New Year’s is almost upon us, with several major championships coming up and a lot to engage the excitement of fans and sports bettors in 2016. We’ll keep providing those who utilize our handicapping consulting services with picks to enhance their pocketbook, but for now we’d like to take one last moment to look back and reflect on the year we just had.
This was a year in which Mayweather knocked out Pacquiao so quickly that PPV subscribers were left wondering why they didn’t just watch the fight later on YouTube. The same happened to Ronda Rousey, who was knocked out for the first time in her career (although it took much longer, as it should have). Tennis fans got to see Serena and Venus play against each other, and soccer fans who enjoy video games witnessed the first-ever inclusion of female teams by EA Sports. We were a bit upset that sports betting didn’t get legalized, and fantasy sports is being restricted due to the actions of a few DraftKings and FanDuel employees. But at least we got that awesome new sports betting website by Evander Holyfield.
Of course, most of what we discussed above pertains to sports that our services don’t cover. As for the worlds of hockey, basketball, baseball and football, there were quite a few major happenings. We would now like to discuss each of them in brief.
Best Moments in the NHL
As far as the NHL is concerned, one of the biggest sports moments of 2015 was the Chicago Blackhawks winning the 2015 Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks didn’t do anything crazy with the trophy, but right winger Kris Versteeg did sing a few off-key lines of Macklemore’s “And We Danced” with some help from center Joakim Nordstrom. In case you missed it the first time around, we’ll let you take a moment to soak it in.
Awful, right? In any case, while it was MVP defenseman Duncan Keith who made the game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup, the calendar year has been largely defined by right wing Patrick Kane. He scored in 72.6% of his games in 2015, with goals in 29 games leading up to the Stanley Cup and a remarkable 26 games straight since the start of the 2015-16 season. Of the 10 games outside of that streak, he’s only failed to score in four of them. He’s one to watch this season. Another one to watch is Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, who won 1,144 face-offs this year. No other player in the NHL has even broken one thousand this year. Considering his overall percentage of successful draws is actually only second-highest in the league, this number indicates that Bergeron is doing a great job of getting himself into the action. Too bad the Bruins aren’t doing better as a team.
The other major happening in the NHL this year wasn’t really a “moment,” but it’s led to quite a few of them. This year, the league premiered their new 3-on-3 overtime rule, which has led to some exciting OT wins over the first two months of the season. We noted in our Eastern Conference and Western Conference predictions that the vast majority of games have been won outside of regulation time, so this has been a good season to see the new rule in action. It should be exciting to see how things unfold over the coming months, as more and more teams continue adjusting their strategies to the new rule in 2016.
Best Moments in College Basketball
Everyone’s familiar with March Madness, but the amazing moments began for the NCAA from the very start of the year. In late January, Coach Mike Krzyzewski brought his Duke Blue Devils to Madison Square Garden. In the last quarter, they found themselves 10 points behind. Luckily, they had just over eight minutes to make a push to victory. In doing so, Coach K became the first Division I coach in NCAA history to net one thousand total wins over the course of his career. The last few plays were something to behold, so we’ll go ahead and give you the video below.
March Madness is where 2015 really hit its stride, especially as the Kentucky Wildcats went into the bracket with an undefeated season. They nearly lost to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (who hadn’t played a regional championship in three dozen years), but they managed to just barely pull ahead. After making it to the Final Four, their luck finally ran out. Playing against the Wisconsin Badgers, they were unable to stop center Frank Kaminsky from taking the lead. Back then, we had named him one of the most overvalued players of the season. And at the time that was written, he certainly had his flaws. But he kept Kentucky from becoming the undefeated champions of the season, right before his own Badgers fell to Duke and gave Coach K another victory worth celebrating. Duke fans are pretty loyal (and usually not too crazy), assuming each year that their team is destined for victory. In 2015, they were right. By the way, it’s worth noting that many commentators and analysts credited the largely unremarkable freshman guard Grayson Allen for the bulk of the win. So even if Kaminsky wasn’t overvalued, someone else was clearly undervalued.
