10 Fantastic Sports Moments Yet to Happen in 2016

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistNovember 16, 2016

10 Fantastic Sports Moments Yet to Happen in 2016

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    Ronda Rousey will make her return to the UFC Octagon at UFC 207 next month after an extended absence. Will she reclaim her bantamweight title from Amanda Nunes? Will it be her final fight? Plenty of intrigue there, and of course there will be plenty of hype as well. 

    With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, it might feel like the 2016 sports year is all but over, but there are plenty of fantastic moments left to look forward to—Rousey vs. Nunes is just the beginning.

    Specific matchups, races, tournaments and even off-field events remain on the schedule and promise to close out the 2016 sports year in dramatic fashion.

    Whether you are a fan of football, auto racing or tennis, there is something for you (presented here in chronological order). 

    Honorable mention to the NFL's Thanksgiving Day games and Formula One's season finale in Abu Dhabi.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship

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    Nov. 20

    With one race to go in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, four drivers remain in contention: Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.

    Reid Spencer of Autoweek suggested there is no clear favorite leading up to the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He wrote, "But who really has an edge? A six-time champion, a defending champion, or a pair of drivers hungry for a first championship?"

    Indeed, the storylines are juicy. Busch is looking to repeat—he won it all in 2015 after making a miraculous comeback from a devastating leg injury early in the season.

    Meanwhile, Johnson is shooting for his seventh overall title, a mark that would tie him for the most all time with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty.

ATP World Tour Finals

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    Nov. 20

    For tennis fans out there, the ATP World Tour Finals are happening now—Nov. 13-20 in London.

    Novak Djokovic has won the event for the past four years in a row, but after his 2016 season made him look like an actual mortal, this event is certainly not a lock for the Serbian star. If he does win, however, he could reclaim the world No. 1 ranking he lost to Andy Murray in early November.

    Per the ATP World Tour, "The last time a World No. 2 dethroned the incumbent World No. 1 at the season finale to claim the prestigious year-end No. 1 title was back in 2001, when Lleyton Hewitt overtook Gustavo Kuerten in Sydney."

    Murray, Djokovic and Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka are all in contention for the year's final tournament win. The singles final matchup is TBD, but it will happen Nov. 20.

ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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    Nov. 28-30

    College basketball will really get interesting in spring 2017, but that doesn't mean the first half of the season will be without marquee matchups.

    For instance, the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge will feature 14 teams that competed in the 2016 NCAA tournament: North Carolina, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Virginia, Duke, Indiana, Maryland, Miami, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Pittsburgh and Purdue.

    Heavyweight matchups to watch include No. 13 Michigan State at No. 1 Duke and No. 18 Syracuse at No. 9 Wisconsin on Nov. 29 and No. 5 UNC at No. 6 Indiana on Nov. 30.

    Indiana already has a big win over then-No. 3 Kansas under its belt, so the showdown with UNC could send the Hoosiers into the nation's top five.

    (Rankings based on Week 2 of the AP Top 25 Poll, released on Nov. 14.)

NFL Playoff Push

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    The NFL playoffs won't technically begin until January 2017, but given how this season is playing out, the final push should provide some intrigue. 

    The theme of the 2016 season has been "parity." Through Week 10, 20 of the league's 32 teams are sitting on three, four or five losses, and almost all of the divisions are tight. In early November, The Ringer's Danny Kelly called the NFL standings "a beautiful mess." 

    Whether you think the on-field product is mediocre or not, it at least looks like some playoff races are going to come down to the wire.

    Some key divisional matchups that could be big in December (key word: could): Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (Dec. 8), Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (Dec. 24) and Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (Dec. 18).

Tiger Woods Maybe/Possibly Playing Competitive Golf

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    Dec. 1-4

    Tiger Woods has not played in a competitive golf tournament since the Wyndham Championship in August 2015 due to a series of injuries.

    There was hope he would return in October when he announced his participation in October's Safeway Open. Woods ultimately withdrew, however, stating his "game is vulnerable and not where it needs to be," per Mike McAllister of PGATour.com. 

