Playoffs? Dolphins very much in the AFC East and playoff mix as wins pile up

Safid Deen, Sun Sentinel

What a difference a year has made for the Miami Dolphins.

Just a season ago, the Dolphins began their stretch of winning five of their last nine games following an 0-7 start.

This season?

How about a five-game win streak that matches last season’s win total? A 3-0 start for rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa? A half-game deficit for the AFC East lead? And a playoff spot after 10 weeks?

After a 29-21 win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, the Dolphins are 6-3, trailing the Buffalo Bills in the division and up a spot at No. 6 in the AFC standings, and this season the top seven teams will make the playoffs.

The Dolphins hope to continue their ascension, this weekend when they travel to face the Denver Broncos (3-6), who may be without their starting quarterback Drew Lock (rib injury), this Sunday.

“Just knowing all the hard work that we put in, this was bound to happen, and this doesn’t just happen by chance,” second-year Dolphins outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel said.

“You see all of us, all 53 guys on the roster, and then even the practice squad players who are coming into work each and every day, and I think that’s gotten us to this point. And it’s something that we need to continue to do to really take it to the next step because we’re not perfect at all and there’s a lot to improve on.

“Just taking it day by day,” Van Ginkel added, repeating the mantra Dolphins coach Brian Flores has adopted.

Apologies to Flores, but let’s take a peek at the Dolphins’ outlook after Week 10 and where they could go:

— The AFC playoff picture begins with division-leading Steelers (9-0), Chiefs (8-1), Bills (7-3) and Colts (6-3) in the top four;

— The Raiders, at No. 5, own all the tiebreakers for the group of 6-3 teams, which includes the Dolphins and No. 7 Ravens. Las Vegas has a better record against AFC teams (4-2) than Miami (3-2) and Baltimore (4-3).

On the outside looking in are the Browns (6-3) and Titans (6-3), who both could also make a push in the final seven games.

If the playoffs began this week, the Dolphins would visit the Bills. Buffalo has a bye this weekend. While a Dolphins win in Denver would give Miami and Buffalo identical records, the Bills hold the tiebreaker after Buffalo’s win over Miami in Week 2.

Both teams will meet during the regular-season finale on Jan. 3 at Buffalo in a game that could decide whether Miami wins its first AFC East title since 2008.

But there’s plenty of football to be played between now and then.

And the Dolphins are not taking their success for granted or looking beyond their next opponent.

“We’re not looking that far ahead. We’re a one-week team. We play it like it’s a one-week season,” said Dolphins receiver Jakeem Grant, who caught a touchdown from Tagovailoa against the Chargers.

Added Flores: “This is a hungry group, they fight for each other, it’s important to them, they’re competitive, so they work at it and we’re seeing the fruits of that labor out on the field.”

ESPN’s Football Power Index says the Dolphins have a 49.8% chance to make the playoffs and 20.8% chance to win the AFC East, while data website FiveThirtyEight projects Miami to have a 45% and 19% chance in those categories, respectively.

If the Dolphins can keep their dynamic play afloat, with Tagovailoa finding his groove offensively and the Dolphins defense and special teams continuing to make impact plays, they could be in store for a special season.

The Dolphins visit the Broncos, who are 1-3 at home this season. Then, they’ll visit the New York Jets, who are winless after 10 weeks. It’s conceivable Miami could be 8-3 after November.

Maybe that is getting a little too far ahead, though.

But the emerging Dolphins control their fate this season.

It’s just up to them to seize it.

“We’re just going to have to keep continue working hard,” Dolphins center Ted Karras said. “We’ve got great specialists and great special teams and a great defense and offense. We’re continuing to improve and putting up points on the board, and going to roll these last seven games.”

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