Wisconsin may have lost, but they still had a lot going for them. Coach Bo Ryan can largely be credited with their trip to the Division I Tournament, and he had taken them to thirteen before that. In 43 years before Ryan signed on to coach the Badgers, they had only been given 7 shots at victory. Their game against Duke was their first shot at the title in 74 years. Wisconsin performed well under Ryan. That’s why it seemed so monumental when, just about two weeks ago, he announced his retirement. It was a sudden announcement, to the extent that some have developed wild theories that Ryan was simply trying to help assistant Greg Gard advance his career by performing as interim coach. If this theory is true, then Ryan may return to coach again. If not, then he’ll be missed as Gard attempts to lead a currently middling team back to the bracket in 2016.
Best Moments in the NBA
There were a lot of big stories in the NBA this year, but there are perhaps three that are among the biggest sports stories of 2015. The first was the amazing run of the Golden State Warriors, as they managed to win rings against forward LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Many fans had simply assumed that the Cavs would win, with no other reason than the belief that no one could beat LeBron. Point guard Stephen Curry, who was just awarded the title of AP Male Athlete of the Year, helped prove them all wrong as Golden State completed a whirlwind season in glorious fashion. Still, the Cavs performed well with LeBron back on their side, having returned to Cleveland in 2014 (four years after making “The Decision” to leave). Interesting side note: Aside from Curry, LeBron is one of only four basketball players to win AP Male Athlete of the Year in the 85 years that the award has existed. The other two were Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. Many are excited to see what we can expect from both Curry and LeBron this year. Now, apropos of nothing, we’d like to remind you about The LeBrons, James’ animated series from back in 2011.
Another major NBA story actually came to us from off the court, when star Lamar Odom was found unconscious in a brothel near Vegas. Khloe Kardashian stayed by his side, despite relationship issues the two had suffered in the past. Although this story broke in October, it is still ongoing. Odom is off of life support completely, but he is still experiencing memory loss and some loss of motor functions. The general suspicions of many are that drug abuse was somehow involved in the incident, but nobody actually knows for sure. All we can say is that if an overdose was enough to keep him in the hospital for two and a half months, then he’s probably lucky to be alive.
As far as this season is concerned, the main story on many people’s minds has been that the Warriors somehow managed to win 24 games straight, whereas the previous record was a mere 15. But the other big story this season is that Kobe Bryant has announced his retirement. That means that there will no longer be jokes about how #8, not #24, was the sex offender. As painful as it will be to lose this particular dead horse of a joke, many seem to have forgotten about it altogether. Numerous teams and stadiums have paid tribute to the Los Angeles Lakers’ shooting guard in their recent games, and it appears as if many are genuinely sorry to see him go. Despite the many criticisms of his ego and questionable legal history, he certainly made an impact on the court. He acknowledged in his retirement announcement that his skills have been failing him, and that it was time for him to bid adieu. Frankly, he should have held out. Even with his faltering skills, he still could have earned a participation trophy.
Best Moments in the MLB
Oddly enough, one of the first big sports stories in baseball this year revolved around comedic actor Will Ferrell. In an effort to raise money for his charity, Cancer for College, Ferrell teamed up with Funny or Die to shoot an HBO special entitled Ferrell Takes the Field. Over the course of a single day during spring training, Ferrell played all ten positions for ten different teams. He had a few good plays (including a 0.00 ERA), but most of his turns on the field were about as bad as you could expect. For our money, the highlight was simply a few minutes he spent as third base coach, during which he held up humorous signs with words of wisdom such as “SWING AS HARD AS YOU CAN” and “DON’T PULL A MUSCLE.” He also landed a helicopter on the middle of a field while the speakers blasted “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” recalling a popular SNL sketch. The special itself earned a pretty lackluster review from Variety, but it was done in good spirit. If you missed the special back in September, you can still watch the trailer and decide if it’s worth watching on HBO GO.
