The SportsTalk Shop: 2016 Predictions: Mid-Year Update

Each December both here at the “SportsTalk Shop” and on our TV show, “SportsTalk”, panelists and I make some sports-based predictions for the new year.  I don’t get caught up in the prediction business ordinarily, but it’s become a bit of a tradition around the holidays to make a couple bold statements to go along with resolutions (of which I don’t do nearly as well).

While some sports prognosticators love to boast about how accurate they are with their futuristic insights, I make it a habit of going back and making public my predictions, and owning up to any that don’t come true.  (I’d also like to take a miniscule amount of credit for the ones that work out—I’m owed at least as much, right?)

Since we’re over the halfway point through the calendar year, and before we start ramping up our fall football coverage (which will be bigger and better than ever before!), I think I should take a peek at how some of my predictions are holding up and make myself accountable for any gaffes on my part.

Philly pro sports teams will win LESS games in 2016
The 2015-16 76ers certainly lived up to their end of my prediction.  Aside from forcing out the team’s General Manager, Sam Hinkie, they were near perfect in their quest for futility, reaching new levels of bad play, even with pressure from Jerry Colangelo (and the league office?) to try to improve.

My prediction will take a hit with the idea that the Sixers will try to go after some more recognizable free agency in all probability this offseason.  They might also win a few more games than expected if they select Brandon Ingram with the first pick in this month’s NBA Draft.  Selecting Ingram would make the team better—short-term—than if they select Ben Simmons or even draft down a few spots, but I don’t see that much improvement in November and December and still believe they’ll ring up more losses in the 2016 calendar year than they lost in 2015 (but the future is very bright for 2017).

I knew the Flyers were going to be improved, but had no idea that they would be as exciting to watch this past season as they were, to say nothing about making the playoffs and having a few good moments against the Capitals before losing to Washington in the first round of the NHL playoffs.  This team ramped up the speed of its rebuild and, with a few tweaks, will be a middle-of-the-pack playoff team, in not better, for next season.

The Phillies also have surprised me with better than average starting pitching, and the bullpen overcame a woeful start to the season and has pitched better, helping the team to a slightly better record than I had anticipated.  This, despite a woeful offense that had seven position players on the roster hitting below .200 after the first month of the season.

However, the Phillies fell (like a plummeting cannon ball) back to Earth hard and fast during the month of May and show very little signs of making a push to get back above, or probably even near, .500 this summer.

With less than half of the Major League baseball season remaining—which will still probably have more losses than wins, and an Eagles team in, at the very least, a retooling stage following the car wreck of the Chip Kelly Era, I’d say I still have a good chance at nailing this prediction.

The Wizards, Nationals AND Redskins – will have even greater success in 2016
With over half of the MLB season and the entire NFL season yet to come (and I’m looking pretty good for both of these teams), we only have the Wizards to look at.  And on the prediction that they would have a better 2016…I admit I put up a major “airball.”

Off a second-round playoff appearance and loss to a high-quality team, I thought the Wizards could improve and—with the right match-up–the Wiz could actually advance a round further.  However, not only did they take took a major step back in win total, they also didn’t qualify for the post-season, ushering in a quick replacement at the helm by bringing in Scott Brooks (formerly of Oklahoma City) as a new head coach.

Rumors of discontent and players “trading barbs” (according to the Washington CBS sports radio station) spread wildly as they limped home to close out the regular season out of the playoffs.  There are different reports as far as remaining free agent possibilities and other speculation about what direction the team could go in.  Also, players are a little less secure than this time a year ago and the forecast is more ambiguous as far as how good this team will be for the upcoming season, even with one of the most exciting, yet underrated players, in John Wall back on board.  I’ll stick to my guns and say they make a jump for the 2016-17 campaign.

Notice, I did NOT include the Capitals in this mix.  Their back-to-back premature failings in the playoffs have me worried about their future, and I’ll also continue to say (as I did following their playoff exit) that they might actually take a step back in the upcoming year.

2016 will be a successful District XI Wrestling season
I have never claimed to be a wrestling expert, but the fact that we had so many talented underclassmen returning for the 2015-16 wrestling season made it easy for me to say that the Lehigh Valley would have tremendous success at the state tournament in Hershey.

Not only did Bethlehem Catholic come away with convincing (mostly dominating) performances in the team PIAA competitions, but they accomplished this goal against the best the state of Pennsylvania had to offer, by competing in the 3A classifications (as critics had ask for, for a number of seasons).

