The NFL has yet to finalize its Week 18 schedule, but has announced the two Saturday games.
And one of them was an odd choice and it could indirectly impact the Miami Dolphins’ quest to sneak into the playoffs.
The Dolphins are now 8-8 following their fifth consecutive loss, a 23-21 setback against the New England Patriots, and will make the playoffs if they defeat the New York Jets in their finale AND the Patriots lose against the Buffalo Bills. at Highmark Stadium.
And this is where the odd schedule choice comes into play.
For the first time, the NFL has added two Saturday games in the final week to go along with the previous stand-alone Sunday night game.
To get as many fans watching as possible, the idea always has been to schedule for national TV a matchup with major playoff implications for both teams.
To that end, it’s easy to understand the choice of Tennessee at Jacksonville for the Saturday night game because the winner will take the AFC South title and the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs and the winner will be out — unless three specific results happen for the Jaguars to get into the playoffs even with a loss.
But the choice for the 4:30 p.m. game Saturday of Kansas City at Las Vegas was odd for a couple of reasons, the first being that the Raiders already have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Kansas City is in contention for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and currently holds that spot with a half-game lead over the Buffalo Bills, who play Monday night at Cincinnati.
If Buffalo loses at Cincinnati, Kansas City will clinch the top seed by defeating the Raiders, a likely scenario considering the Chiefs opened as 10-point favorites, according to BetOnline.
Under that scenario, Buffalo and Cincinnati would be locked into the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, with the teams tied with 12-4 records but the Bengals entering the final Sunday with the tiebreaker edge.
That would put the Bills in a position to face New England — remember, the Pats must lose for Miami to make the playoffs — with at stake only the difference between the second and third seed.
A Cincinnati win Monday night would clinch the AFC North title for the Bengals, who play host to Baltimore in the finale.
The main difference between finishing with the second and third seed in the AFC means having home-field advantage in the divisional round — again, under this scenario — should Buffalo and Cincinnati meet in the playoffs.
It’s very possible the NFL will schedule the New England-Buffalo and Baltimore-Cincinnati at the same time, in which case one might expect some scoreboard watching.
At the other end of the scenarios is the possibility that Buffalo could clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC before the Bills face New England, and that would happen because of Kansas City’s Saturday game.
That would happen if the Bills defeat Cincinnati on Monday night and the Raiders upset the Chiefs at Allegiant Stadium — and while the point spread is large, let’s not forget that Las Vegas took the 49ers to overtime Sunday.
In trying to figure out how Buffalo would (or would not) utilize its front-line players in the event the game against New England becomes strictly for second or third place in the AFC, all we have to do is go back two years.
And the Dolphins should remember this well.
In the 2020 season, the Bills and Steelers were both 12-3 after 15 games with no shot of catching Kansas City for the top seed.
Facing the Dolphins in Buffalo, the Bills used their regular lineup to start the game. Matt Barkley replaced Josh Allen at quarterback for Buffalo’s first possession of the third quarter — after Miami had scored a touchdown to cut Buffalo’s lead to 28-13.
Buffalo won the game, 56-26, and earned the second seed.
Bottom line: It would figure the Bills would use their front-line players against New England even if all they had at stake was landing the No. 2 seed, but certainly might be inclined to start pulling some players either with a comfortable lead or if Cincinnati got out to a big lead against Baltimore on its way to securing that No. 2 seed.
In any event, it certainly was out of character — and actually strange — for the NFL to put Kansas City in the Saturday afternoon window given the ramifications of the outcome of their game.
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