Ndamukong Suh was as emotional as anyone after the Detroit Lions lost a hard-fought, controversial playoff opener against Dallas last season. As Suh addressed reporters after that game against the Cowboys, it was fair to wonder if that was the end of an era in Detroit, and sure enough, the star defensive tackle left via free agency in the offseason, signing with Miami. The Lions have no choice but to move on without Suh, hoping his departure won’t significantly weaken what was one of the best defenses in the NFL in 2014.
Harvard people are smart, for the most part, so by and large we pay attention when they speak about things. Kurt Bullard of the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective tried to formulate a mathematical method of picking the NFL’s playoff teams, using Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value statistic, crosschecking it with a few other analytical numbers from other sites and coming up with a talent rating and the percentage likelihood for every NFL team’s chances to make the postseason. [ Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football: Sign up and join a league today! ] Bullard’s findings were interesting. It’s not stunning that his top-rated team — in both talent at key positions and percentage to make the playoffs — was the Seattle Seahawks. Considering they’ve been to the past two Super Bowls and have prevented getting gutted, personnel-wise, after both of them, it sounds like a smart prediction. But the team most likely to face them in the Super Bowl, per Bullard? That would be the Miami Dolphins. (We hate to interrupt this programming for this service announcement, but, please: If you do choose to send us an email on this, we’re more than happy to read it. But know that these are the predictions of another man, not Yahoo. You’d think that would go without saying, but …) Yes, the Dolphins, which lost to the New York Jets in Week 17 in a listless performance, are ready to take a huge leap, per Bullard. Clearly, the additions of Ndamukong Suh, DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and others and the development of Ryan Tannehill and a talented defense factor in heavily here, too. And Bullard suggests that it will be enough to overtake the New England Patriots, both as the AFC East winners and the defending champs. The Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos are all at 62 percent for likelihood to make the playoffs behind the Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs (66 percent) among AFC teams. The Green Bay Packers are second to the Seahawks in the NFC at 93 percent. The third-highest NFC team: the Detroit Lions, at 53 percent. Clearly, this is not a foolproof method, and it’s all likely to go out the window with a few injuries, suspensions (or suspension reductions — hint, hint), rookie surprises or veterans who inevitably fall off the cliff. The biggest surprises in the Harvard study? None bigger, perhaps, than the Baltimore Ravens with a 9% (!!!) chance to make the playoffs. Yeah, they lost a lot … but nine? It’s all fun. And a reminder: It’s not us. This is not a Yahoo prediction. It’s a Harvard thing. Which normally is something you’d want to take quite seriously, but … well, you judge for yourself. – – – – – – – Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm
Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant was the second-highest paid receiver in the NFL for less than an hour. Then Demaryius Thomas of the Denver Broncos joined him. It was humorous how the two each got five-year, $70 million deals in the hour before Wednesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline, with all the talk of collusion between the two teams beforehand . Wednesday was the last day for teams to sign franchise-tagged players to long-term deals. In a flurry of activity on Wednesday, four of the five got paid. Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston got a monster deal, getting $101 million over six years, the biggest deal in franchise history. New England Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski got paid too , getting four years and a little more than $17 million. Not bad for a kicker. The only franchise-tagged player who didn’t get a long-term deal on Wednesday was New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, for reasons that we all understand. Pierre-Paul injured himself in a fireworks accident on July 4. Although Bryant and Thomas didn’t get as much as Houston, the commitment to them by their respective teams was significant. It sets a new bar for receivers, and many more will be getting their own big deals soon, like Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons and A.J. Green of the Cincinnati Bengals, not to mention the handful of apparent stars from the 2014 draft class. The salary expectation has been raised for them. Mike Wallace of the Minnesota Vikings was the second-highest paid receiver in terms of his annual haul at about $12 million per year (let that sentence wash over you), a contract he got from the Miami Dolphins, and then No. 1 on the list was the incomparable Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions at a pretty big jump of about $16 million per year. Bryant and Thomas found a nice resting point in the middle of that gap at $14 million per year. [ Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football: Sign up and join a league today!l ] That’s a sign of the times in the NFL. It’s a passing league, and if huge money isn’t going to running backs anymore, it has to go somewhere. Not too long ago the Cowboys might have paid running back DeMarco Murray, last season’s NFL offensive player of the year, the money that Bryant got. But players like Bryant and Thomas are the difference makers, able to screw up a defense’s plan with their ability to make plays. It took the Cowboys and Broncos a while to get to a deal with their star receivers, but in hindsight it was inevitable. Both teams know what those players mean to their ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl. – – – – – – – Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab
The NFL will have a presence in the United Kingdom for years to come. Along with Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League, the NFL announced Wednesday that it has reached a 10-year agreement to play at least two games per season at the soccer club’s new stadium, which is set to open in the summer of 2018. [ Yahoo Sports Fantasy Football is back: Sign up for a league today! ] The new stadium will “feature a retractable grass field with an artificial surface underneath that would be used for NFL games.” “With growing enthusiasm for the NFL in the United Kingdom, we are committed to hosting NFL games in world-class venues and are excited to partner with Tottenham Hotspur to play games at their future stadium,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “We share a vision and commitment to creating the best experience for our teams, fans and the local community.” The new agreement allows for NFL games to be played at other venues in the UK during the span of the 10-year deal. Two seasons remain on the NFL’s arrangement with Wembley Stadium, and the league said in a release that it is “optimistic that the relationship will be extended beyond 2016.” The NFL played its first game in the UK on Oct. 28, 2007 – a 13-10 win by the New York Giants over the Miami Dolphins. Since then, interest in the NFL has increased and three regular season games will be held in the UK in 2015 – including the Oct. 25 matchup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills, which will be exclusively live-streamed here on Yahoo. The other two games in the UK in 2015 are an AFC East matchup between the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins on Oct. 4 and the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Detroit Lions on Nov. 1. – – – – – – – Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter! Follow @SamDCooper
Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders epitomized Detroit’s blue-collar roots. On Thursday, the man who spent 43 years in the Lions’ organization as a player, broadcaster and scout died in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak after battling cancer. Lions spokesman Matt Barnhart said the team confirmed Sanders’ death through family members.