2014 was another newsworthy year in the world of sports. The Seattle Seahawks reminded National Football League fans and correspondents that defense wins championships in professional football. News that the NCAA Tournament could be expanding even further in the near future did not stop those who circle dates on their calendars waiting for March college basketball from tuning in. The best pro basketball player in the world was on the wrong side of the NBA Finals, as he and his teammates fell short when facing a better overall team. That man then made headlines via an emotional homecoming that injected life into northeast Ohio.
Soccer was unsurprisingly responsible for the top stories of the year. Germany entered the 2014 FIFA World Cup as favorites to win the tournament, and they left Brazil with the gold trophy and gold medals. Luis Suarez held his title as the most-reviled individual in all of world football. Cristiano Ronaldo emerged as the undisputed top player in the game, and Real Madrid teammate Gareth Bale twice netted goals that won the club trophies. Bale has been worth every penny Real spent on him, and the former Tottenham Hotspur star isn’t showing signs of slowing down anytime soon.
There is nothing worse about “x” predictions pieces than when people are afraid to take risks and, dare I say, afraid of making themselves look silly down the road: “Alabama football will be good.” “The Cleveland Cavaliers will make the NBA Playoffs.” “The NFL will get monster television ratings.” Boring. Anybody can play it safe and then pat themselves on the back and take Twitter victory tours for being right. Those who are bold deserve the true praise, as they care more about fun than they care about their so-called reputations and about being wrong.
20. WWE Network Will Shut Down
Subscriber numbers aren’t the only thing ailing the WWE Network this holiday season. Even diehard fans of the product are left wanting more from the streaming service that lacks far too much programming considering all that is in the WWE catalog. With no long-term commitment necessary to subscribe, there is little reason for the casual fan to keep WWE Network past WrestleMania. Add in that the product is hot garbage at the end of 2014, and WWE Network not surviving another twelve months may not be all that crazy of a notion. Watch for a grand exodus from WWE Network to occur this coming spring.
19. The New York Sports Drought Continues
No New York sports team will win a championship in 2015. None. Even the thought of the New York Jets or New York Mets winning it all elicits chuckles. While the New York Giants will show improvement, they are not one positive offseason away from completely righting the ship. None of the region’s hockey teams will hoist the Stanley Cup, and you can throw in the New Jersey Devils if you want. Heck, even the New York Red Bulls, New York City Football Club and New York Cosmos will disappoint their fan bases by not winning their final games of the year.
18. FOX Sports 2 Will Become FOX Soccer 2.0
It makes too much sense not to happen. Outside of the occasional UEFA Champions League/Europa League match, CONCACAF Champions League game that a handful of people watch and 90 minutes of the Mike Francesa Show, I could not tell you what is on standard-definition FS2, nor could I explain the purpose of the station. With FOX getting the television rights for Major League Soccer starting in 2015, the company will need to step up its soccer coverage in preparation for upcoming World Cup broadcasts. What better way to do so than to revive the failed soccer channel and, unlike during its first run, go all-in on FSC?
17. The Seattle Seahawks Will NOT Repeat as Super Bowl Champions
This is admittedly not all that bold of a prediction. Seattle is playing its best football of the campaign at the right time, and quarterback Russell Wilson has shown improvement over the past year. It is, however, emotionally and physically taxing to attempt to repeat as Super Bowl champions in the modern NFL. The myth that the Seahawks were unbeatable in Seattle was proven to be inaccurate by the Dallas Cowboys this past fall. Dallas, the Green Bay Packers, the Philadelphia Eagles and maybe even the Detroit Lions have the goods to go out west and stun the Seahawks if necessary.
16. You Will Hate the College Football Playoffs
You spent years, decades for some, clamoring for college football to utilize a playoff as the method for determining a National Champion. You have what you wished for, and it is a guarantee that there will be pockets of diehards who will complain because college football fans can be insufferable. God forbid, for example, that the SEC is not represented in the last college football game of the year. The United States could be on the verge of another Civil War were that to occur. Alabama is the only hope for stability to reign in this country for another year.