    So, one might be understandably skeptical about his plans to play at the Hero World Challenge in December—an event in the Bahamas he hosts.

    However, Woods said in a statement (via CNN.com), "I am excited to make my return at the Hero World Challenge at Albany and play in this terrific tournament."

    The return of 40-year-old Woods to competitive golf after an absence of over a year? That's a big deal.

Baseball's Winter Meetings

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    December 4-8

    MLB games might be done for the year, but that doesn't mean baseball news is done too. The annual winter meetings will happen December 4-8 in Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.

    Each year, all kinds of player transactions go down at the winter meetings. In 2015, the Chicago Cubs got a guy named Ben Zobrist, for example—you might remember him as the 2016 World Series MVP.  

    In 2016, there are big free agents on the market, including slugger Edwin Encarnacion, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and reliever Aroldis Chapman.

    Several stars have been mentioned in trade rumors as well—e.g. Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles and Andrew McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates, per Ryan Fagan of Sporting News.

    The Rule 5 draft also goes down at the winter meetings, so there will be a lot of action for those already feeling that baseball withdrawal.

Champions League Round of 16 Draw

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    Dec. 12

    The 2016-17 Champions League won't wrap up until June but before the end of 2016, fans will know which 16 teams have made it to the first knockout stage.

    The remaining matches of group play will be played Nov. 22-23 (Matchday 5) and Dec. 6-7 (Matchday 6). The draw will be held on Dec. 12 in Nyon, Switzerland and streamed on UEFA.com.

    Real Madrid has won two out of the past three years (2014 and 2016). Barcelona took the title in 2015, and as of Nov. 15, its players lead the 2016-17 Champions League in goals (Lionel Messi with seven) and assists (Neymar with 6).

    Messi and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo are also neck-and-neck as they move toward the record milestone of 100 all-time Champions League goals.

Warriors vs. Cavaliers on Christmas Day

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    Dec. 25

    Who doesn't love a rematch? The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will have yet another one on Christmas Day in 2016.

    These two teams obviously met in the past two NBA Finals—taking one title each—but they also met last Christmas. The Warriors doubled-down on their 2015 Finals win with an 89-83 home victory over LeBron James and Co. at Oracle Arena. 

    In 2016, the holiday game will move to Cleveland, where the teams will meet for the first time since the Cavs stormed back from a 3-1 Finals deficit to secure Cleveland its first NBA title. 

    This would be a must-watch game regardless, but the addition of one Kevin Durant to the Dubs makes it even more intriguing. 

Rousey vs. Nunes

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    Dec. 30

    Conor McGregor has been dominating UFC news lately (and rightfully so, since at UFC 205 he became the first fighter to hold two championships simultaneously).

    And yet, there is something perhaps even bigger happening in December—the return of Ronda Rousey.

    Rousey, the former women's bantamweight champion, hasn't fought since UFC 193 in November 2015, when she lost her title to Holly Holm. She will return to fight reigning champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 in Las Vegas on Dec. 30.

    This one is made even more intriguing by the speculation this could be Rousey's last fight. She told Ellen Degeneres (via Luke Kerr-Dineen of For the Win), "Not that long, I'm wrapping it up. This fight will definitely be one of my last."

CFP Semifinals

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    Dec. 31

    The College Football Playoff semifinal matchups didn't exactly blow the ratings out of the water in 2015, and in fact the CFP later announced it would move many of the future games to a different day.

    Not in 2016, however. The semifinal games—the Fiesta Bowl and Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl—will each happen on Dec. 31. And after the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 teams (Clemson, Michigan and Washington, respectively) all went down in the same week in mid-November, anything could happen in terms of those matchups.

    Of course, bowl season in general provides football fans with something to look forward to. Also happening on Dec. 31 are the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl and TaxSlayer Bowl.

    Check out the latest bowl projections from Bleacher Report's Alec Nathan.