For coaches and players, winning Sunday at Buffalo is important to help their job security and because, as coach Adam Gase said Wednesday, “8-8 sounds better than 7-9.”
But in one respect, winning Sunday could be detrimental to the franchise’s long-term health.
That’s because, if things break exactly right — or wrong, depending on your perspective — the Dolphins could rise from 15th to 10th in the NFL Draft.
And a team picking 10th or 11th has a much better chance of trading up for a top pick than a team selecting 15th.
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Trading up might be an appealing alternative to the Dolphins if Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins turns pro.
As of now, the Dolphins (7-8) would pick 15th. But the Dolphins, at the moment, hold a tiebreaker advantage with all of the teams who have comparable records. That tiebreaker is strength of schedule, which means collective records of your opponents. The team whose opponents have the worst collective record wins a draft tiebreaker.
The Dolphins’ strength of schedule, entering Week 17, is the weakest among teams with 6 or 7 wins — putting Miami in position to rise considerably on Sunday if results break right.
So the Dolphins could potentially rise from 15th to 10th if these things happen:
The Dolphins lose to the Bills to finish 7-9.
The Atlanta Falcons win at Tampa to finish 7-9.
The Carolina Panthers win at New Orleans — which has clinched the No. 1 seed and might rest some of its starters — to finish 7-9.
Denver beats the visiting Chargers to finish 7-9.
Cincinnati wins at Pittsburgh — perhaps the most unlikely of these scenarios — to finish 7-9.
Green Bay beats Detroit to finish 7-8-1.
If all of those happen, the Dolphins would be in good position to rise to 10th, though that won’t be certain until the final records of all of these teams’ opponents are known.
The Dolphins’ opponents have a 46.6 win percentage, compared with 48.9 for Atlanta, a 50.8 for Carolina, 52 for Denver, 53.3 for Cincinnati.
On the flip side, the Dolphins could slide to 16th if they win and Cleveland (7-7-1) loses at Baltimore on Sunday.
There’s also a chance Miami could finish with the same record as one of two other teams currently slated to draft after them — 7-8 Washington and 8-7 Philadelphia, who play Sunday at the Redskins’ stadium. The Dolphins, at the moment, would win a strength of schedule tiebreaker with either of those teams — meaning Miami would draft higher.