Between a Super Bowl that literally blew the lights out and a fantastic World Series, 2013 provided plenty of sports drama. And 2014 looks to be no different: Free agency has shifted the cards and created new contenders in baseball, the Super Bowl is coming to the Big Apple, and the Winter Olympics in Sochi will provide two weeks of exciting story lines.
Here are seven predictions for the world of sports in 2014:
U.S. & World
The Red Sox won’t repeat: While they will challenge for a playoff spot, too many things have to go right for the Red Sox to get back to the World Series. Other teams are starting to mimic Boston's offseason approach to building the 2013 team — signing short-term deals for more cash — which will make it difficult to steal lightning twice. Losing Jacoby Ellisbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and possibly Stephen Drew will hurt the team’s offense, and replacements Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts and A.J. Pierzynski won’t be able to fill those holes. David Ortiz’s advancing age is a concern as well. Unless Ortiz can duplicate his 2013 numbers and Daniel Nava and Will Middlebrooks continue to develop, the Red Sox won’t have the same punch as they did last season.
The Miami Heat will repeat: With Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, LeBron James and a host of capable veterans like Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers, the Heat has the talent and depth to outplay any team. Barring any real injuries to their big three, the Heat can and will win their third consecutive NBA title.
The LA Kings will win the Stanley Cup: The Kings current record has them near the top of the Pacific Division, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story. For a big chunk of the season, the Kings have been goaltending by committee while the team’s star goaltender Jonathan Quick nursed an injury. While Ben Scrivens and Martin Jones have been stellar in his absence, Quick is the straw that stirs the Kings’ drink. They've also been plagued by injuries, and forwards Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown have been ineffective. Despite their solid record, the Kings could really use the Olympic break to get healthy. Once they get get Quick back and the offense comes alive, you’ll see the refreshed and hit-everything-that-moves team that is capable of anything.
Despite injuries, Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White will contend for gold medals in Sochi: Vonn tore her ACL in November, just nine months after having reconstructive surgery on her ACL and MCL. Shaun White has an ankle injury that might keep him off his snowboard leading up to the Olympics. But both will still contend for medals at the Winter Olympics. White's ankle injury, suffered during a training run in November, doesn't appear too serious. But Vonn has proven to be a marvel of modern medical science. Back on the slopes just nine days after a partial ACL tear, she continues to prove the size of her heart every time she steps onto the slopes. The world’s best downhill skier won’t have it easy, but as long as she doesn’t injure herself further, she should reclaim her gold medal in Sochi.
The Broncos and Saints will meet in the Super Bowl: It will be mega offense vs. mega offense at the Super Bowl. The Saints, powered by quarterback Drew Brees and an improved Rob Ryan-run defense, will join Peyton Manning and his cast of dangerous targets in a game that will be remembered for ages.
There will be major changes to the Dallas Cowboys roster: So many times this season the Cowboys have fallen short in crucial moments. And too many times has the blame fallen on Tony Romo. Romo, who threw for nearly 4,000 yards with just 10 interceptions before suffering a season-ending injury, isn’t the problem. The Cowboys defense has been deplorable, giving up nearly 420 yards of total offense a game through the first 16 weeks of the season. You don’t have to be a football fan to understand that’s not a quarterback’s fault. While injuries to their linebacker corps — especially Shawn Lee, one of the league’s best — have hurt, the Cowboys need a complete overhaul on defense.
Robinson Cano will sink in Seattle: Throughout his career, Cano has averaged 24 homers and 97 RBI a season — something not many second basemen in the big leagues can do. But he's always done it with plenty of support in the Yankees lineup. He’s consistently been surrounded by big bats to draw him quality pitches and to be on base when he has an opportunity to produce. In his nine years in the Bronx, Cano never seemed to be a leader. In a big sports town like New York, where Keith Hernandez, Mickey Mantle and Joe Torre have stood out for their brashness and their heart, Cano will be remembered for his numbers. Can he be the heart and soul of a baseball team? That’s something the Mariners and the $240 million they spent on him need to find out, and fast.