10 Dream Matchups We Hope to See in 2017

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2017

10 Dream Matchups We Hope to See in 2017

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    How would you like to see the Chicago Cubs defend their title against their head honcho's former team? An all-Theo Epstein World Series might break the internet in 2017, and it would be awesome. 

    And that's not the only potential mega-matchup in the realm of possibility in the new year. Super Bowl LI is looming, and there is no shortage of possible dream matchups.

    Dream matchups are different for everyone, of course, but generally speaking, they are coveted for their entertainment value—the likelihood of a great game, the intriguing storylines and the ever-important potential for internet mania.

    Just as the following 10 matchups meet all those criteria, there is one more requirement they share. However unlikely (see: Woods, Tiger), these 10 matchups could actually happen in 2017. 

    Now, could the sports world handle it? That's another story.

New England Patriots vs. Dallas Cowboys, Super Bowl

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    The New England Patriots vs. the Dallas Cowboys feels a bit like an inevitability, doesn't it? Of course, there are other sexy picks to make the big game (Aaron Rodgers, anyone?), but Pats vs. Boys has all the storylines.

    The Patriots are on a post-Deflategate warpath that seems destined to end with a middle finger to Roger Goodell in the form of a championship. They rolled to a 14-2 record (despite playing sans quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games) and the AFC's No. 1 seed.  

    The Cowboys have been an intrigue factory all year—from the stellar performance of rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott (a league-leading 1,631 yards) to rookie QB Dak Prescott replacing injured veteran Tony Romo and ultimately winning his job. Not only that, but the Cowboys have also won a grand total of two playoff games in the entirety of the 2000s. So, it's a redemption story.

    And that's not even mentioning the eerie parallel in the QB situation. That is, Brady would face off against a young QB not unlike himself—a man who won the starting job over an injured starter—as he did over Drew Bledsoe in 2001. 

    Veterans on a revenge mission versus young guns leading a franchise redemption tour. Sounds fun, right?

Serena Williams vs. Maria Sharapova, French Open

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    No tennis player in her generation has ever really, consistently, given Serena Williams a run for her money (except maybe her sister). Even her "biggest rival," Maria Sharapova, has only beaten her twice in head-to-head competition.

    Speaking of Sharapova, the Russian tennis star has been a lightning rod for controversy in 2016. In March, she held a press conference to announce she tested positive for a banned substance—meldonium, which had been legal until 2016. The International Tennis Federation suspended her for two years, a period that was later reduced to 15 months on appeal.

    That means Sharapova will be eligible to return to competition in the spring and potentially (hopefully) run into Williams at the French Open in May.

    Jon Wertheim of SI.com predicted "no mediocrity" for the 29-year-old upon her return and wrote, "This is one pole or the other. She's either winning trophies or the magic is gone."

    As for Williams, she is coming off a 2016 in which she tied Steffi Graf's Open era record with her 22nd Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. If she doesn't break the record at the Australian Open in January, the French Open would be the next opportunity.

Minnesota Wild vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Stanley Cup Final

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    Everyone loves an underdog story, right? The Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild meeting in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final would be a bit like two underdog stories converging.

    In late December, Kevin Allen and Jimmy Hascup of USA Today wrote, "How many of you chose the Columbus Blue Jackets as your No. 1 team and had the Minnesota Wild in the top five of your preseason picks? Probably none."

    As far as the Blue Jackets are concerned, no team is hotter right now. As of January 4, they sit atop the Metropolitan Division and are riding a 16-game win streak, just one win shy of the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins' record of 17.

    An unnamed NHL executive said, per Scott Burnside of ESPN.com, "They are playing with the urgency and focus that the playoffs usually generates." This is all happening to follow up a 2015-16 season in which the team finished dead last in the Metropolitan Division.

    As for the Wild, they too posted an impressive streak that ran concurrently with the Blue Jackets' for a time. The Central Division's No. 2 team won 12 games in a row before the aforementioned Columbus beat them.

