It’s December, and whilst the majority of people begin winding down for their holiday period – enjoying office work parties, over-indulging a little and just generally finding excuses to not work as hard as the other 11 months of the year – sport is a continuous that will deliver throughout the festive month. We’ve compiled a quick blurb about what to expect from your favourite sports and professional leagues in the final month of the year.
As the play-offs draw closer, the ‘football’ intensifies (check out our post on the rights and wrongs of when to use football and soccer here). One of the trade-offs for earning grand sums of money is that you don’t get to spend the entire holiday period with your own loved ones – instead you spend your Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve entertaining the world whilst they sit amongst their own loved ones watching you on TV.
There are some huge games coming up through December, not just in terms of match-up, but also implications for the post-season picture. Take the final week of the regular season for example – Week 17, December 31st – though there are 3 rounds of fixtures between now and then, some teams may be playing until the very last down of 2017 to fight for a play-off spot; Jacksonville Jaguars (7-4) @ Tennessee Titans (7-4) and Dallas Cowboys (6-6) @ Philadelphia Eagles (10-1) are the two games most likely to have both teams either already qualified or one/both still fighting for position – Eagles could be seeded 1 depending on what happens between now and the end of the month.
Christmas week is equally exciting with games on the 23rd, 24th and 25th – I’m already looking forward to watching the late night Oakland Raiders @ Philadelphia Eagles pre-Boxing Day Ashes test match from the MCG. The East Atlantic Look picks for ‘watchable’ games in week 16 are as follows; Minnesota Vikings (9-2) @ Green Bay Packers (5-6) – The Vikings are all but guaranteed a ticket to the January play-off party whilst Green Bay are more than capable of winning-out and making a push. Buffalo Bills (6-5) @ New England Patriots (9-2) and Seattle Seahawks (7-4) @ Dallas Cowboys (6-6) are both games with ‘already-ins’ and ‘likely-contenders’ that could well go a long way in painting the picture of what to expect from the play-off schedule.
There are a couple of other storylines on-going into December – will the Cleveland Browns win a game? No – they’ll continue to let down the city. Will Eli Manning get off the New York Giants bench again this year? Yes – for one start, he’ll throw a couple of touchdowns, get picked off and have a hero’s send off before being traded for a first-round pick (if anyone will take him). Will Ezekiel Elliott be returning to a play-off bound Cowboys? Yes – despite losing 3 of the first 4 games without Zeke, the win at Washington Redskins to move to 6-6 was important. When he’s back – Christmas Eve for the Seahawks – the running game will return and Dak Prescott will instantaneously have more options and be more comfortable when having to throw.
The beauty of the NBA is that it just does not stop; Monday 18th December is the only day of the month with no fixture, including a 12 game Christmas Eve, 3 games on Christmas Day (Cleveland Cavaliers @ Golden State Warriors anyone?!), 2 on Boxing Day and 10 on New Year’s Eve – Toronto Raptors don’t play on any of these days (nor do they play NYD but that’s January and not the topic of conversation).
With the league standings starting to take shape, and some conversations already turning to who will make the play-offs, a jam-packed December is full of huge games both in-conference and inter-division. At the time of writing, the Cavaliers (.696) are second to Boston Celtics (.833) in the Eastern Conference, though they are on an 11-game win-streak, and the Celtics a 2 game slide – they did have a 16 game win streak in November. During that 11 game run, the Cavs have beaten division rivals Detroit Pistons (.636) and Philadelphia 76ers (.591) who are 4th and 5th respectively in the Eastern Conference – the Raptors (.667) are 3rd on the back of a 3 game streak and still only 1 loss at home all year. Chicago Bulls currently have the worst record in the NBA (.143) and with a less than generous festive schedule, expect them to still be bottom heading into 2018; Dwayne Wade will be glad he agreed to that buyout and joined the Cavs and MVP candidate LeBron James.
In the Western Conference the Houston Rockets (.810) are leading the way thanks to a winning 6-game run – expect them to continue to be strong throughout the festive period as they continue the sporting success of the city in the face of recent tragedies. The Warriors are 1 game back (.739) and have a friendly set of fixtures through December bar the obvious, though they will have to wait until 2018 to play the division leaders. San Antonio Spurs (.682) and Denver Nuggets (591) complete the top 4 in the West, Spurs have two games against the team propping up the division before the end of 2017, Dallas Mavericks (.261).
