The Miami Dolphins are playing in one of their most pivotal Week 17 matchups of the past fifteen years. Miami’s formula for success is simple this weekend against the Buffalo Bills: win and you’re in. The Dolphins can still find a way into the postseason with a loss to the Bills; but Miami would be the AFC’s No. 5 seed in the playoffs by winning their matchup against their hated rival to the north. The matchups over the last fifteen years in Week 17 to have this much leverage on the line?
It’s a short list:
2008 vs. the New York Jets (Miami won and was named AFC East Champions at 11-5)
2016 vs. the New England Patriots (Miami lost and was declared the AFC’s No. 6 seed, falling to Pittsburgh in the Wild Card round)
That’s it. Those are the games with as much at stake as this weekend; and in terms of where this game falls on the list, consider it behind the division clinching scenario in 2008, which had Miami as either division champions or a third place team in the AFC and out of the playoffs entirely. At least in 2016, the Dolphins secured their playoff bid entering the matchup against the Patriots.
This is a very significant step in the progress of the Dolphins’ organization to legitimizing themselves and completing their rebuild formally. The Dolphins haven’t played sixteen meaningful football games in a pursuit of a championship since 2016 under Adam Gase — and late season collapses had become a staple of the Dolphins early in the 2010s.
Credit where credit is due: Miami has reached that hurdle in just two seasons. And the Dolphins narrowly missed this matchup being even bigger — there is certainly a dynamic of “coulda, shoulda, woulda” about the first meeting between these two football teams this year, which Miami lost 31-28 after seeing CB Byron Jones go down with a groin injury on the game’s opening possession. In his place we saw rookie CB Noah Igbinoghene, who was torched in coverage in an unfortunate “welcome to the NFL” performance against WR Stefon Diggs.
Had Miami won that football game, the Dolphins would enter this game trailing Buffalo by one game in the standings and a chance to win and secure a tiebreaker to win the division this season at 12-4. But Miami will have to make due with a 10-5 record entering Week 17 and the knowledge that a win removes all doubt and puts them into the playoff field. When the consolation prize is the team’s biggest Week 17 game in 12 years, you know you’re doing something right.
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