In 2016, the reality was wilder than anything we could have actually foreseen beforehand. Anyone who would have predicted the Chicago Cubs breaking a 107-year curse, Cleveland winning a title and Leicester City beating 5000 to 1 odds to win the Premier League in the same year is straight up lying to you. Can 2017 come even close to its predecessor as a landmark sports year? We can't tell those fortunes just yet, but here are 14 things our writers are prognosticating for next year.
The NFL announces concrete plans to expand into Europe
I'm not entirely sure why, but I feel like this is the year the NFL makes the leap. Worries about a dwindling NFL audience were proven feckless once the presidential election ended, and the league now looks as powerful as ever. Roger Goodell and the owners will look at how the NBA's popularity is only growing worldwide and decide they need to do something about that: This is the year that they make the first move to bring a team to London. I have no idea if this will work or not, by the way, and I might be a year or two early with my prediction, but I think this happens, and it could happen sooner than we think. – Nate Scott
Tom Herman gets Texas to the brink of the College Football Playoff in his first year
I’m still not sure if Herman is the next Urban Meyer or Nick Saban (like everyone wants to make him out to be) but the one thing he won’t have a shortage of is talent in year one in Austin. With quarterback Shane Buechele comfortably in place at quarterback, most of the key pieces on defense returning and the Big 12 largely in flux (Baylor is in rebuilding mode, Oklahoma State will be young), the Longhorns will be good enough in 2017 to make a serious run at a Big 12 title and playoff berth. They won’t get there, but Herman will establish that he’s the right man for the job, and finally, mercifully, Texas football will be “back.” – Aaron Torres
The Cubs win two titles in 109 years
The Cubs will become the first repeat World Series winners since the Yankees (1998-2000) with a second consecutive seven-game victory in the Fall Classic. After emerging victorious over old buddy Terry Francona in the 2016 triumph over the Indians, Theo Epstein will complete his quest of owning bragging rights over every human soul he ever worked for/with when the Cubs outlast the Red Sox in 2017. Shaken by the near-miss, Boston’s relentless front office then will acquire every available No. 1 starter on the market to construct the most dominant 14-man rotation in major-league history. – Chris Bahr
The Cleveland Browns finish above .500
Cleveland has two first-round picks in the 2017 draft, both of which are likely to be in the top 10. That could allow them to pick a blue-chip talent like Myles Garrett first or second overall while adding an offensive weapon like Leonard Fournette or DeShone Kizer with their second pick. Combine that with their inordinate amount of cap space and the Browns could go from winless to playoff contender. They’ve been terrible in 2016, but next year looks brighter than most want to believe. Hue Jackson will get this sinking ship back above water. – Cam DaSilva
2017 will be the 'Year of Messi'
Cristiano Ronaldo stole the spotlight in 2016. He led Real Madrid to the Champions League title, captured the Euros with Portugal and was rightly awarded the Ballon d’Or as the best player in the world for the year. There is no way Lionel Messi just lets that one stand.
