MIAMI -- You have probably seen the graphics of the NFL's playoff picture before, the ones generally separated into three columns -- division leaders, wild-card teams and teams "in the hunt."
Miami Dolphins fans had little reason to pay attention to them six weeks ago, when the team was 1-7. But with a five-game winning streak, the Dolphins (6-7) have clawed their way into that third column. On Sunday against the 3-10 New York Jets (1 p.m. ET, CBS), they have an opportunity to bring their record to .500 for the first time since Week 2.
Not that Miami's players are paying any attention to that.
"I'll tell you what, this NFL season has been crazy where teams have started out extraordinarily well and fell apart as the season went along," cornerback Byron Jones said. "Our focus is just on the next game. We kind of keep it simple that way. It's too hard to open your vision because you can get [beaten] on any given Sunday."
During its winning streak, Miami ranks second in the NFL in defensive expected points added (51.42), third in points allowed per game (11.0) and second in yards allowed per game (280.8), taking advantage of a stretch that saw it face only one opponent with a winning record.
The Dolphins also own the 11th-easiest remaining schedule, per ESPN's Football Power Index, but their final four regular-season games (aside from Sunday's matchup) get more difficult.
They travel to New Orleans (6-7) and Tennessee (9-4), which might get star running back Derrick Henry back from a foot injury, before hosting the NFL's hottest team (9-4 New England) to end the regular season. Miami must win at least three to remain in the playoff conversation, and there is a plausible scenario in which it misses the postseason for the fifth straight season even if it wins all four. Losses to the Colts (7-6), Raiders (6-7) and two against the Bills (7-6) could leave it on the wrong end of tiebreakers.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been surgically efficient during the winning streak, leading the league in completion percentage (78.9) while ranking sixth in QBR (60.2) and seventh in yards per attempt (7.67). His favorite target? Rookie receiver Jaylen Waddle, who holds the franchise record for receptions by a rookie (86) and needs 16 more to break Anquan Boldin's NFL record in that category.
The Tagovailoa-Waddle connection will need to remain strong, because this week presents a challenge of sorts for the Dolphins. Not only will they need to reacclimate from their Week 14 bye, but they might have to deal with the loss of running backs Phillip Lindsay, Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed and star safety Jevon Holland -- each of whom were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
"I think any time you have a few days off and you're out of the routine, you've got to get them back into the routine," coach Brian Flores said. "It's been a while since we've been in a huddle, a few days. Get out, get a sweat, run around, run a route, get to the top of a route for the receiver or the top of the route for a DB, or put hands on somebody or put hands on a sled. I think knocking a little bit of the rust off is what we're trying to get accomplished."
Miami can realistically jump into the AFC's seventh and final playoff spot with a win Sunday and another on Monday Night Football the following week in New Orleans (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
If the Dolphins had played at their current level throughout the season, perhaps they would be in contention for the AFC East title instead of scrambling for a wild-card spot. Though it's easy to play the "what if" game, the team is not harping on the lows of its seven-game losing streak early in the season or the highs of the current win streak.
"The focus [is] on the Jets," Flores said. "They've got some talented players. They play hard and they gave us some issues the last time out."