    The Wild have been better as of late—"flirting with being a contender," as Allen put it—and made the playoffs the past four seasons, but they haven't made it past the second round. And neither team has ever won a Stanley Cup. 

Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson, Masters

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    Yes, this one is a highly unlikely, ultra-mega pipe dream, but unlike in 2016, it's at least in the realm of possibility.  

    After over a year away, Tiger Woods made his return to competitive golf in December at the Hero World Challenge. Despite three double bogeys in the final round, he led the field with 24 birdies in the tournament.

    He said about 2017, per Rob Hodgetts of CNN.com, "I would like in my heart of hearts to play a full schedule next year."

    As of early January, Woods has committed to four events in 2017, including the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Phil Mickelson, coming off two surgeries in late 2016, is also scheduled to make his 2017 debut there.

    Michael Bamberger of Golf wrote 2017 could be the sport's "best year ever" and added, "Tiger will play all four majors, or at least it looks that way. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day are all at the height of their powers. Mickelson is 46, the same age Big Jack was when he won the '86 Masters."

    Yes, it seems ridiculous given age and the injury issues each golfer has had—not to mention the cornucopia of young talent in golf—but can you imagine the sports media firestorm that would ensue if Woods and Mickelson entered the Masters' final round atop the leaderboard? Twitter couldn't handle it.

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Chicago Bulls, Eastern Conference Finals

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    At this point, another Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors NBA Finals matchup seems inevitable, and the prospect lacks some of its typical anticipatory zest simply due to repetition.  

    One could argue the potential conference final matchups are more interesting at this point.

    For instance, consider LeBron James meeting one of his BFFs in the Eastern Conference Finals. This could happen if either Carmelo Anthony's New York Knicks or Dwyane Wade's Chicago Bulls make it that far.

    Heading into 2017, neither seems nearly as likely as, say, the Toronto Raptors or Boston Celtics, but the Bulls seem slightly more likely than the Knicks, if only because of their 106-94 victory over the Cavs in early January.

    Per Tom Withers of the Associated Press (via NBA.com), James said, "Throughout my whole career, I've always wanted to go against Wade in a playoff series. We've always talked about it even before we became teammates in '10."

    The dream came close during the 2015-16 playoffs. Despite an age-defying performance from a 34-year-old Wade—23.9 points and 36.3 minutes per game—his then-Miami Heat lost to the Raptors in seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, losing their shot at the Cavs.

    As of January 4, the Bulls sit at No. 8 in the Eastern Conference, so an intrigue-filled first-round matchup between LeBron and D-Wade is also in the cards.  

Golden State Warriors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, Western Conference Finals

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    Out west, a Golden State Warriors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder conference finals rematch could be, somehow, an even more desirable series than it was last year.

    Kevin Durant's decision to leave OKC and join the Warriors about leveled the sports world in July. It transformed Durant instantly from a beloved hero to a criticized villain, and it spawned virtually endless speculation about how the Thunder would fare without their longtime star.

    As of January 4, they sit at No. 6 in the conference standings, the Warriors at No. 1.

    OKC guard Russell Westbrook has turned into a full-blown triple-double machine. And while the prospect of watching him match up against his old partner in crime sounds enticing, it would only be worthwhile if the Thunder put up a fight.

    To that end, Royce Young of ESPN.com wrote:

    At 21-15, the Thunder are exceeding the expectations of many. In the crowded middle class of the Western Conference, they're within a game and a half of fourth place and home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. They've found an evolving identity, and many of their young assets are developing into core pieces.

    The Thunder will play 12 of 15 January games on the road with a tough schedule that includes the Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs. A post-January litmus test should be quite telling. Stay tuned.

Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, Champions League Final

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    Is Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi ever going to get old? Specifically, arguing over whose other-worldly skills are slightly more other-worldly, speculating about their respective legacies and, of course, watching them face off on the field.

    The UEFA Champions League round of 16 is set, with Ronaldo's Real Madrid slated to face Napoli and Messi's Barcelona up against Paris Saint-Germain in February. The quarterfinal draw will be in March.

    Real Madrid is the defending champion, having secured the 2016 title (its 11th) by defeating city rival Atletico Madrid on penalties.

