San Diego is why Fins got in, Pats didn't

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As far as I know, there was nothing criminal about the way the Miami Dolphins got into the playoffs.

New England Patriots fans, however, feel like victims of aggravated robbery.

The Dolphins won the AFC East on Sunday by defeating the New York Jets at the Meadowlands. That, coupled with the Baltimore Ravens' victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, ended the Patriots' season.

Miami and New England finished with 11-5 records, but Miami used the fourth tiebreaker to get into the postseason.

Here is a breakdown of how it happened, the critical difference being a Dolphins victory over the San Diego Chargers in Week 5:

  • The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record. The Dolphins and Patriots split, winning on the road and losing at home. The Dolphins won 38-13 in Week 3. The Patriots won 48-28 in Week 12.

  • The second tiebreaker is division record. Both finished 4-2, each splitting with the Jets and sweeping the Buffalo Bills.

  • The third tiebreaker is record against common opponents. The Dolphins and Patriots each went 11-3.

  • The fourth tiebreaker is conference record. The Dolphins went 8-4, while the Patriots went 7-5.

San Diego becomes the deciding factor here.

The Dolphins and Patriots went 0-2 against their uncommon AFC opponents. The Dolphins lost to the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens. The Patriots lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts.

So the only discrepancy becomes San Diego. Miami won 17-10 at Dolphin Stadium in Week 5. The next week, the Chargers crushed the Patriots, 30-10, in Qualcomm Stadium in the second game of a two-week West Coast trip.

A case can be made that travel hurt the Patriots, who also had to win back-to-back West Coast games in Weeks 14 and 15 to stay in the hunt.

For the record, here is how the Ravens earned the second wild-card berth over the Patriots:

  • The first wild-card tiebreaker is a head-to-head result, if applicable, but it's not in this case.

  • The second tiebreaker is conference record. The Ravens went 8-4 in the AFC, one victory better than the Patriots.

Breaking down how the Ravens edged the Patriots is more speculative because they played much different schedules. They each went 2-3 against common opponents (Pittsburgh, Miami, Indianapolis, Oakland).

But the Ravens had the benefit of playing the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns twice. That gave the Ravens two divisional sweeps, while the Patriots managed only one.