Sports are inherently unpredictable. Who could have forecast last December that Germany’s celebrated soccer squad would crash out of the World Cup in the group stage? Who could have predicted the Oakland Athletics would rack up 97 wins on a shoestring budget? Who could have known that the Washington Capitals would finally hoist the Stanley Cup, that Naomi Osaka would get this good this fast, that LeBron James would leave Cleveland? (OK, maybe we had an inkling on that last one.)
The futility of the exercise doesn’t make it any less entertaining, though. So let’s start rolling that boulder up the hill again: Here’s what to watch for across the sports world in 2019, as relayed by Forbes.com’s SportsMoney contributors.
Major League Baseball
Legalized sports betting will allow MLB to forget about quickening the pace of play.
The Tampa Bay Rays will build on their surprising 2018 season.
The Cleveland Indians will reduce their payroll and still win the American League Central.
Tampa Bay and Oakland’s stadium situations will consume much of MLB’s attention. (Beyond baseball, pay special attention to what’s going on in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle.)
The significant increase in the salary cap will mean a fun free agency, with the Jets among the teams particularly in position to spend big. Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott will receive a contract extension that far outpaces Todd Gurley’s four-year, $57.5 million deal.
The Oakland Raiders will have more roster chaos.
Kevin Durant will stay with the Golden State Warriors.
LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers are in line for a reality check.
The Chicago Bulls’ rebuild will get back on track after a rough 2018.
The U.S. women’s national team will win the World Cup (or face the consequences).
Gregg Berhalter will display a more coherent vision for the United States men’s national team in his first year as coach.
More than a soccer game will be at play during the AFC Asian Cup.
Elsewhere In The Sports World
Tiger Woods, at 43, will be competing at the highest level again.
In the NHL, scoring will continue to rise, labor issues will be front and center, and offer sheets for restricted free agents may finally be a useful tool.
Gamblers will be able to place a sports bet on a credit card at a betting window.
Alabama and Georgia will again play for the SEC championship (in 2019 and for years afterward).
Fans, owners and sponsors will continue to walk away from NASCAR.
Puma and New Balance will peel sneakerheads away from Nike, Under Armour and the shoe powerhouses.
Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller and Regis Prograis will establish themselves as boxing’s next big moneymakers.