Home Trending Kobe returns and Tebow thrives: our bold sports predictions for 2017

Kobe returns and Tebow thrives: our bold sports predictions for 2017

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On the heels of a sports year that was chock full of surprises, Guardian US contributors make their bold predictions for the months to come

Here are our bold predictions for 2017. Please note the bold (or should that be bold?) in bold predictions these are to be taken with a pinch of salt. Especially the Tebow one.

Kobe Bryant will return from retirement

Few athletes are as prepared for a life after basketball than Kobe, a man of diverse interests and immense worldwide fame. Few athletes also are as ill-suited for retirement than Kobe, who burns to be on the court. These last few months away have to be killing him. He will mount a comeback, though probably not with the Lakers, who are building around a gifted young core of players. Hes always wanted to play for the Knicks. Would Phil Jackson dare drop him on the same floor as Carmelo Anthony? LC

Tiger Woods will win again

The notion that Woods could challenge for, let alone win, major championships was flawed even before his last and lengthy absence through injury. The depth of talent at golfs summit means Woods will always be overawed and outplayed in such environments now.

Still, he can and will win lower grade PGA Tour events. Woods has a propensity to prevail on the same courses, as shown by his record. He retains more competitive ability than some of those who win once or twice on Tour in any given year. If fitness troubles really are behind Woods, he will return to the podium. Then? Cue more major discussion. EM

An American not named Serena will win a grand slam title

Serena Williams did win Wimbledon six months ago, so lets not put her in the ground just yet. But shes now closer to 40 than 30 and theres no question her stranglehold on the womens tour was weakened during a year that saw the late-blooming Angelique Kerber win a pair of major titles to inherit the world No1 ranking on merit. The door has never been more open for the sports 90s babies. Garbie Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova took advantage in 2016; Madison Keys will follow this year. The 21-year-old from Illinois, who has played into the second week at the last six majors, has all the shots, and power on both wings. Look for her to put it all together and become the first American woman not named Williams to capture a major singles title since Jennifer Capriati in 2002. BAG

A wildcard team will win Super Bowl LI

The NFL playoffs do not favor wildcard teams. To win the Super Bowl as a wildcard you have to win on the road three straight weeks and beat three of the leagues top teams. That said, it has happened six times before. Three of the last 11 Super Bowl champions came into the postseason as wildcards and 2017s will as well. With no great, dominant team, the path is wide open. The Lions stumbled late in the season but still have a potent offense and the Patriots would rather forget their Super Bowls against the Giants and Eli Manning. LC

Villanova will finish the regular season undefeated

Villanova
Villanova are looking hot again this season. Photograph: Steven Branscombe/USA Today Sports

The Wildcats have moved to No1 in the polls, but virtually no analysts predicted a repeat for a Villanova team that returned most of its title-winning 2016 team. Aside from a shaky performance against DePaul late in 2016, the Wildcats have been stellar this season. Josh Hart has been the best player in the country, Jalen Brunson generates offense at will when he has the ball and Villanova are hitting their threes something they didnt do until the tournament last season. Ken Pomeroys stats say the Wildcats have less than a 2% chance to go undefeated in the regular season, but with this team I like those odds. DM

Sebastian Giovinco will return to Europe

Arguably the best player in the history of Major League Soccer, Sebastian Giovinco has made himself a superstar at Toronto FC. But his success has come at a cost. Italy manager Giampiero Ventura, just like Antonio Conte before him, says the playmaker has no international future as long as he is a MLS player. And so Giovinco could be tempted back to Europe, especially with the 2018 World Cup coming into view. GR

Tim Tebow will thrive as a baseball player

At first glance, it seems that New York Mets farmhand Tim Tebow, super-athlete and light of all of our lives, sufficiently failed during his stint in the Arizona Fall League, and thats probably because of his measly slash line of .194/.296/.242 over 70 plate appearances. Tebow did not hit a single home run, but he did help save a fan having a seizure, staying with him until the paramedics arrived, and so its probably safe to say that the outfielder is more Moonlight Graham than Babe Ruth, right? Not so fast: Tebow was competing against some of the best prospects baseball has to offer, and picked up steam as he went, finishing with an 11-game stretch where he hit .281 and posted an OBP of.425. In 2017, the Mets defy all logic and expectations by their May promotion of a surging Tebow to help with their sagging mid-week attendance. The Wilpons sell a package they call Tebow Tuesdays, which promises at least one pinch-hit appearance per-game and private autograph sessions for the first 50 to sign up. Tebow not only survives, but prospers, becoming a cornerstone in the Mets lineup as they win their first title since 1986. DL

Tom Brady will finally show signs of age

Tom
Tom Brady stays ahead of the youngsters … for now. Photograph: Reinhold Matay/USA Today Sports

Tom Brady will turn 40 before the 2017 season. Saying a 40-year old athlete in a contact sport will look his age doesnt seem especially bold, but in Bradys case, it is. In his age 39 season this year, hes the favorite for league MVP and is having one of the best seasons of his career. But Peyton Mannings performance fell of a cliff from his age 38 to 39 seasons and Brett Favres did the same in the only season he opened as a 40 year-old. Maybe Brady stretches his youth a year or two beyond that pair, but the end is coming. Soon. Time, unlike the 2007 New England Patriots, is undefeated. DG

Floyd Mayweather makes a face turn

No one believes hes really retired, even if more than 15 months have passed since he last climbed through the ropes. Not when one more fight could lift him to the singular mark of 50-0, one better than Rocky Marcianos recognized paragon of fistic perfection. Not when he can effectively name his own price as a free agent, having fulfilled his six-fight contract with CBS and Showtime.

