I'm not sure a city has ever had a sports year better than Boston had in 2004. The Patriots won their second Super Bowl in a row. The Celtics finished first in their division and were a couple of years away from nailing down a championship team. Oh, and yes, the Red Sox ended their most tortured title drought in all of sports. Heck, even the Bruins won their division.
I'm not sure that can be topped. But 2016 promises to be a terrific year for several sports cities, and a lousy one for some others. I miss when The Sporting News used to rank all 271 major American sports cities -- this year, Terre Haute, Ind., edged out Ruston, La. -- and while I don't have the intestinal fortitude for such a massive endeavor, I thought it might be fun to look forward and predict which sports cities are going to have an amazing 2016.
We'll rank the top 10, and the bottom five. We'll start with the happy stuff.
10. Los Angeles. This one's right on the edge, but we'll give L.A. credit for a possible Clippers playoff run, the Dodgers seemingly on the cusp of some major moves, the Kings having the look of a potential Stanley Cup contender and the Lakers, once Kobe retires, actually being able to turn the page toward a hopeful future. The real question: Will there be an NFL team (or two) in L.A. in 2016? That might make everything else pale in comparison.
9. Houston. The Astros were this close to knocking off the defending champs last year and are a World Series contender in 2016, and the Texans might well win the AFC South. The Rockets have been a disappointment, but they're still a smart franchise with a ton of talent. Plus, Tom Herman might actually be the smartest coach in town.
8. Cleveland. All right, putting Cleveland on any "happy" list is asking for trouble, but wait, wait, stay with me. The Indians should be vastly improved on last year and might be my pick to win the American League Central. (Indians fans, who heard all that last year, are forgiven for groaning.) The Browns … well, I can't do much with the Browns. But all of that will be moot if LeBron James can lead the Cavaliers to the NBA title. All Cleveland wants is one. As long as LeBron is in town, there's a chance to break through.
7. Pittsburgh. The Penguins are down, for them, so there's a bit of a pall, but otherwise, the Pirates are trying to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, and the Steelers might quietly be the best team in the AFC right now.
6. Washington, D.C. Another tortured city one worries about putting on any sort of positive list, but there are some positive signs. The Nationals should be able to shake off their nightmare 2015. The Wizards are off to a slow start but still have tons of talent. The Capitals are in first place. And even the football team is less embarrassing than usual. This will probably all explode like it always does, but right now, Washington isn't a pit of despair. (In sports, anyway.) Progress!
5. New York City. The Mets owned the town, however briefly, throughout the fall, and the Yankees are still hanging in through their transition. There's a chance both NFL teams will make the playoffs. The Rangers are trying to return to the Stanley Cup Finals. And even though the Knicks probably aren't even going to make the postseason, hey … Porzingis! Plus, Times Square is only an hour drive from Monmouth!
4. Phoenix. The Diamondbacks are spending, the Suns are decent and the Coyotes are contenders. But the real hope, for once, is the Cardinals, a team that has a chance to make its second Super Bowl ever, and maybe even win one. The moves the franchise has made in the last decade have been amazing to watch. The Cardinals running the town -- who would have ever thought that?
3. San Francisco Bay Area. Ignore the 49ers, obviously, and also the A's and maybe the Sharks. All that matters here: The Warriors changing the way basketball is played, and the Giants playing in an even-numbered year. And they get to host the Super Bowl, too!
2. Boston. Yeah, you can't keep these guys down. The Red Sox are title contenders, the Celtics are about two years away from bringing in some superstars and becoming a juggernaut, the Bruins are contenders and Tom Brady wants to win another championship. Fortunately, their fans will be totally cool about it if they win everything, like they always are.
1. Chicago. Sure, the Bulls are good, and the Blackhawks are defending champs, and the White Sox are making moves, and the Bears are a little better than you thought they'd be. But it's all about the Cubs here. The Cubs have the consensus best team in baseball and are World Series favorites. That sentence alone puts Chicago atop this list.
And now, the five cities headed for sad 2016s.
5. Miami. The Heat are hanging on for dear life, but everything else is a mess. The Marlins' response to struggle has been to talk about trading their best player (and hiring Barry Bonds), and the Dolphins are a dull mess. Shame there isn't anything else to do in Miami.
4. Denver. They better win the Super Bowl, no matter who's the quarterback, because otherwise, yikes. The Rockies are the Rockies, the Nuggets are years away, and the Avalanche are mediocre. To have those three teams be bad and say goodbye to Peyton Manning in the saddest way possible … not ideal.
3. Philadelphia. The Phillies are at least building toward something, at last, which we're still waiting for evidence of from the 76ers. And the Eagles are always on the precipice of being set on fire. Sad thing is: The Eagles are the successful ones!
2. St. Louis. The Blues will flame out in the playoffs like they always do. The Cardinals just had their worst offseason in 20 years and are now clearly behind the Cubs. And the Rams might leave town. This theoretically could all turn the other way and end up with happy times for all three teams. But I wouldn't bet on it.
1. Atlanta. Eventually, it will get better for Atlanta. The Braves are making smart moves. The Falcons are about to start over. The Hawks have smart people in charge. There's an MLS team coming in, along with a new huge stadium, in 2017. But man, 2016 is going to be rough. It'll all be over soon, Atlanta, promise.