The AFC is stacked with talent of the young and old. Unfortunately, we can’t see all the stars under the lights in January for the playoffs. But remember, the NFL expanded the postseason to 14 teams from the previous 12, which means an additional team gets to play in January from each conference.
Currently, here’s how the AFC playoff picture looks for the 7th seed:
7- Dolphins (8-5)
8- Ravens (8-5)
9- Raiders (7-6)
10- Patriots (6-7)
Now we can think about who’s going to win games and lose out and fall from 2nd to 7th, but for right now, it seems like the 1-6 spots are solidified unless a team does lose out and chokes. So for now, let’s keep these 4 teams in mind because these are the ones who are on the cusp of the postseason.
Looking at the Dolphins, they have a really nice team for the future. Brian Flores turned that franchise around after being a laughing stock last season. There’s plenty of young talent like Tua to build around to get Miami back to being a yearly contender. But is this the year they get back to the playoffs since 2016?
This upcoming week Miami finds themselves in a critical must-win game against New England. Cam Newton is certainly not the same since his MVP days, but with a coach like Bill Belichick, you can’t count this team out. If it’s a Dolphin win, it will put their division rivals in panic mode and put themselves in a nice spot to carry out their own destiny. Let’s assume they get the win here because the Dolphins look like the more complete team (especially on the defensive side of the ball). After that game, Miami travels to the casinos to take on Las Vegas. Again, this is a must-win to keep their 7th seed. The Raiders haven’t looked as hot as of late, so I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt to the Dolphins unless Gruden turns them around. That game is really going to come down to who wants it more. To close out the season Miami heads to cold Buffalo. As long as there is no team on their tail, a win or loss might not mean anything. Buffalo could be in a position where they have locked into a seed already, so this could be a game of Buffalo’s bench vs Miami’s starters. Again, if Miami already has it in the bag by now, then this game is somewhat pointless.
Do I think they’ll have it in the bag this easily though? Of course not. The Dolphins are going to have to outwork their opponents each week because they are just as desperate to get the wins as they are. They certainly have the guys to do it like Tua, Davante Parker, Mike Gesicki, and more, but the other team that’s really on Miami’s heels is Baltimore who seems to have a much easier schedule to finish 2020.
Baltimore this week heads to Florida to take on Jacksonville and in my eyes, this game shouldn’t be close (but hey, it’s football. You never know.) Then they head back home to host the Giants. Again, shouldn’t be much of a task for the Ravens but the Giants do have an underrated defense. It’s a sneaky good secondary only getting better for the G-Men with a solid defensive line. This game is the toughest on their remaining schedule because the Giants are still in the NFC East race, so they’ll be hungry for a road win. Finally, Baltimore finishes with Cincinnati and unless the Ravens clinched already or Joe Burrow comes back with a healed ACL…yeah.
So, who do I think is going to get in? On paper, Baltimore has an easier schedule, but the Dolphins in my opinion have been playing more complete football. They kept the game pretty close against Kansas City and had 3 interceptions against Mahomes. Sure Lamar is getting the ground game going again, but he can only do so much on the ground. He also isn’t passing much of anything. On Monday he completed 11 of 17 passes for 163 yards but ran for 124. I know in the playoffs defense and a ground game are key components to success, but you also need an air attack. I don’t like how Las Vegas has been playing lately (almost losing to the horrendous Jets) and New England needs to win out and get help from these 3 teams which are highly unlikely. Even if New England was to get in, they would be the least competitive in a playoff game of the four teams above. I’m saying Baltimore does get in thought because the pieces are there for them to succeed. John Harbaugh is a more experienced coach (even though I really like Brian Flores) and I’d trust him to get the job done with a more experienced roster as well. The offense really needs a boost though, it just can’t be Lamar’s legs.
Here’s how I think the season will finish out for the 7th seed:
7 – Ravens (11-5)
8 – Dolphins (10-6)
9 – Raiders (9-7)
10 – Patriots (7-9)