DAVIE, Fla. (AP) — Looking for their first playoff berth since 2008, the Miami Dolphins are getting warmer.
A win in the snow at Pittsburgh helped their chances, and now the Dolphins are back in balmy South Florida preparing to play at home Sunday against AFC East leader New England.
A defeat wouldn't doom the Dolphins (7-6). But they're tied with Baltimore in the race for the AFC's sixth and final wild-card berth, and even a sweep of the final three games might not be enough to make the postseason.
After facing the Patriots, Miami will return north to play Buffalo on Dec. 22, then conclude the regular season at home against the New York Jets on Dec. 29.
"All the games are going to be tough," said cornerback Brent Grimes, who's not worrying about potential scenarios. "We just need to win. I don't know how you're looking at it, but we need to win. We need to take care of our business."
The Dolphins have done so lately, winning back-to-back games for the first since September. They're 3-1 since a dismal defeat against previously winless Tampa Bay. They're 4-2 since tackle Jonathan Martin left the team and a bullying scandal threatened to send the season into a tailspin.
Much work remains if the Dolphins are to end a streak of four consecutive losing seasons. First they'll need a breakthrough against the Patriots (10-3), a challenge daunting enough to supersede playoff talk.
"All that matters is that with an excellent team coming to town, that's a full plate," coach Joe Philbin said Monday. "We're going to have to play extremely well. That's what we have to keep focused on."
New England has won seven consecutive games in the series, including a 27-17 victory in Week 8 after Miami led 17-3 at halftime. Given the lopsided recent history between teams, it's no surprise Miami is an underdog at home.
By contrast, this year's Dolphins have already beaten their final two opponents, and both teams have losing records. But the Dolphins have won at Buffalo only twice since 2004, and they've swept a season series against the Jets only once since 2004.
The Ravens have a tougher closing schedule than Miami, with three games against division leaders, beginning next Monday at Detroit. But if Miami and Baltimore finish in a two-way tie for the conference's sixth-best record, the Ravens hold the tiebreaker because they won when the teams met in Week 5.