Individually, District XI featured eight gold medalists and 20 overall medal winners.  Special props go out to Palisades’ Tyler Marsh, the lone wrestler in the RCN viewing area to receive the top scholar athlete award.

For an area that has had a long tradition of great wrestling success, it was a tremendous season all the way around for many different schools and I can unequivocally chalk this one up as one I got correct.

Stay tuned for more sports conversations coming up and don’t forget to check back later in the year as I take a look at the rest of my predictions to see how I fared.

The SportsTalk Shop: Mid-Year Predictions – Part 2

Recently here at the “Shop,” we took a look at some of the predictions I made last winter to see how I did.  Today, I look ahead to the next several months and guarantee* they come true!

1)  PREDICTION:  This fall’s HS football season will be more competitive than last year’s.
Last year, it was virtually Parkland and Easton as the favorites in District XI’s EPC league and Northwestern and Southern Lehigh, with Saucon Valley rising to prominence in the Colonial League.  There seemed to be a “next level” of several teams right below the top squads, and then another grouping of teams below them.  This made for a rather predictable season, with hardly any upsets or teams beating other squads not quite at the same talent-level.  While the Trojans and Red Rovers are the early favorites once again in the EPC, I see several teams stepping up and providing tougher competition, making for a more balanced schedule this fall.  Also, among the Colonial teams, Saucon Valley is the only one of the top three that didn’t suffer a huge number of graduate losses and many of the league’s teams that struggled in 2014 will be improved.  After the Panthers?  I could see Northern Lehigh, Northwestern, Southern Lehigh, Pen Argyl, Palmerton and maybe even Salisbury, Wilson or another team all playing competitive football.

I think it will be much more difficult for the football prognosticators to accurately figure out which teams will have the most success, and make for many more “even” games to watch this fall.  For more on the upcoming high school football season, make sure you tune into our “SportsTalk: HS Football Preview” show on RCN-TV on Thursday, August 27, at 7pm—complete with coach and player interviews, insights, analysis, and predictions on many of the teams in the RCN coverage area.

2)   PREDICTION:  Emotions will be running at an all-time high for Eagles fans this season.
We’ll be talking more about the Birds on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” show with legendary play-by-play broadcaster Merrill Reese, complete with his thoughts on the team’s offseason moves and updates from Eagles training camp.  But regardless of how Philadelphia does this fall, when you tear apart a team—personnel-wise—and move some of the region’s most popular players for ‘high-risk’ returns (see Kiko Alonso’s concussion injury this weekend), fans have been stirred-up for this team well before training camp even started this summer.  The overly passionate fan base has been building emotional steam for months and it won’t take much for people to start boiling over and voicing their excitement/anger (based on a win or loss) with Chip Kelly early and often this fall.

3)  “Stone-Cold Lock” PREDICTION:  The next 12 months will be a banner year for DC sports fans.
I think the Nationals will persevere through an incredible amount of injuries.  The Mets did make some nice moves at the non-waiver deadline, but I still believe that quality pitching—and Washington has a ton—must get the edge.  The impressive return of Stephen Strasburg this weekend can only help, and I think the Nats will soon gain momentum and retake the NL East League.  Even if they don’t and have to settle for a Wild Card berth, with the arms the Nationals have, I think they can challenge any potential National League opponent, perhaps with the exception of the Dodgers, the team that scares me the most.

But the Nats’ potential deep run in the playoffs won’t be the only reason for optimism for Washington sports fans in the near future.  The Redskins will have six wins and improved play (and boast closer margins in their losses than last year).  I also think Georgetown—in both football and basketball—will have solid campaigns.  If you haven’t noticed, Mike Lonergan has transformed the George Washington men’s basketball program and shows no signs of slowing down, and American will again be a major force in what’s shaping up to be another competitive Patriot League season.

I also think the Wizards and Capitals will also continue to improve on the court and ice, respectively, all making for what I feel could be the best stretch of professional and collegiate sports action the DC area has seen in decades.

And even if the Nats don’t get to the World Series—which, granted, will be a major disappointment, they still have a boat-load of talent that will return.  The Nats will still have work to do in the off-season picking and choosing which of their free agents they will bring back, but I think with Max Scherzer in tow, anchoring the staff, there won’t be a major drop-off in 2016.

There you have it.  Mark it down…and we’ll check back to see in a few months how these predictions fared.

*NOTE: ”guaranteed” is used in the most relative-term possible.