Can the Miami Dolphins Win the AFC Championship?

Scott Engel
Last Updated: Dec 5, 2023

The Miami Dolphins are considered to be a historic franchise, yet the team and their fans have endured a decades-long stretch of futility. It has been 50 years since Miami’s last Super Bowl win and nearly 40 since the team’s last conference championship.

The Dolphins last won a playoff game in 2000, marking the second-longest postseason win drought in the NFL. Those who have remained loyal to the team have been hungering for relevancy, as the team has never been better than mediocre since Dan Marino retired.

Yet now, for the first time this century, there is widespread hope for a deep playoff run in South Florida. Yes, Dolphins fans can actually utter the word “Super Bowl” without it referring to the early 1970s.

Miami has a three-game lead in the AFC East and may soon wrap up its first divisional title since 2008, ending a long and painful run of watching the Patriots sit comfortably atop all others before the Bills took over for the last few seasons. The Dolphins have a 9-3 record for the first time since the 2001 campaign.

At DraftKings Sportsbook, the Dolphins are now tied with the Chiefs for the best odds to win the AFC, at +260. There is not a solid favorite in the conference right now, and all the AFC contenders appear to be a notch below the best teams in the NFC.

The Ravens could prove to be the top team in the conference, but Lamar Jackson has lost three of four career postseason games and he lacks standout playmakers around him on offense. Kansas City does not appear to be capable of regaining its best offensive form.

We cannot count out the Buffalo Bills despite their record, although they have never been able to score a landmark postseason win in past seasons when they had better records. So even though Miami still must prove it can beat true contenders going forward, much like Dallas, the team is performing at a high level and the opportunities to prove it can win against its toughest opponents still lie ahead.

Under Mike McDaniel, the Dolphins are capable of showing they can learn from past stumbles. Last year, Miami started 8-3 and lost three straight games to open the month of December.

This season, December opened with an easy 30-point win over Washington, and it is possible that with games against the Titans and Jets ahead, Miami could head into its most important and telling stretch of the season at 11-3.

Marquee matchups with the Cowboys and Ravens will be the biggest matchups to measure how ready the Dolphins truly are to contend for an AFC championship. Beating the Bills in the season finale would only firm up their case, yet the two previous games might have a bit more magnitude attached to them, as losing both of those games and winning a divisional game to finish the regular season would still cool talk of a possible Super Bowl run.

Once the playoffs begin, the Dolphins will have to overcome a lack of postseason experience as a collective unit, yet having key performers who have been to the Super Bowl before, such as Tyreek Hill, Jalen Ramsey, and Raheem Mostert, does put some leadership cornerstones in place. The Miami passing game is also heavily timing-based and will have to show it can adjust and adapt when facing the best defenses or playing from behind in a playoff environment.

The playoffs “unofficially” begin for the Dolphins when they take on the Cowboys in Week 16. Both teams will be attempting to swat away the narratives that they cannot beat other true contenders while running into other top-level teams late in the regular season. Both Miami and Dallas are long-tortured and historic franchises that are trying to embark on new eras of contention.

The edge for the Dolphins over any other AFC team can be its balance between offense and defense. We all know that Miami has the best offense we have seen from the team since the days of Marino to the “Marks Brothers,” but those editions were always shaky on defense and proved to often be the undoing of the Dolphins in the playoffs.

The 2023 Dolphins have not allowed more than 17 points in the last five games, and over the last two, the defense has piled up 10 sacks and five turnovers. Free safety Jevon Holland has the highest defensive position grade of any safety on Pro Football Focus, Ramsey ranks No. 10 at cornerback, Andrew Van Ginkel has the sixth-highest PFF grade among edge defenders, and Bradley Chubb is No. 12.

Along the way, Hill can only strengthen his case to become the first wide receiver to ever win the MVP award. Meanwhile, Tua Tagovailoa has shown that the work he put in during the offseason has led to him staying healthy so far, and while any QB can go down at any time, he has shed the concerns of being a regular durability concern for now.

Miami has also soldiered through some injuries to keep rolling recently, most notably losing linebacker Jaelan Phillips (Achilles) for the season, while Holland has been battling a groin problem and LB Jerome Baker is dealing with an MCL issue while some other key performers have been banged up. Staying healthy, of course, is a big key to making a big playoff push.

The current Vegas odds seem to be on point, though. The Dolphins have as good a chance as any other top AFC team at winning the conference, and the opportunities to show they are a certifiable top team are right in front of them.

