The Dolphins’ loss in Week 13 to the 49ers put their hopes of stealing the AFC East title from the Bills in jeopardy. Sunday night’s loss to the Chargers in Week 14 makes the task even more difficult.
Justin Herbert and the Chargers defeated Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins 23-17 to move back into the wild-card picture and put pressure on Miami.
The score might have indicated a close contest, but the Chargers comfortably took down Miami in the first head-to-head battle between these 2020 NFL Draft QBs. Herbert completed 39 of 51 passes for 367 yards and a touchdown. Tagovailoa was just 10 for 28 for 145 yards and a touchdown. Los Angeles outgained Miami 432-219, had a 24-14 advantage in first downs and ran 78 plays to the Dolphins’ 49.
Miami’s only points in the first half came on a wild Tyreek Hill fumble recovery that he took 57 yards for a score. The Dolphins would not score again until 6:21 remained in the third quarter.
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But while the loss will impact the Dolphins, it arguably has an even bigger impact on the rest of the teams in the division, particularly the two teams still trailing them in the wild-card race. Here’s what you need to know about the AFC East’s status:
AFC East standings
The AFC East is one of the few divisions in the NFL where each team still has playoff hopes. The Bills are a near-lock to reach the playoffs, while the Dolphins, even after Sunday’s loss, are in a favorable position. The Patriots and Jets are still very much in the fight, however.
Here is how the standings look heading into New England’s “Monday Night Football” game against the Cardinals:
If the Dolphins are to have any chance of winning the AFC East and dethroning the back-to-back champion Bills, they have to beat Buffalo next Saturday. Should Buffalo win, the Bills would need to every remaining game and the Dolphins would have to win every remaining game for Miami to clinch the division. That scenario seems quite unlikely.
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Miami falling to Los Angeles went a long way toward deciding the likely winner of the East, but perhaps just as importantly, it set the stage for a contentious wild-card battle the rest of the season. The Chargers moved ahead of both the Jets and Patriots for the last wild-card spot by virtue of a tiebreaker. If New England defeats the Cardinals on Monday, there will be a three-way tie between the Chargers, Jets and Patriots for the last wild-card.
Making the AFC East and wild-card battle all the more interesting are the remaining schedules of the three teams trailing Buffalo. None of them have an easy slate the rest of the way.
|15||at Bills (10-3)||vs. Lions (6-7)||at Raiders (5-8)|
|16||vs. Packers (5-8)||vs. Jaguars (5-8)||vs. Bengals (9-4)|
|17||at Patriots (6-6)||at Seahawks (7-6)||vs. Dolphins (8-5)|
|18||vs. Jets (7-6)||at Dolphins (8-5)||at Bills (10-3)|
|Opp. W-L (wpct)||28-23 (.549)||26-26 (.500)||32-20 (.640)|
New York has the easiest remaining schedule, but even that looks more difficult when considering the Lions have won two straight and five of their past six, while the Jaguars have wins over the Ravens and Titans in two of their past three games.
Of course, what sticks out the most is the fact that these teams will wind up doing battle with each other down the stretch. The Dolphins play each divisional foe one more time, while the Patriots have two more division games remaining.
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How has divisional play gone so far? The Dolphins have wins against the Bills and Patriots and a loss to the Jets. The Jets have wins against the Bills and Dolphins but two losses to the Patriots and one on Sunday to the Bills in the rematch. The Patriots have beaten the Jets twice but lost to the Bills and Dolphins.
If the Dolphins complete the season sweep of the Bills in Week 15 — which would be their first sweep of Buffalo since 2016 — then the race for the AFC East becomes slightly more interesting, although Buffalo will still be in the driver’s seat. A Dolphins loss suddenly brings them closer to the pack in the wild-card race.
The division’s games the rest of the season will have major implications not just for how the East is aligned, but also which teams will make the playoffs. With four intradivision games remaining in 2022, the race is will be plenty hot in the final four weeks.