Many insiders believe a rematch with Manny Pacquiao looms, which, despite the tart aftertaste of their first installment, would still be the second-richest fight in history. But it says here Mayweather will instead opt to fight Adrien Broner, an opponent who hardly deserves the opportunity but one who would allow Floyd to take on the unfamiliar role of good guy in the promotion.

Eight-figure paydays werent the norm for Mayweather until he turned heel, trading in his polite and humble Pretty Boy Floyd persona for a pantomime villain whom more fans pay to watch lose than watch win. But just because he made the business decision to break bad doesnt mean he doesnt care about people liking him. By going against the one fighter in the world more disliked than himself, Mayweather will exit the game as the cowboy in the white hat. BAG

Los Angeles will be awarded the 2024 Olympics

Maybe this doesnt qualify as a bold prediction, after all most of the other competitors have dropped out. But Los Angeles was once eliminated as a contender after the USOC chose Boston as the American city to push. It has never seemed like LA was a favorite of anyone to host the games for a third time. The other competitors Paris and Budapest are more appealing choices. And yet LA might be the perfect Olympic city. The facilities are already in place. It could probably host the Games next year. For this reason Los Angeles will be the safe choice. Probably the only choice. LC

Ronda Rousey doubles down … and wins big

After being embarrassed by Amanda Nunes in Las Vegas on Friday, many have speculated that Ronda Rousey wont fight again. Shes noncommittal but we say she will enter the octagon in the first half of the new year, before Conor McGregor even books another fight, and get back to her winning ways. It wont be at 135lbs, however. Rousey will venture up to the featherweight division and chase down a fight with Cris Cyborg Justino (presuming she available after a PED tussle with Usada) in a last ditch effort to rebuild herself as a competitor and secure one more big-money fight. JG

The Washington Nationals will miss the playoffs

Although the Nationals did win the NL East by eight games in 2016, repeating in 2017 will be substantially more difficult. They should not expect Daniel Murphy to have the monster season that he had in 2016. Washington was also reportedly chasing some bigger names this offseason including starting pitcher Chris Sale and closer Kenley Jansen, among others, but were unable to land them. While having Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper on a roster can make any team a playoff contender, there are questions surrounding their role players including an oft-injured Ryan Zimmerman and an aging Jayson Werth. With the Mets power arms returning from injury, and other NL teams including the St Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants making moves this offseason, the Nationals will have a rockier road to October. EF

An NFL player will come out as gay

Michael
Michael Sam was the first openly gay player drafted in NFL history. Photograph: Jasen Vinlove/USA Today Sports

An active NFL player, one known to casual fans, will come out as gay. As of now, the specter of Michael Sam, the defensive end who came out prior to the NFL draft and ended up never playing in a regular season game, looms over the league as a missed opportunity. Sams story isnt one that anyone wants to see repeated. Because of this, I fully expect the first out athlete in the league to be someone who is already established as an NFL-caliber player and has had significant experience dealing with the national media, two advantages that Sam never had. HF

The NHL takes actual steps to increase scoring

Yes, I know. This is supposed to be a bold prediction, and suggesting that a pro sports league will try to boost offense doesnt exactly sound like going out on a limb. Every league knows that scoring sells, and every league makes sure the rulebook encourages plenty of it. Its sports marketing 101.

But this is the NHL were talking about. The league has been talking about boosting offense for over two decades literally but they never actually do it. This year, the decided theyd tweak the goaltending equipment. Then, whoops, they didnt make the adjustments in time, so nothing changed. Thats just how things go in the NHL.

But I think this year could be different. Maybe its wishful thinking, but todays NHL is packed with exciting young talent like we havent seen in a generation. Surely now is the time to let them shine. Surely now is when well finally get some forward thinking from a league addicted to its past. Surely we cant do three straight decades of plunging scoring rates while the powers that be twiddle their thumbs and wonder why ratings are down.

Or maybe we can. But you asked for something bold. In the NHL, sadly, this qualifies. SM

The Los Angeles Lakers will make the NBA playoffs

I can hear you rolling your eyes through the computer. Real cute, but these predictions are supposed to be bold, right? The Lakers are currently only two games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Granted, they are also only three games ahead of the cellar-dwelling Phoenix Suns, but that just goes to show you how mushy and undefined the bottom of the West is right now. Anyone could catch fire for a few weeks and find themselves volunteering to be demolished by the Warriors in four games this spring.

The Lakers were hovering around .500 before Thanksgiving, then lost 12 of 13 during a brutal road trip made worse by injuries to Julius Randle, DAngelo Russell, Nick Young, and Larry Nance Jr. A healthy Laker team still cant play much defense, but they can score against anybody, as wins over the Warriors, Thunder, Rockets, and a short-handed Clippers team proves. Most importantly, they have as good a chance as anyone in the West basement. The Kings, Pelicans, Mavericks, Timberwolves, and Blazers all have true superstars, but what the Lakers can offer is something close to the team cohesion that defines the elite squads in the NBA. This is still a rough unit that is dragging a few ridiculous contracts down the court each night, but they have as good as chance as anyone right now. DS

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jan/02/bold-sports-predictions-for-2017