the Dolphins the half-game edge.
This leaves the Dolphins as the top-rated 7-5 club in the AFC East.
Now, the tiebreaking formula must be applied once again, with Miami, Kansas City and Baltimore (the top-rated 7-5 AFC North club) to be sorted out. Once again, the head-to-head tiebreaker doesn’t hold, as none of the three clubs has swept the others.
The next tiebreaker is AFC record. And here, Miami wins again. The Dolphins are 6-3 in AFC play, one game better than the Chiefs (5-4) and 2.5 games better than the Ravens (3-5).
That’s how the Dolphins took the top wild-card spot through 12 games. Whether they can hold it, though, is anybody’s guess.
THE BIG SIX
1. New England Patriots (9-3, .750). AFC East leader. Earn first-round bye, home-field advantage. Hold head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver.
2. Denver Broncos (9-3, .750). AFC West leader. Earn first-round bye.
3. Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1, .708). AFC North leader. Host Dolphins in wild-card game.
4. Indianapolis Colts (8-4, .667). AFC South leader. Host Chargers in wild-card game.
5. San Diego Chargers (8-4, .667). Wild card No. 1.
6. Miami Dolphins (7-5, .583). Wild card No. 2. Seeded ahead of Buffalo (also 7-5) on basis of superior division record (3-1 vs. 3-2 — second divisional tiebreaker). Seeded No. 6 in AFC on basis of superior conference record to Kansas City (5-4) and Baltimore (3-5) — the second three-team wild-card tiebreaker.
7. Kansas City Chiefs (7-5, .583). Seeded No. 7 on basis of superior AFC record (5-4) to Buffalo (4-5) and Baltimore (3-5) — the second three-team wild-card tiebreaker.
8. Buffalo Bills (7-5, .583).
9. Baltimore Ravens (7-5, .583). AFC North’s second-seeded team because of 2-1 mark in head-to-head games vs. Steelers and Browns (first divisional tiebreaker). This tops the Steelers’ 2-2 mark and the Browns’ 1-2 record.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5, .583). AFC North’s third-seeded team because of superior record in common games to Browns (4-3 vs. 3-3 — third divisional tiebreaker).
11. Cleveland Browns (7-5, .583).
12. Houston Texans (6-6, .500).