When the proper season began, many eyes were on New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. He was just returning from the fallout of his PED scandal, and many were wondering how he would do. But as it turns out, A-Rod was not necessarily the most notable player this year. In fact, one of his own records was beaten by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim center fielder Mike Trout, who is now the youngest MLB player ever to achieve both 100 career home runs and 100 stolen bases. He also won MVP at the 2015 All-Star Game, despite the ballot stuffing that filled the diamond with members of the Kansas City Royals. This was one of the All-Star Game’s biggest highlights, another being the participation of Pete Rose in the ceremonies. It was revealed this year that his betting career started a bit earlier than he had led us to believe, so he probably won’t be making the Hall of Fame. Still, it’s sort of nice to see that the MLB hasn’t completely excluded him from participating in their events.
Finally, we come to the 2015 World Series. We had predicted that the Kansas City Royals would win in Game 5 after losing Game 3 to the New York Mets, and that turned out to be exactly what happened. It’s probably the most specific prediction that’s ever been made on this blog, so we naturally went out for some celebratory hot dogs (no ketchup, of course). While Kansas City may have walked away with a World Series win, that’s not to say that the Mets didn’t have an excellent season. Probably the best season was had by pitcher Bartolo Colon, who managed a streak of 31 scoreless innings this year. In doing so, he set a record for the longest such streak by a pitcher 42 years of age or older. The previous record? Well, that would be 27 innings, held by none other than Cy Young, the namesake of the Cy Young Award. With that kind of talent on their team, we’re hoping to see the Mets do even better in 2016.
Oh, and somewhere in the middle of the season, the St. Louis Cardinals “hacked” the Houston Astros with a stolen password. But that was just funny.
Best Moments in College Football
This was a big year for controversy in NCAA Football. One of the stories that may have escaped your notice was a run of academic fraud scandals involving multiple colleges. This led to a belief that schools needed to crack don’t on “no pass, no play” rules, although our prediction is that there will likely be at least a few of these scandals every year. Another major scandal involved two Florida State Seminoles (quarterback De’Andre Johnson and running back Dalvin Cook) assaulting women in or outside of bars. There were other controversies, but the other particularly big one was Steve Sarkisian getting fired from the USC Trojans after drinking and abusing painkillers before USC functions and games.
Steve Sarkisian wasn’t the only coach this season whose ability to coach was called into play. Many fans of the LSU Tigers believed that running back Leonard Fournette would take them to an undefeated season this year. After suffering three losses in a row and failing to make the SEC Championship (although still having a pretty decent season overall), many fans turned coat and decided that it was time to fire Les Miles from the coaching job he’s held since 2005. Some thought that the notion was ridiculous, while others defended it to the core. Some have even cited the resignation of Steve Spurrier, one of the coaches who helped define the SEC, as evidence that some coaches must leave for the benefit of the team. To be fair, Miles probably should have started calling more passing plays when the “give the ball to Fournette” strategy stopped working. Still, that doesn’t mean he should be fired. We have a pretty big Texas Longhorns fan on our staff (don’t ask us why), and you didn’t see us saying they should fire Charlie Strong from his second-year coaching position after talented placekicker Nick Rose shanked it for a loss on their first game. Because that was Rose’s fault. Apparently, knowing how to kick an 80-yard field goal outside of practice or get it through the uprights while doing a backflip doesn’t say much about in-game performance.
Sorry for the tangent. Kickers are one of those positions nobody notices until they mess up. We’re as guilty of that as anybody else. Hopefully, the upcoming influx of student kickers from Prokick Australia will do something to change that. We’re praying for it anyway. Until then, here’s a funny video about kickers to apologize for the tirade.
Anyway, while many believed that the SEC wouldn’t make it all the way this season, that seems to have changed. People were specifically worried after the Alabama Crimson Tide lost in Tuscaloosa to the Ole Miss Rebels. But as we mentioned in our CFP National Championship predictions, that was the only game they lost. With a nearly undefeated regular season behind them, they now advance to the semifinals. On New Year’s Eve, we’ll get to see them square off against the Michigan State Spartans while the Clemson Tigers face the Oklahoma Sooners. It’s quite likely that we’ll get to see two excellent teams, Alabama and Clemson, face each other in the finals when 2016 rolls around.