For nearly a decade now, Messi and Ronaldo have taken turns topping each other. When one does something amazing, the other does something even more amazing. After Ronaldo did it all in 2016, Messi is going to star in 2017. He’ll lead Barcelona to the La Liga or Champions League title, top all of Spain in goals and take his game to a whole other level (which seems basically impossible) to add another chapter to one of the best individual rivalries in sports history. – Ryan Rosenblatt
Our predictions will get even more ridiculous
I predict that it will be another year full of outlandish predictions across the sports media landscape, each person eager to take credit for calling it on the minuscule chance they end up being correct. No one will be held accountable for their picks because who cares, really? It’s all in good fun, and we’re too busy yelling at each other about politics. Also, the Minnesota Twins will win the World Series. – Zack Pierce
The Jacksonville Jaguars win the AFC South
The Jacksonville Jaguars finally, mercifully, have the winning season experts have predicted for several years. New head coach and also former head coach Tom Coughlin demands accountability and punctuality from a talented young group, particularly the defense which finishes in the top 10 in scoring. Quarterback Tony Romo throws for 4,000 yards in his first season in Florida but gets knocked out in Week 15 and Chad Henne takes over. In Week 17, the 9-6 Jaguars face the 9-6 Houston Texans in a game that comes down to a Texans two-point conversion attempt to tie when J.J. Watt takes a direct snap and and charges the A-gap where linebacker Myles Jack meets him in a collision that leaves Watt inches shy of the goal line, and the Jaguars win the AFC South. – Brett Smiley
The 'steroid era' is represented in Cooperstown
One of the players linked to PEDs will be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Bud Selig's election to the Hall has apparently shifted many voters' stance regarding PED use since he was the commissioner when the epidemic was at its height. With so many players on the ballot who would be surefire Hall of Famers if not for the suspicion, I believe enough voters will change their views and one of the no-doubters (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire) will get in, opening the floodgates for the others in the coming years. – Nunzio Ingrassia
Austin Dillon wins Daytona
While his legion of fans are thrilled to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. return to competition in the 2017 Daytona 500, the victory in NASCAR’s biggest race goes to Austin Dillon, who puts the black No. 3 Chevrolet into victory lane for the first time since the late Dale Earnhardt won at Talladega Superspeedway in the fall of 2000. The victory is the first of Dillon’s career after going winless in his first 121 starts.
Earnhardt Jr., meanwhile, makes NASCAR’s Chase by winning the spring race at Richmond International Raceway, which locks him into the sanctioning body’s playoff round.
In a surprise move, three-time NASCAR champion and Indiana native Tony Stewart comes out of retirement in a one-race deal to drive a third Team Penske Ford in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. – Tom Jensen
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The Cavs will beat the Warriors, again
The Cleveland Cavaliers will beat the superteam assembled in Oakland in a second straight finals, this time without having to rally back from down 3-1 or going down to the wire in Game 7. Afterward, LeBron James will cement his legacy as the anti-Michael Jordan in terms of awareness of social issues by refusing an invite to the White House. The ensuing Twitter meltdown will be 'unpresidented.' – Kerouac Smith
Tom Brady gets a 'Presidential pardon' two years after the Deflategame game
On the heels of winning his third MVP, the New England Patriots QB will play his Trump card in his Deflategate battle with Roger Goodell and get the newly elected President to declare that the allegations against Tom Brady were just as unfounded as that Russian election hacking stuff. – Andre Vergara
Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz face off for a blockbuster third fight
Conor McGregor will fight Nate Diaz for a third time and it will be the biggest event in UFC history. McGregor is still celebrating as a two-division champion in the UFC (despite one belt being stripped from him) but when he's finally ready to return in mid-2017 after the birth of his first child, there's no bigger matchup than settling the trilogy with Diaz. McGregor vs. Diaz was the biggest MMA story of 2016 — outside of the UFC selling to new owners — and their third fight will be the biggest fight in combat sports since Mayweather vs. Pacquaio. – Damon Martin
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Jimmie Johnson officially becomes the GOAT
So Jimmie Johnson made history by scoring a record-tying seventh NASCAR Premier Series championship in 2016. You know what that means, don't you? In 2017 Johnson and his crew chief, Chad Knaus, will be more focused than ever to win an eighth title that will separate them forever from Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt. Not only will Johnson achieve this in the upcoming year, but the prediction here is that his record eighth championship will establish a NASCAR record that will never be broken. – Joe Menzer
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Leicester City get relegated a year after winning the Premier League
From dilly-ding, dilly-dong to dilly-ding, dilly gone. The odds have already proven that Leicester's run to the Premier League title in 2015/16 was the unlikeliest in sports history. In 2017, they'll make even more history by becoming the first Premier League champions to be relegated a season after winning the title. As magical as last season was for the Foxes, this season has been a colossal letdown. After 17 matches last season, Leicester City were atop the league with 38 points. In that same timeframe just a year later, the Foxes are 15th with 17 points. They'll have to play some pretty awful soccer from here on out to accomplish the feat, but it's not outside the realm of possibility. And if any teams knows how to defy the odds and pull off a stunner, it's Leicester City. – Alex Dowd