Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens eliminated from AFC playoff contention
The San Diego Chargers received all the help they needed Sunday (and then some from Andy Reid) to grab control of their own playoff destiny. With losses by Miami and Baltimore early in Week 17, the Chargers headed into their late-afternoon matchup with the Chiefs needing only a win to secure the AFC's final playoff spot.
Should the Chargers lose that game, the Steelers would sneak into the postseason. That means both the Dolphins and Ravens were eliminated from contention with their defeats -- Miami's the more shocking of the two by a significant margin.
The Dolphins needed a win plus a Baltimore loss to secure their first postseason bid since 2008. Standing in their way was a Jets team that had been eliminated prior to Week 17 and was facing uncertainty regarding the future of head coach Rex Ryan. But the Jets picked off Miami QB Ryan Tannehill three times and received a strong performance from their own young quarterback, Geno Smith, to chalk up a 20-7 win. (Owner Woody Johnson announced after the game that Ryan would return in 2014.)
That result would have opened the door for the Ravens to clinch a wild-card spot with a win, but the defending champs stumbled to a double-digit loss in Cincinnati, despite recording four interceptions of Andy Dalton.
Both Miami and Baltimore will be haunted this offseason by what might have been. The Dolphins turned in an absolute dud at Buffalo in Week 16, losing 19-0, before Sunday's disappointing showing. And the Ravens (who beat the Dolphins in Week 5) dropped their final two games, against New England and Cincinnati, by a combined 75-24 score.
The Ravens limped into the playoffs last season having lost four of five games before riding a hot streak to the Vince Lombardi Trophy. It was a slow middle of the season that undid them in 2013 -- after knocking off Miami to improve to 3-2, the Ravens dropped four of their next five.
Never along the way were they really able to establish the run game that had so bolstered them last season. Sunday, Bernard Pierce and Ray Rice combined for just 43 yards, with Rice seeing a mere five carries and spending extended portions of the game on the sideline. That performance was a rather fitting conclusion to the year for Baltimore's offense, which also struggled to replace Anquan Boldin in the passing game, even after TE Dennis Pitta returned from injury.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins may feel like there are brighter days ahead thanks to the second-year development of QB Ryan Tannehill. They still coughed away a glorious opportunity to earn a playoff bid in spite of a tumultuous, dramatic season that included the high-profile beef between offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito.
Miami struggled to overcome those absences (plus that of center Mike Pouncey for multiple games): Tannehill was sacked 58 times, more than any other QB in the league. The Dolphins appeared to have taken the bull by the horns, though, with a three-game win streak in early December -- at the Jets, at Pittsburgh and vs. New England. But the clunker at Buffalo followed, setting the stage for Sunday's misfire and a possible housecleaning in Miami.