But really, it doesn’t matter who wins. We still aren’t going to pay them. Not well, anyway.
Best Moments in the NFL
Maybe there’s just something about the sport of football that attracts controversy, because there was quite a bit in the NFL this year as well. In a way, the first major controversy of the year was the last play by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2015 Super Bowl, when they threw the ball for an interception instead of allowing running back Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch to carry it in. Then we had the infamous Deflategate, the ongoing Washington Redskins naming controversy, and too many players encountering legal troubles for us to name them all. At the heart of it all, many began to wonder if the NFL was in good hands. Commissioner Roger Goodell’s competence has been called into question numerous times, especially because of Deflategate. First the suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was upheld, then it was reversed after appeal. And Brady was grinning the whole way to the bank, because let’s face it—he probably cheated.
After his suspension’s reversal, Brady was one of five NFL teams to remain undefeated several games into the season. The only team to almost make it through the entire season undefeated was the Carolina Panthers, who unfortunately lost their most recent game right after we predicted that they wouldn’t. Still, 14-2 or 15-1 wouldn’t exactly be terrible. But the Pats and the Panthers weren’t the only amazing teams this year. The Denver Broncos performed admirably through most of the season, until quarterback Peyton Manning was put out for the season due to injury. The Dallas Cowboys looked like they might have a good season until they lost quarterback Tony Romo for eight games. After he came back for a Thanksgiving match-up against the Panthers that many thought he would win, he was injured yet again. The long history of Thanksgiving football can now add one of the most disappointing losses in Dallas—even if it was half-expected by some. The only highlight of the Cowboys’ game was the fact that they had the one decent Color Rush uniform of the year, far better than the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets uniforms that wreaked havoc and confusion upon colorblind viewers.
Despite several controversies and disappointments this season, there were a few bright spots as well. In the wake of Ballghazi, the NFL enacted new rules for football inspection that should prevent future scandals of its kind. They also enacted a new kicking rule this year, pushing back the PATs. This was supposed to help prevent concussions, although numerous players have still suffered them this season. Which stands to reason, since the hardest action doesn’t always occur at the goal line. Still, it’s added a bit more strategy to the game that has slightly changed our general handicapping guidelines. So while sports organizations may not be receiving as much money from Anheuser-Busch in a few years, we still get to enjoy the sport with an added sense of integrity, strategy, and possible safety. Whether or not Dr. Bennet Omalu did as much for this last issue as Concussion made it seem is something we couldn’t tell you, but it’s nice to know that some of our favorite players might be around for a few more years. We’ll be looking forward to betting on some of them when it comes time to enjoy the 2016 Super Bowl.
Speaking of which, we don’t even know the halftime act for Super Bowl 50 yet. As we anticipate a hopefully epic lineup, enjoy this video of the real NFL highlight from 2015—Katy Perry and a bunch of dancing sharks.
Happy New Year!!!
We probably missed a story or two up there. We didn’t have much time to talk about possible future MLB player Melissa Mayeux, or possible future baseball GM Kim Ng. Maybe we’ll see them on the field as we’re watching some singer butcher the National Anthem in a few years. Who knows? Either way, neither Grantland nor The Undefeated will be around to cover it, and we might not even be watching on our TVs.
There’s a big future ahead of us, and it’s beginning quite soon. So let’s take this opportunity to put 2015 behind us. The controversies are mostly over, to be replaced soon by new ones, and at least some of the records set over the course of this year may be broken in the next. There really is no telling where things may go from here, and futures bets aren’t really our main business. For now, we would simply like to thank you for your readership, as well as your subscriptions to our services. Your patronage has meant a lot to us, and we hope that our business has meant something to you.
Happy New Year’s, sports fans and bettors. 2015 has been a good one.