Expect there to be some noise from teams contending about the trading block – teams from the bottom who begin shopping players around will be a sign of resignation to their position within their respective divisions – expect both Los Angeles sides, Clippers (.381) and Lakers (.364), to have a go at climbing before engaging in any talks.
Throughout December there are big games to watch out for, with all divisional leaders facing important schedules (in the Eastern Conference; Atlantic Division – Tampa Bay Lightning, Metropolitan Division – Columbus Blue Jackets. And the Western Conference; Central Division – Winnipeg Jets, Pacific Division – Los Angeles Kings. The Pittsburgh Penguins are doing their best to defend their Stanley Cup – 33 points through 28 games – only 2 points back from the Blue Jackets in the Metropolitan Division and 1 point behind New Jersey Devils in second. The Arizona Coyotes have only won7 games out of 29 thus far – expect that to also improve.
One of the things I am looking forward to most is the first of the 2017-18 Outdoor fixtures; December 16th sees the 100 Classic take place at TD Place Stadium as the Montreal Canadiens travel to Ottawa Senators – the stadium will be known as Lansdowne Stadium for the fixture due to sponsorship reasons. Stadium sport is a different level, and it’s great that hockey embraces this as a platform. Not only are they Canadian rivals, but they’ll be relatively evenly matched. The Canadiens have 29 points to the Senators 24, but both have similar ‘goals’ records – both conceding more than 80 and scoring more than 70.
With Shohei Ohtani finally being posted, and Giancarlo Stanton sitting down with potential suitors, the Hot-Stove seems to be simmering. Ohtani is undoubtedly the most important piece in getting the off-season moving, with every ball club submitting an offer for him to pick a new home, whist what happens with Stanton could affect the price and activity surrounding the big bats on the Free Agent Market. Now officially posted, Ohtani has to pick a club to star for before the end of the month – expect him to know already who he wants to make a good bid, and provided they do he will be able to announce early where he’ll be playing; the Winter Meetings kick-off on December 10th – expect things to begin coming to the forefront around then.
If you’re missing live baseball, the ABL from Australia is filled with former major-league talent as well as prospects and future stars – they’re streaming live baseball from each round live on YouTube weekly.
Ever feel like you’ve been somewhere before? Maybe a year ago? That’s exactly what’s happened in the MLS where Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders will battle it out for the title once more on the 9th of December. Seattle won out last year, leading to a lot of credit for their sports science and coaching unit, Jozy Altidore and co. will be looking for revenge. Shall we just skip the 2018 season and make it a trilogy already?
If after the MLS you need some football (again, not soccer), the Premier League doesn’t take a break for the winter like much of Europe – in fact the schedule is as packed as it gets all season with some great matches – expect Manchester City to win most of their games and extend their lead at the top.
UFC & Boxing
UFC 218 was as good a card as there has been for a long time – something very rare when there is a headliner drops out at short notice; credit to Jose Aldo for taking the rematch with Featherweight Champion Max Holloway – ‘Blessed’ won through to defend his belt – he’ll now be desperate for a rematch to revenge his loss to Conor McGregor (give up on that, ‘The Notorious’ won’t take it). There may be a rematch with Eddie Alvarez who ended the undefeated streak of Justin Gaethje with a knee in a fight-of-the-year candidate.
UFC has three huge nights before 2017 is out; Fight Night on the 9th (Cub Swanson v Brian Ortega), on FOX on the 16th (Robbie Lawler v Rafael dos Anjos) and to close out the year UFC 219 (Chris Cyborg v Holly Holm) with some other big names on the card including Khabib Nurmagomedov.
The biggest fights in boxing to look out for through December are naturally World Title fights; James DeGale will defend at the Copper Box against Caleb Truax on the 9th, Vasyl Lomachenko takes on Guillermo Rigondeaux in a fight that puts two of the best pound-for-pound fighters against one another – one the aggressor and the other the best defensively since Floyd Mayweather and lastly Billy Joe Saunders travels to Canada on the 16th to take on David Lemieux – all big fights with attractive undercards to keep an eye on, the results could have influence the 2018 fighting schedule greatly.
A lot to look forward to across the festive period whatever your sport – enjoy it in person or in front of the TV. If you’re lucky there may be some tickets under the tree for you for some of the late-month action (or at least a new 50 inch, 4K, surround sound TV to watch the action on…).
Hold tight, James Dawne.