    As for Barcelona's 2016, the club bested Real Madrid in the final La Liga standings and took home the Copa del Rey.

    But truly, 2016 was the year of Ronaldo. Ryan Rosenblatt of Fox Sports wrote, "Cristiano Ronaldo stole the spotlight in 2016. He led Real Madrid to the Champions League title, captured the Euros with Portugal and was rightly awarded the Ballon d'Or as the best player in the world for the year. There is no way Lionel Messi just lets that one stand."

    A take-back-the-power matchup for Messi? Yes, please.

New England Patriots vs. New York Giants, Super Bowl

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    Perhaps even better than a New England Patriots vs. Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl, how about a Pats vs. New York Giants III?   

    (Before anyone says anything about the Pats being featured twice here, consider the fact that Charles Curtis of USA Today included Bill Belichick's boys in five of his eight "entertaining possible Super Bowl matchups.")

    The most obvious point of intrigue here is the Giants' somewhat inexplicable ability to beat the juggernaut Pats in the Super Bowl, a feat they've achieved twice in a five-year span.

    Curtis wrote, "All the storylines are here, specifically Tom Brady trying to shake the 'he couldn't beat the Giants' talk off his Hall of Fame career."

    The Patriots, as the No. 1 seed in the AFC, would likely be favored over the NFC's fifth-seeded Giants. Then again, they were favored in 2008 and 2012 too, per OddsShark.com, and it's no secret how those games turned out.

    For the Patriots, a fifth Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick era would be at stake. However, this potential matchup carries an added benefit for Patriots haters out there—that is, the possibility of watching them lose a Super Bowl to the Giants for the third time in 10 years.

Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz

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    Sure, Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor would break the internet, should it ever happen, but frankly, the all talk-no action thing is getting old.

    A third McGregor vs. Nate Diaz fight in 2017 would arguably be just as intriguing.

    Diaz won their first battle at UFC 196 in March—a fight McGregor jumped two weight classes to participate in. McGregor took revenge at UFC 202 in August, defeating Diaz by majority decision.

    Damon Martin of Fox Sports explained, "Between press conferences that nearly boiled over into full blown riots, Diaz bringing McGregor's hype to a screeching halt by submitting him in the first fight or the two of them engaging in arguably one of the greatest fights of all time in the rematch — this rivalry had a little bit of everything."

    Come on—who wouldn't want to see the rubber match? Sadly, it sounds unlikely.

    In December, UFC President Dana White said on ESPN's the Michael Kay Show, per Martin:

    We should have never done it in the first place. That's what weight classes are for. They wanted to do it, we did it. They wanted to do it again, we did it again. They're 1-1. There's only so many of those wars you can be in, in your career and it takes a lot out of you. Some guys go into wars like that and they're never the same after.

    OK, but this is also the UFC, an entertainment machine that sold for $4 billion in 2016, and a place where it seems anything can happen. Keep the faith. 

Chicago Cubs vs. Boston Red Sox, World Series

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    The hypothetical Chicago Cubs vs. Boston Red Sox 2017 World Series matchup is absolutely dripping with incredible storylines.

    In 2004, then-Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein presided over the team's first World Series title in 86 years. 

    Twelve years later, Epstein, as the Cubs president of baseball operations, was at the helm for yet another drought abolishment. After joining the Cubs in 2011, he helped build a 2016 title team that secured the franchise's first championship since 1908.

    A 2017 showdown between Epstein's two big-market, curse-breaking teams would be a gift to sports fans and likely a ratings dream. And, best of all, it could actually happen.

    The Cubs were built for long-term success and remain stacked with young talent including National League MVP Kris Bryant (25), NLCS MVP Javier Baez (24) and ace Kyle Hendricks (27).  

    Meanwhile, the Red Sox won the American League East in 2016 (but did get swept in the division series). And despite the loss of longtime designated hitter David Ortiz to retirement, the offseason acquisition of perennial Cy Young contender Chris Sale makes the Sox look poised and motivated to make a real run.