As playoff path becomes clearer, Dolphins ‘solely focused on’ Christmas Day game vs. Packers

David Santiago/

Dolphins outside linebacker Bradley Chubb paused for a moment to ponder the question in front of his locker Thursday afternoon.

“What do I want most for Christmas?” he said. “If Christmas was in February, I’d want a Super Bowl ring, but it’s in December, so I just want a win against the Packers.”

Around this time of the year, not much comes nicely gift-wrapped for NFL teams. And the Dolphins (8-6) are well aware of that, in the midst of a three-game losing streak as the end of the regular season slowly approaches and playoff spots continue to be taken up.

Despite the recent skid, though, Miami possesses the third and final wild-card spot in the AFC and the path to the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2016 has become clearer. After the New York Jets’ loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night, the Dolphins can clinch a playoff berth win a win over the Packers (6-8) on Christmas Day on Sunday, followed by a road victory over the New England Patriots in Week 17. If Miami fails to defeat Green Bay, it can reach the postseason by beating New England and the Jets in the following two weeks.

But for the Dolphins, all that matters to them is a rare Christmas Day game — it will be the franchise’s fourth — and trying to fix the problems that have ailed them in three consecutive losses.

“I think you have to completely lock in, sacrifice, use all resources, empty the tank every one of these games towards the end of the season, and then you get into the playoffs,” left tackle Terron Armstead said. “You don’t want to just get into the playoffs and try to flip a switch, especially without the experience. The time is now to treat every game the same for sure.”

The Dolphins have been here before. After quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was knocked out of the team’s Week 4 game against the Cincinnati Bengals because of a concussion and sidelined for the next two weeks, Miami dropped three consecutive games, falling to .500 after a 3-0 start.

Tagovailoa’s return in Week 7 and elite play mainly spearheaded a five-game winning streak and propelled the Dolphins to the top of the AFC East.

What is different from the early-season skid is the stakes that a young team faces. The recent string of losses has made Miami’s playoff spot a bit more tenuous, although FiveThirtyEight’s projections give the Dolphins a 78 percent chance of reaching the playoffs entering the weekend slate of games. Now in front of them is Green Bay, a team that, despite underachieving this season, has faint playoff hopes and is still led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the two-time reigning league Most Valuable Player.

“We’re about to play Aaron Rodgers, who has been in the league for years and arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play,” safety Jevon Holland said. “So what more do you have to focus on? This is a huge challenge, especially for me. ... Playoffs are playoffs. I’ve never been to the playoffs so I wouldn’t know. But it’s going to be what it is. That’s my mindset. I’ve just got to focus on what I can focus on and what I can control, and what I can control is today, right now, and focusing on how to slow down Aaron Rodgers. That’s all we can do. Playoffs are going to be what they are.”

While the Dolphins’ last-second loss to the Buffalo Bills was deflating, it renewed confidence within the team that it was heading in the right direction, rebounding from floundering performances against the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers. Now, they hope their first home game in over a month leads to a victory that will launch a late-season surge.

Another favorable weekend of outcomes unrelated to their own matchup could make the road to the postseason even easier. But for the Dolphins, who have embraced and spoken publicly about their Super Bowl aspirations, they would rather not leave it in the hands of others.

“I honestly believe that our team is not taking winning for granted, especially in the eyes of a three-game losing streak,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “I feel comfortable speaking on behalf of the entire locker room and the coaching staff when I say that it’s a one-game season. That cliché, you can figure out a different way to say it, but there’s one team on our schedule. Nothing matters beyond that. I don’t care about scenarios. I don’t care. The point is that you have to win a game to get in the playoffs. I know that much. We have to win.

“But you don’t want to get in the playoffs trying to pull yourself out of a slump. This game is the most important because it’s next but it’s also we need to strain to win a football game, and we need to be playing our best football in January, which has been the objective the whole time. So this game, whatever it leads to, if we win, we’ll think about next week. But we’re solely focused on the Green Bay Packers, their tremendous franchise and their Hall of Fame quarterback, etc.”