In a perfect world the Miami Dolphins wouldn't have squandered fourth-quarter leads against the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts, and would own an 8-4 record heading into Sunday's home game against the New England Patriots.
Then Sunday's game would be showdown to decide which team would sit in the driver's seat for the AFC East division title.
But Miami's reality is that injuries have decimated its roster, and the Dolphins simply aren't deep enough to survive the talent deficit.
In a perfect world the offseason additions of Josh Sitton, Daniel Kilgore, Danny Amendola, Albert Wilson, Robert Quinn, Akeem Spence and Frank Gore would have injected the leadership and experience needed to finish strong in December's critical games.
But Miami's reality is that three of those veterans have spent more games on injured reserve than they have on the field, and the other three are limping, or wheezing to the season's finish line.
In a perfect world coach Adam Gase's offense would have settled in after two years and taken off like how Sean McVay's Los Angeles Rams offense has, becoming a top-10 scoring unit.
But Miami's reality is that Gase calls the plays for the NFL's fourth-worst offense, a unit that features the fourth-worst offense on third-down (converting only 30.7 percent), and the fifth-worst red-zone offense (turning 48 percent of its possessions that get inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns).
This is the third straight season Gase has delivered an inefficient offense, and there are no more excuses left to make.
In a perfect world Ryan Tannehill would be playing like a seven-year veteran, carving up opponents the way his counterpart Andrew Luck does for the Colts most Sundays, proving he's an upper-echelon starting quarterback.
But Miami's reality is that despite having one of his best statistical seasons, Tannehill remains inconsistent, giving the Dolphins some good games and some bad ones. When you average it all out Tannehill is just that, an average NFL starter, the Tony Eason or Ken O'Brien of his era.
In a perfect world tailback Kenyan Drake would have matured into an every-down back who could run inside- and outside-zone plays effectively, and would be able to handle a 20-touch per game workload.
But Miami's reality is that Drake, who has contributed 750 rushing and receiving yards and leads the Dolphins with eight touchdowns, can't handle that much being placed on his shoulders.
In a perfect world one of the two tight ends the Dolphins selected in the early rounds of the 2018 draft would be a reliable and a consistent contributor for the offense.
But Miami's reality is that Mike Gesicki, the team's second-round pick, hasn't been able to handle the physicality of the NFL, and Durham Smythe is too slow to become a consistent contributor, leaving Miami with yet another season without production from that position.
In a perfect world the Dolphins would reap the harvest of the $32.5 million Miami has invested into its defensive ends with them consistently hounding quarterbacks on passing downs without having to lean heavily on blitzes.
But Miami's reality is that Cameron Wake, Robert Quinn, Andre Branch and Charles Harris - the remaining healthy defensive ends - have contributed a total of nine sacks and 26 quarterback hits in 12 games.
In a perfect world linebackers Raekwon McMillan and Jerome Baker wouldn't be playing as if this was their first season in the NFL, occasionally shooting the wrong gaps and getting blocked out of plays.
But Miami's reality is that both of these former Buckeye standouts aren't experienced, and are learning on the fly, which means they will make costly mistakes.
In a perfect world the Dolphins wouldn't be the NFL's third-worst team when it comes to defending the run, allowing 5.0 rushing yards per carry and 144.7 rushing yards per game.
But Miami's reality is that injuries to William Hayes and Vincent Taylor, and Jordan Phillips' release earlier this year have decimated the interior of the defense line leading to late additions or former practice squad players having to play a significant amount of snaps this season.
While Miami's 6-6 record is far from impressive, at some point the reality of this season's derailments will show that this year's team has overcome a lot to make December games relevant.
In a perfect world injuries and adversity wouldn't be a regular occurrence, but this is the NFL, and how you overcome those challenges defines how successful your team and season is.
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com