A year ago, the Miami Dolphins were the Detroit Lions, 0-13 and seemingly headed for the first 0-16 season in NFL history. Twelve months later, they are in position to win the AFC East by winning their remaining three games, one of the more remarkable turnarounds ever.
No, the Dolphins didn't finish winless last season, beating Baltimore 22-16 in overtime in Week 15.
But even after Bill Parcells took over the operations and brought in Tony Sparano to coach the team, no one expected an 8-5 record this late in the schedule and a three-way tie with the Patriots and Jets. Another sign how quickly things can change: New England was 13-0 at this point in 2007, yet 2008 could end with the Dolphins in the playoffs and the Patriots out.
There are extenuating circumstances.
e professional quarterback it lacked last season.
``The story does keep getting better,'' safety Yeremiah Bell said after Miami pulled into a first place tie by beating Buffalo 16-3 in Toronto on Sunday, while the Jets were losing their second straight in San Francisco. ``This is something that's definitely sweet, going from one win to being in every game this year and having a legitimate chance to win. It's a great feeling.''
Sunday's game was just another example of how things have gone so right for Miami this season.
Instead of playing in 1 degree temperatures in Buffalo, the Dolphins were indoors in Toronto's Rogers Centre, where it was 68, just the right atmosphere for a team from South Florida. And a good part of the crowd was on their side.
``It wasn't clear who the home team was, but that's nice for us,'' noted Ricky Williams.
As for the playoff picture:
Tennessee (12-1) has clinched the South and Denver (8-5) is a win or a San Diego loss away from clinching the West. Add the two teams that lead the North, Pittsburgh (10-3) and Baltimore (9-4), plus Indianapolis (9-4) and the winner of the East and there are your six playoff teams.
The Steelers, who beat Baltimore at home, can clinch the division if they win Sunday in Baltimore. If the Ravens win, that would be a head-to-head split and most likely 5-1 division records for both.
d be decided on their record against common opponents, which wouldn't be determined until the season plays out. The Ravens finish at Dallas, which lost Sunday to the Steelers, and at home to Jacksonville; Pittsburgh is at Tennessee and at home to Cleveland.
Indianapolis, which has won six in a row, finishes against winless Detroit, Jacksonville (4-9) and a Tennessee team almost sure to have nothing to play for. That should put the Colts in the playoffs and make it the kind of wild-card team that can do what the Steelers did after the 2005 season and the Giants managed last season.
The only other team with a shot at a wild-card spot might be New England (8-5) if it doesn't win the East yet wins its final three games while either Pittsburgh or Baltimore stumbles. But the Steelers beat the Patriots, so they hold any tiebreaker, and the Ravens are currently 7-3 in the AFC to 5-5 for New England, the applicable tiebreaker at this point.
The Giants (11-2) have clinched the East and Arizona (8-5) finally clinched the weak West after failing twice against NFC East opponents: New York and Philadelphia. That doesn't bode well for the Cardinals' chances in the playoffs, but just winning a division is a huge step forward; they hadn't done that since they won the East while calling St. Louis home 33 years ago.
me in Charlotte between Tampa Bay and Carolina goes a long way toward deciding the South. The Bucs won the first meeting at home.
As with Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the team that doesn't win the South will lead for one wild-card spot, although it's not a sure thing because there are more contenders in the NFC for those two berths: add Dallas and Atlanta (both 8-5); Philadelphia (7-5-1); and perhaps even New Orleans (7-6), although the Saints are a long shot.
The Eagles, who are playing well, are the sleeper here.
In their last two games, they've beaten both division winners: 48-20 over the Cardinals and 20-14 at the Meadowlands. Moreover, their schedule on paper is slightly easier than the other contenders: at home to Cleveland; at fading and banged-up Washington; and at home to Dallas the final week.
The ultimate irony is this: Say the Eagles go into the final game 9-5-1 to 10-5 for the Cowboys with the final playoff spot on the line. If they win, there would be no tiebreaker - the difference would be the tie they played with Cincinnati last month.
That's the tie that Donovan McNabb didn't know could be played.
The perfect game for this imperfect season - except in Detroit, of course.

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