Perhaps you are acquainted with the Swami, Chris Berman’s alter-ego that loves to speak on the wonders of professional football. It is time for me to channel the Swami and make my own set of predictions for My ESPN for Kids for 2016.
Here are my predictions for 4 of the 5 major American sports. (Writer’s Note: I know little to nothing about hockey. Like they say in the movie Miracle, “He doesn’t know a blue line from a clothesline”. Therefore, my predictions will be confined to the NFL, NBA, MLB, and MLS).
Every year, the Harris poll asks a sample of about 2000 respondents to name their favorite sport. Not surprisingly, the NFL dominates with 32%. Lest devotees of one sport or the other wonder about the placement of their sport, I used the Harris polling to sequence my predictions.
- 1. NFL: A multitude of NFL storylines merit discussion ranging from the looming playoffs to the Super Bowl to the big breakout potentials within the draft. In the NFC, it is hard not to think that Carolina will carry the day given the dominance of Cam Newton and Co during the regular season. They had a legitimate look, at Week 16, at an undefeated season. They win the NFC. In the AFC, it is a more wide open affair as divisional variation and injuries have made it a difficult post-season path to predict. In the end, I think that the Kansas City Chiefs will prevail, continuing their winning ways in the second half with an AFC Championship (in Foxboro) win against the Pats. Finally, on the draft, I foresee at least two teams reaching for a QB in the first round. Yes, I can already hear the masses bellowing, “Does he even watch college football”? I have looked up and down the list of Top 10 prospects. However, I see red-flags in most, if not all of the list. Paxton Lynch should go Top 10. The Memphis Tigers’ QB is a 6’7, 225-pound NFL prototype that will probably produce a 4.5 in the 40 at the combine in Indy this February. He has an almost flawless stat line and the Tigers upset of Ole Miss speaks volumes. He has a live arm. He does, however, hang throws and will need more time in the film room to play at the upper echelon of the NFL. Beyond Lynch, I see little to get excited about in either Connor Cook, who wasn’t even voted a team captain of MSU, or Jared Goff, who didn’t play well when facing Top-25 teams. They may go in the first round (particularly if Cook excels in the playoff), in large measure because teams like the Texans are so desperate for an everyday QB.
- 2. MLB: Wow, baseball. Last season was a thrill ride. Will we see more of the same in the coming year? In the AL, my hometown Royals sadly will not make the World Series three years in a row. They have been poached. The richer teams have taken their heart, lungs, and liver. They will make it back to the ALCS, but fall to an Astros team that is out for revenge in a six-game series. In the NL, the Cubs and Theo Epstein have been making key moves to bolster their roster. It will pay off with Chicago making the World Series for the first time since 1945. The white flags will be flying at Wrigley. In the World Series, I predict a landslide, 4-1, in favor of the Cubs. Finally, at the individual level, Carlos Correa will surpass all others and have an AL MVP season. In addition, Dallas Keuchel will win the AL Cy Young for the second year in a row. And on the NL side, Joey Votto will take the MVP; Clayton Kershaw will win the NL Cy Young. Baseball always delivers an unpredictable outcome or two. So, we will see how these bold picks perform.
- 3. NBA:Basketball is already under way. Let me begin with some edge: no one stops the Warriors. There are three real storylines. First, can the MVP also win Most Improved Player? Steph is on pace to set career highs in Field Goal Percentage, Points per Game, Rebounds per Game, Shooting Efficiency, NBA Rating and Scoring Efficiency. Does he deserve MVP and most improved? The answer is yes. The outcome is one, not both. Secondly, can anyone stop, or even slow down, the Warriors? Golden State has the potential to challenge the ’96 Bulls for the greatest record of all-time. They would have to lose less than ten games. Many say it is not feasible. My view is: the Warriors have not only the talent, but the depth to do it. Third, will Curry jump ahead of Lebron in not only skill, but popularity? While the Curry shoe brand may not be taking over the market, America loves a superstar that also is a good guy. Curry overtakes Lebron.
- 4. MLS: The MLS is a blossoming league that will be a serious threat that will surpass the popularity of the NHL, NBA and possibly the MLB in the next five years. The League is growing. The television rating are on the rise. Participation rates continue to climb. And most importantly, the growing concussion issues in football have a number of kids switching to soccer in the fall. It all augurs well for soccer. At the MLS level, we should have two great conference battles in 2016. In the Eastern Conference, New York City Football Club will rally after a piss-poor first year. Backed by piles of money, they will spend their way to the top. In the Western Conference, Sporting Kansas City will finally play up to their expectations and make it to the final. Going off on a limb here, but I think that in sports, money talks first, and that’s why NYCFC will be holding the trophy come December.
- NHL: I can almost hear the grumbling from the hockey lovers and the “haters” of the emergent MLS. Let me reiterate that I appreciate that hockey attendance is growing, search activity is increasing and fan passion is high at the college and professional level. Let’s hear from smart thinkers on what will play out. It simply is not my game.
Chris “Boomer” Berman, the Brown University-educated bard of sports broadcasting, likely would agree with some of this list, but not all of it. Among other thing, he might question my call on the Chiefs. He also would likely have a bitting comment or two about my decision not to speculate on the NHL and to include the young MLS. I don’t know what to say, Boomer. Maybe three million is a tad much for someone who isn’t even on Sports Center anymore. And when you have a second, you should take a look at the Harris poll. The spike in popularity of soccer, effectively even with ice hockey and pro basketball, speaks for itself.
Of course, it is easy to talk big in the locker room. We will see how much I really know as 2016 plays out. We would love to hear your predictions. It should be a great year in sports, including the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Happy New Year!