The sports world this year started predictably, and yet, at the same time, all the more unpredictably. I’m speaking, of course, about the NFL playoffs and about the English Premiere League.
The NFL playoffs was very much dictated by conventionality. The cliche that defense wins championships was proven over and over again, as the 2 best defenses in the league made their way past great offenses and other good defenses, finding their way to the Super Bowl.
That was Carolina and Denver. And in the end, the best defense won, as the historic Denver team got “the Sheriff” Peyton Manning his second ring, despite his inability to play football any longer.
His last pass will go down as a future trivia question: the answer to who caught it is Bennie Fowler, who, for the record, is still with the Denver Broncos.
The EPL was much less predictable. At the time, Leicester City was riding high, sitting atop the EPL. For those who don’t know/don’t follow the English Premiere League, imagine if the Cleveland Browns, instead of going 1-15 this year, went 14-2 and looked like the Super Bowl favorites because of Robert Griffin III, Terrelle Pryor, and Joe Haden.
That was the Leicester City season, and it only continued, as Leicester won the English Premiere League. In retrospect, this was, of course, the first indication that anything could happen this year, and that it would be historic. Just how historic remained yet to be proven.
Next came two more sports, immensely more predictable than the one preceding them. A break from the unpredictability, the NHL and the NBA had their playoffs. Those playoffs were very predictable (aside from the Sharks meteoric rise and the Blackhawks early entrance).
The NHL was a clash between the Penguins, led by three lines of forwards and a meh defense, versus the Sharks, an aging team with a lot of skill but not a lot of speed. In this one, speed won, and Phil Kessel, once accused of being a coach killer, won his (first) Cup.
This was predictable, as one of the last four teams to win the Stanley Cup (Blackhawks, Kings, Bruins, Penguins) once again won it. And once again, it was the loser that was new. Turns out not just anybody can win the Stanley Cup, but everybody can lose it.
The NBA was also predictable. For the second year in a row, the finals came down to the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. What wasn’t predictable was how the OKC Thunder, possibly the best team in the playoffs, blew a 3-1 deficit.
And then the winner of that 3-1 deficit comeback, the Warriors, blew that exact same series lead. King James re-earned his moniker, and delivered on his promise to bring back a title to Cleveland. I still believe that if he had said right after “vote for Clinton”, Ohio wouldn’t have been a swing state in the election.
And then, everybody was in the offseason. This was an insane one.
In the NHL, everybody paid for everybody, and some of those contracts worked out – David Backes, Kyle Okposo, and Frans Nielsen. Some of them didn’t – Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson.
In the NBA, the biggest story of the year happened. As an OKC fan, allow me to break my silence on this move.
Kevin Durant to Golden State is the weakest, most craven move I’ve ever seen in any sport. The mentality “if you can’t beat them, join them” is not supposed to apply in professional sports. Yet, one of the greatest basketball players of our generation made it so.
I won’t pretend that Durant isn’t a great player. But he proved he wasn’t a great person, and that he wasn’t a leader. The entire last year, he complained about being the second fiddle in OKC when Westbrook clearly was letting him shine. Then, he goes to Golden State to be the second, perhaps third, fiddle.
The other moves made much more sense. With the increase in the cap, everybody was also paid a ton, and the general rule was that in a normal year, the players would be offered half this year’s price.
The NFL’s offseason was also a lot of players getting paid by places that made sense. The Giants were the team most improved in the end by free agency, though the Jaguars looked to be. The Jaguars went 3-13, while the Giants are going to go 11-5.
I didn’t follow the EPL’s free agency. To be fair, it’s less of a free agency and more of a transfers season, and transfers make no sense.
Baseball was the game that carried over while the rest of this mess of a sports year carried on. This year, the Chicago Cubs were far and away the best team in baseball. Throughout the summer, they continued winning games, looking impressive, and finishing with baseball’s best record.
Which makes the World Series seem more predictable. But it was a historic series, as two teams without a World Series win in more than 80 years faced off, vying for a title both of them coveted so much.
Cleveland, which had turned from Believeland into Championship City after the Cavs won and the Tribe got to the World Series, versus the Chicago Cubs, baseball’s favorite losers.
If you had told anyone in Chicago before this year that their team would win, half of them would have told you – no way, Sale’s not doing it on his own.
The half that are Cubs fans (cause it’s half. There are two baseball teams in Chicago, and I hate when people pretend there aren’t) would have told you to shut your mouth. You’d jinx it. But every curse, every plague on their house, the Cubs blew past it.
They almost didn’t, but in extra innings of Game 7, the most Cubs way of winning the World Series, they did it. The Chicago Cubs were World Series champions for the first time in a century. Every joke about them, every odd story (my favorite is the one about Arizona), they were all made irrelevant, because the Cubs had done it.
And when the Cubs had done it, the world got a lot worse. But football had gotten a lot better, because while the Cubs were making their historic run, the NFL was having a down season.
There weren’t positive ratings. They were having problems with bad teams, and with bad matchups. Nobody wanted to watch football, because it just wasn’t good anymore. Once more, 2016 got unpredictable.
And then, when the election and the World Series had died down, football had a good week in Week 10. It was my favorite week, cause I didn’t have to worry about Lions football and Green Bay got demolished by Tennessee, not even a playoff contender.
If you hate the Packers, watch this video.
Since then, the NFL has been fine, but again, it’s been unpredictable. The Lions, in the preseason thought to be the worst team in the NFC North, could win it. The Giants are going to the playoffs, and the Cowboys, after losing Tony Romo, are one of football’s best teams.
The Patriots are still a looming threat, so that’s normal.
We don’t talk enough about the teams that are missing the playoffs, though. Arizona, which was widely regarded as the NFL’s best team in the preseason, simply has not been.
The Panthers and Broncos, after facing off in the Super Bowl to start the year, are both done. The Bengals, it turns out, were a fluke. So was Ryan “Flukepatrick” Fitzpatrick for the Jets.
The Vikings were a team everybody saw as a playoff threat, yet were decimated by injuries, except to the one player most injury prone – Sam Bradford. Neither Jared Goff nor Carson Wentz were the savior their franchise needed, and neither was Brock Osweiler.
Yet I keep coming back to my Detroit Lions as the most unpredictable factor in this year’s NFL. Calvin Johnson, the Lions’ generational talent, the massive receiver who no one could cover, who had to be game-planned extensively against, who was extraordinary and beyond measure, retired.
And the Lions got better.
Matthew Stafford became a MVP candidate. If the Lions win the NFC North, he should be the MVP. Brady missed games. Ryan had Julio. Carr got hurt. But Stafford had no one. The guy he was known solely for throwing to was done. The Lions were supposed to be a throw-away team, a top 5 pick.
Yet there they stand, with a Sunday night game, after not playing in prime time all season until last week versus the Cowboys. A Sunday night game which will decide the NFC North. At home, versus the Packers.
And I still believe that Matthew Stafford and a lackluster Detroit Lions team could win it all. This year has been FUCKING CRAZY. And I didn’t even get into the mess that was the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Let’s hope next year is a lot easier to recap.