After decades of toasting nothing else but the 1972 team, Miami Dolphins fans can now actually envision celebrating meaningful moments in the next few years.

For more Miami Dolphins content, continue reading below.

10 Reasons Why Dolphins Can Top AFC East

July 10, 2023

The Miami Dolphins (+300) have the third-best odds to win the AFC East at DraftKings Sportsbook. The Buffalo Bills are naturally still considered the team to beat, and the New York Jets are putting together a strong bid to vie with Buffalo and make a deep playoff run.

Miami is looking to end a 22-year playoff victory drought, the second-longest streak in the NFL and No. 1 among AFC teams. Yet there are legitimate reasons why the Dolphins could be a true contender in the best division in football and might be a tough out in the AFC playoffs.

Despite South Florida being known as a regular home of NFL mediocrity over the past two decades, a longtime run of frustration could end in 2023. Don’t assume the Miami Dolphins are a lock to finish behind the Buffalo Bills, and they might be as good or better than the Jets.

Here are my takes on why Miami can push for the AFC East crown, and I at least expect them to challenge for it even if they ultimately don’t take it outright.

It’s Not Crazy: 10 Reasons Why Dolphins Can Win the Division

  1. The Quarterback: This one is obvious and most important, as Tua Tagovailoa already has easily looked like Miami’s best passer since Dan Marino when available. He has been a perfect fit for head coach Mike McDaniel’s system. If Tagovailoa can stay on the field, he will continue to take advantage of the best wide receiver duo in the NFL, especially in key situations.
  2. The Wide Receivers: Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle dominate the targets so much that the Dolphins don’t even need a third WR to be a significant contributor. Miami has two prime No. 1 wideouts, whereas both the Bills and Jets lack an ideal No. 2 wide receiver.
  3. Speed, Speed, and More Speed: Waddle led the NFL with 17.9 yards per catch last season, and Hill led the AFC with a career-high 1,710 receiving yards. Rookie running back De’Von Achane was the fastest running back at the rookie combine, and Raheem Mostert averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2022. His 67-yard run vs. Buffalo in December was another highlight display of his wheels.
  4. The Coach: McDaniel led Miami to the playoffs in his first season at the helm, sparking the passing game from 17th-best in the league to fourth overall. He will have higher goals in 2022 and can meet them if his QB doesn’t miss too much time and the defense benefits from a highly impactful new arrival on McDaniel’s staff.
  5. The Defensive Wizard: The last time we saw Vic Fangio as a defensive coordinator, he won the AP Assistant Coach of the Year Award in 2018 with the Chicago Bears. Fangio’s fingerprints are on other defensive schemes in the league, and he can get much more out of a talent-laden Miami defense that underachieved in 2022.
  6. Balance: The Bills have the best-established balance of offense and defense, and the Jets feature one of the league’s premier defenses. If Miami gets the needed QB play and the defense elevates its performance, then Miami can contend with Buffalo to have the most optimum balance in the division on both sides of the ball.
  7. Two Key Additions: New York arguably has the best pair of cornerbacks in the league. However, Miami now has its own formidable set of starters with Jalen Ramsey and Xavien Howard, who must show his best form again. Achane is another weapon on offense and will be a significant threat in the return game that was missing on special teams.
  8. An Underrated Advantage: Miami has a winning home record in four of the past five seasons. A factor not frequently mentioned is the unique home-field advantage enjoyed in the often oppressive South Florida heat, which can be an added edge for the best projected Dolphins team we have seen in a long time.
  9. The Competition: Buffalo is no longer a surefire pick to win what should be the best division in football, as there are no certain wins vs. AFC East teams anymore. Miami will have a better offense than the Jets, who are relying on a QB that may be slightly past his prime to solve their biggest problem, and the Dolphins can certainly finish ahead of New York to challenge the Bills.
  10. The Time Is Now: Tagovailoa is the key to the Dolphins making a genuine push for the division and having a chance to make some postseason noise. This team is the most potent fusion of offense, defensive talent, and top coaching that Miami has featured in decades, and it likely senses a prime opportunity to make a statement that it should not be overlooked.


Scott Engel

Scott Engel is a Senior Sports Writer at The Game Day. Previously he was at and The Athletic. His work is also featured at RotoBaller and on Scott is a host on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. He is an inaugural member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association's Hall of Fame. Scott is a four-time FSWA award winner and a 13-time finalist. He was an Associate Editor and featured writer at and his career began at CBS SportsLine, where he was a Senior Writer and Managing Editor. Scott was the Managing Director at RotoExperts.

Related articles