This week, TIME released its first annual guide to the year ahead — pick it up today on newsstands and the new tablet you got for Christmas! In this issue, we forecast all kinds of things: the weather, who will become famous, Twitter’s business model. (Apparently it has one.) A private intelligence firm predicts the political climate in Middle East countries (“Bahrain will remain under heavy Saudi influence and continue to host a significant Gulf Cooperation Council security presence”), and our Pulitzer Prize–winning military correspondent tells us how drones will continue to kick ass (“Better radar-absorbing coatings as well as improved electronic defenses will give next-gen drones a better chance when flying through hostile airspace”).
But for some reason, TIME’s print editors didn’t ask its moderately intelligent, non–Pulitzer Prize–winning sports guy to expertly forecast the wins and losses of 2012. That’s probably because when it comes to sports predictions, almost everyone is an idiot. (I’ll take special honors for my 2008 story on why the Cubs would win the World Series and my call that the San Diego Chargers would make the Super Bowl in 2007, when the New England Patriots bounced them in the divisional round.) At this point last year, for example, did anyone foresee that Joe Paterno, of all people, would be fired in disgrace? Or that Virginia Commonwealth University would make it to the Final Four, facing Butler University in the national semifinals? Or that Butler would make it back to the national championship game? Or that Tim Tebow would pull off all those fourth-quarter comebacks?
Predictions are difficult to nail. But they’re fun as hell. So here are TIME’s definitive sports predictions for 2012. We’ll even break them down into three categories, as follows:
1. The Miami Heat win the 2012 NBA title. As much as we all like to say the Heat blew it last year, remember: despite the team’s shoddy start, it still reached Game 6 of the finals. This year, Miami looks strong early. LeBron James will enjoy his moment of redemption.
2. The Green Bay Packers repeat as Super Bowl champs. They have Aaron Rodgers, all those talented receivers and home-field advantage — two games at Lambeau Field — during January’s NFC playoffs. ‘Nuff said.
3. Usain Bolt wins the 100-m Olympic gold. Though he won’t break his world-record time, 9.58 sec., set at the 2009 world championships. Yohan Blake, Bolt’s training partner and the 100-m champ at the 2011 championships, is a worthy upstart rival. But let’s face it: without Bolt’s false start in the worlds final, we’d barely know Blake’s name.
4. Spain wins Euro 2012. No one has yet figured out how to take the ball away from the world’s most elegant soccer team. At least that’s what Bill Saporito, TIME’s soccer expert, told me. So if this is wrong, please laugh at him.
5. The Texas Rangers win the World Series. Twice in 2011, they were one strike away from victory. And although Texas lost top pitcher C.J. Wilson to free agency, the Rangers have acquired the negotiating rights to Yu Darvish, the premier pitcher in Japan. Look for the Rangers to ink Darvish to a rich contract and raise the World Series trophy for the first time since the birth of the franchise in 1961.
1. Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather will fight. Or at least set a firm date to fight in 2013. Why? Because the two best boxers on the planet should actually box. Humans can ignore logic for only so long.
2. Albert Pujols disappoints in Anaheim. This isn’t to say he won’t slug his fair share of home runs. But will he be worth the $250 million price tag? Don’t bet on it.
3. The NHL does something about fighting. The league won’t ban it outright immediately, but it will have to take some action. The sport is dealing with a serious concussion crisis — among other stars with concussion problems, Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby got walloped in the head on Jan. 1, 2011, and was out of action for practically the whole year — and the fallout from the deaths of three enforcers this summer. The league can start with harsher fines for dropping the gloves and longer penalty-box stays for sluggers. Right now, fighting gets you only five minutes.
4. Harvard will make its first appearance in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament since 1946 — and do more. The Crimson, ranked 24th in the nation right now, will win a first-round March Madness game. We’re not ready to call the Ivy Leaguers a Sweet Sixteen team. But the Crimson start five upperclassmen and have high-level athletes, sweet shooters and skilled interior force in senior Keith Wright, the reigning league MVP. A deep Harvard run would shock no one.
5. Tiger Woods wins a major. Imagine: just two years ago, this statement would have belonged in the No Duh section above. But it’s been a long couple of years for Tiger; in December, he finally won his first tournament since coming back from his 2009 sex scandal. His 15th major is next.
C’mon, Really, Dude?
1. Andrew Luck will, in fact, suck. When you incessantly rhyme those two words in a manner that broadcasts a player’s future NFL greatness — fans of lousy NFL teams wanted them to “suck for Luck,” i.e. finish with the worst record in the league in order to take the Stanford quarterback with the top pick in the draft — he’s bound to disappoint. If the Colts lose this weekend, they “earn” the No. 1 pick. But a Colts win and a Rams loss would let St. Louis snare Luck. (The Rams, who picked Heisman-winning QB Sam Bradford with the first overall pick in 2010, would likely seek a trade.) We say: better play to win.
2. Theo Epstein will do wonders for the Chicago Cubs — but they won’t win the division. Chicago’s new president of baseball operations, who built two World Series–winning teams in Boston, could secure the Cubs their first championship since 1908 — but not right away. Remember, we’re talking about the Cubs. Meanwhile, the rest of the NL Central has problems of its own. The Houston Astros are horrid. The St. Louis Cardinals have lost Pujols and will experience growing pains under new manager Mike Matheney. The Milwaukee Brewers will lose first baseman Prince Fielder to free agency, and National League MVP Ryan Braun will likely miss the first 50 games of the season after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. The Cincinnati Reds have holes.
So say hello to your 2012 NL Central champs, a team that will enjoy its first winning season since 1992 and actually live up to the potential it showed during its strong first-half start in 2011: the Pittsburgh Pirates.
3. The NBA will have a new player-coach. Good point guards are often dubbed the “coach on the floor.” So why not make one of these guys, you know, an actual coach on the floor? Steve Nash, 37, and Jason Kidd, 38, are free agents this summer. They are both veteran winners who command respect. One of them will sign with some NBA team — to become the league’s first player-coach since Dave Cowens in 1979.
4. The Big East actually adds an eastern team. The conference, which in December added Southern Methodist University, Houston and Central Florida (as well as Boise State and San Diego State for football only), will announce that it has also incorporated Temple University, of Philadelphia. The New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), which currently competes in something called the Great West Conference — because after all, Newark is west … of the Hudson River — will join the Northeast Conference. That’s right: geographically challenged college sports administrators will actually do two things that make sense. Cartographers pop some bubbly.
5. College football ditches the BCS and announces a playoff.
Isn’t it strange that No. 5, though it would be so blindingly good for college football and could happen with just a touch of common sense, is the least likely of these to come true?
Happy new year, and thanks for reading Keeping Score in 2011. Here’s to a busy, captivating, lockout-free and, hopefully, less scandalous 2012 in sports. And I look forward to talking on Dec. 30, 2012, when we can retrace how wrong these predictions ended up.