15. Chief Wahoo and “Redskins” Will Finally Go Away
Fans of the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins who are becoming young adults in 2015 are not married to the logo or the team name deemed to be offensive. The reasons for either remaining, outside of Washington owner Dan Snyder being stubborn just to be so, decrease in logic with every year. Washington pro football has been a dumpster fire as of late, so Snyder will need to do whatever possible to keep angry customers happy. Both the Indians and Redskins disappear into history by the time Christmas 2015 rolls around, and neither will be missed long before they become nothing more than memories and the cause for collector’s items to be sold on eBay and Amazon.
14. Jay Cutler Will Lead an NFL Team to the Playoffs
Cutler is on his way out of Chicago after the Bears paid him over $50 million in guaranteed money last winter. A new coaching staff and possibly a new general manager could be coming to town soon after the 2014 NFL season comes to an end, and neither of those entities have legitimate reasons to ride with Cutler in the near future. Cutler is similar to retired wide receiver Terrell Owens in that both possess a quality to endear themselves to new teammates in a first year at a new club. He has the arm and the experience, and Cutler could lead the likes of the Arizona Cardinals or the St. Louis Rams to January football if given the chance.
13. Luis Suarez Will do Something Stupid
Luis Suarez was a busy man in 2014. He won Player of the Year honors, he finalized a dream transfer to Spanish giants Barcelona, and he was banned for several months after he bit an opposing player during the World Cup. Karma appears to be catching up with Suarez, as the opening months of his Barca tenure have not gone to his liking. As the pressure grows with each lackluster performance, critics will not shy from lashing out at the talented forward. Get your popcorn ready and watch for Suarez to respond, either with scintillating goals or by yet again doing something to keep him from playing competitive football for a lengthy amount of time.
12. NHL Will Get a Lousy Stanley Cup Final
The National Hockey League had prayers answered and dreams made true this past spring when the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers made it through to the Stanley Cup Final. Some penance must be paid, this time in the form of a Final that is largely ignored by casual American sports fans. Perhaps the worst nightmare of a certain commissioner will come true, and two Canadian teams will compete for what is aesthetically the greatest trophy in all of the sports world. Maybe the whole thing will just get canceled because of a mumps outbreak that ends up affecting players, coaches and referees.
11. NFL Will Move the Super Bowl to President’s Day Sunday
Politicians hate fun and they don’t care about everyday Americans, so they will never go out of the way to make the Monday following the Super Bowl a national holiday. The NFL will take care of the matter for fans by pushing the annual championship game back a few weeks. This long-rumored move will include the expansion of the NFL Playoffs, something that will not sit well with many pro football diehards. While the current playoff system is perfect as is, nobody can complain about having the Monday after Super Bowl Sunday off of work. Bars and restaurants will especially rejoice upon learning of this news.
10. Jameis Winston Will be a Top-Five NFL Draft Pick
Those of you convinced that the troubled Florida State quarterback will somehow fall into the twenties or even the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft apparently do not understand how desperate teams are for franchise quarterbacks. Winston will have about five months to prove that he has “matured” and “learned hard life lessons,” and to show that he will never again be accused of shoplifting. Some franchise, possibly the New York Jets (because, ya know, the Jets), will find it impossible to pass on Winston just as the Houston Texans could not help but take draft Jadeveon Clowney despite all of the red flags that were in the scouting report belonging to the defensive end.
9. The Boston Red Sox Will Win the World Series
Only one thing can happen following the Boston Red Sox finishing dead last in the American League East standings, and that is Boston winning the World Series the very next year. The Red Sox have had a solid offseason, the Baltimore Orioles likely won’t be as good in 2015 as they were this past season, and the New York Yankees need more than a single offseason to turn the club around. Any supposed curse that used to hover over the Red Sox was vanquished a decade ago. The city of Boston will be celebrating another World Series victory next fall.
8. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Will Not Win the NBA Finals
Cleveland remains the anti-Boston, a city that seemingly cannot help but drop pro sports titles into Lake Erie the second that one becomes attainable. It has been 50 years since northeast Ohio has won anything of merit. Why should that trend end because James is back with the Cavs? In his letter explaining why he was returning to play for Cleveland, James said that it would take some time for the Cavaliers to evolve into a side capable of winning it all. He wasn’t lying. The franchise should get there eventually, but the 2014-15 Cavaliers will only bring Cleveland more heartbreak; not that the city isn’t used to such disappointment by now.
7. CM Punk Will Make a Return to WWE TV
One of the rules in pro wrestling is that you never say “never.” Punk and World Wrestling Entertainment went through a messy divorce in 2014, one that included the Straightedge Superstar trashing the company on a podcast that was released over Thanksgiving weekend. Punk later announced that he was joining UFC. He is a great athlete, yes, but he does not have a background similar to those belonging to Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle. If Punk learns that in-cage mixed martial arts action isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, he may choose to cash in on at least one WWE Raw appearance in 2015.
6. Real Madrid Will Never Lose Again
Ever. Just give Real every title now and stop wasting everybody’s time. OK, maybe I am being a tad dramatic about the issue, but anybody who wants to toss out Galacticos comments heading into 2015 would not be overstating how well the club is playing. The best team in the world as it pertains to the international game is undeniably Germany, but the top club in the pro game resides in Spain. Real are for real, possessing the talent and the depth to repeat as winners of the Champions League Going through the competition this time around may be easier for the club than it was in 2014.
5. Major League Soccer Television Ratings Will Drop
FOX Sports 1 continues to struggle drawing and retaining viewers whenever the station is not broadcasting the Major League Baseball Playoffs. MLS regular season games that aired on NBC Sports Network were deemed to be a hit if they attracted over 300,000 viewers. MLS is not MLB, and FS1 is not as big as NBCSN is today. TV ratings for the North American top-flight could be downright embarrassing during March Madness and during a July 4 weekend that includes the holiday falling on a Saturday. The hope is that the ratings will even out in time, but MLS fans should prepare for a bumpy ride along the way.
4. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Will Get a Raise
It was only a few months ago when national television pundits and NFL columnists were actively campaigning for Goodell to be fired by league owners. As any reasonable person could have guessed, the majority of Americans have already forgotten about all that Goodell got wrong in 2014. Meanwhile, the NFL grows in popularity, and the league is set to enjoy record profits. So long as he avoids similar public relations nightmares from now until next fall, league owners will have no reason not to financially reward the commissioner for all of his hard work in making the league billions upon billions of dollars in profits.
3. Manchester United Will Win the Premier League
Get your shovels out, Premier League followers, because some of you prematurely buried United. United are within reach of Chelsea in the days leading up to Christmas, and the pressure is now off of the former kings of Manchester. Some of the club’s diehard supporters would be happy with United merely returning to the Champions League. With those pesky European football contests not a worry for United in early 2015, the Red Devils can concentrate all of their efforts on Premier League weekends. Objects in your rear-view mirrors are closer than they appear, Chelsea and Manchester City. Watch out for United.
2. NFL and Premier League Will Embark on Historic Partnership
The NFL Players Association wants no part of a full-time franchise in London, and those running the Premier League are hoping to continue to grow the popularity of the English top-flight in the States. Here is a deal that achieves both goals: Pick one club from both leagues, teams that do not routinely fill stadiums for home games, and have them play a few regular season contests overseas. Nobody will have to relocate to a different country for work, and local sports fans will be able to enjoy a fresh product that is only around about 1/17 of the calendar year. It’s a win-win for all involved.
1. Gareth Bale Will be the Best Player in the World in 2015
The Welsh wonder has only improved since making the switch from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid, and the 25-year-old propelled his new club to Copa del Rey and Champions League glory in his debut season in Spain. With there no longer being any doubts about whether or not he can be a star in Spain, the stage is set for the 25-year-old to have a breakout year. Popularity contests often determine award winners, so don’t be shocked if Bale doesn’t take home any personal hardware for his play over the next 12 months. It also shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody if analysts are hailing Bale and not Cristiano Ronaldo as the world’s top player in December 2015.