The Dolphins and Saints both entered their “Monday Night Football” matchup to close Week 16 with 7-7 records and hopes of improving their wild-card chances in their respective conferences. Miami came out with a 20-3 victory to get above .500 after a 1-7 start, while New Orleans has faded to back below .500 after a 5-2 start.
There are still two more weeks left in the 2021 NFL regular season, which has expanded to 17 games. The Dolphins did help their chances to make the AFC field, but there’s still work to be done. The Saints stumbled, but they can’t be ruled out in a tight NFC crowd.
Here’s how the lopsided interconference result affects both teams’ playoff chances and that of other wild-card hopefuls:
NFL STANDINGS: Updated AFC, NFC playoff picture after Week 16
NFL playoff picture: Dolphins’ AFC wild-card chances
The Dolphins moved up to the No. 7 seed in the AFC with their 8-7 record. They are a game behind the No. 5 seed Colts (9-6) and No. 6 Patriots (9-6). They share their mark with the Chargers, Raiders and Ravens, but they win the four-way tiebreaker.
Miami has a simple playoff path. If it can win out, at Tennessee in Week 17 and vs. New England in Week 18, it would be in the playoffs, regardless of what any other AFC team does ahead or behind it.
The Dolphins, in terms of head-to-head tiebreakers, beat the Ravens but lost to the Raiders earlier in the season. They have the same conference record (5-5) as the Chargers. Getting to 10-7 with a nine-game closing winning streak would get the job done.
But the Dolphins also have little margin for error. Finishing 9-8 would put them on the fringe. The Titans are slightly favored in Week 17 at home, while the Dolphins, who won at the Patriots in Week 1, would be slightly favored as hosts in Week 18.
The Dolphins are helped by the fact that either the Chargers or Raiders will likely lose when they play each other in Week 18. The injury-riddled Ravens, in the midst of a four-game losing streak, don’t have it easy with two home games remaining against the Rams and Steelers.
The Dolphins also could jump the Patriots by beating them again, climbing as high as No. 6 if both teams are 9-8. The Dolphins, however, lost to the Colts earlier in the season, so anything higher is a long shot. The Colts can help the Dolphins when they host the Raiders in Week 17.
Getting to No. 7 was hard enough for Miami. Staying there will be difficult, but it’s very possible now.
NFL playoff picture: Saints’ NFC wild-card chances
The Saints fell to No. 10 in the NFC overall standings with their 7-8 record. They are one game behind the No. 6 49ers (8-7) and No. 7 Eagles (8-7) in the wild-card race, but in between are also the No. 8 Vikings (7-8) and No. 9 Falcons (7-8).
New Orleans should get back to near full strength for its final two games. The other good news is the schedule, as the team ends the season inside the NFC South with eliminated Carolina (5-10) at home and Atlanta on the road. It’s notable, however, that the Saints lost to both teams in the first division meetings.
The Saints will need to win out in order to have any chance to make the playoffs because 8-9 won’t be enough in the NFC. They also will need help from either the 49ers or Eagles.
San Francisco (vs. Houston) and Philadelphia (vs. Washington) are massive home favorites in Week 17. But there’s more hope in Week 18, when the 49ers travel to the No. 3 Rams and the Eagles host the No. 2 Cowboys, assuming those better teams have something for which to play. The Vikings (at the Packers) and Falcons (at the Bills) have their hands full with Week 17 road battles.
The Saints need to keep their eyes more on the 49ers. If the Eagles finish 1-1 and fall into a two-way tie with the Saints, they would have the tiebreaker thanks to a head-to-head victory in Week 11. If the 49ers go 1-1 by losing to the Rams, they would have a 6-6 conference record. The Saints would be 7-5 in NFC play, giving them the last wild-card spot in that scenario. In a three-way tie at 9-8, again assuming that the 49ers’ loss comes at Los Angeles and not vs. Houston, the Eagles and Saints would benefit from better conference records.
Even though New Orleans no longer has a “Big Easy” path to the playoffs, the Miami game might end up being a mulligan.
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