2016 kicked off with a bang for sports fans, as a familiar new national champion was crowned in college football, and the two best teams in the NFL emerged to decide who will play in Super Bowl 50. The defending NBA champions proved to the world that they might be even better than they were last year, and one of college basketball's most iconic programs finds themselves back on top of the mountain. In short, the sports season is just heating up this year, so get your popcorn ready.
Once again, we’ve decided to break out the athletes, moments and other things of interest that won and lost at sports in January. Some will be truly awesome moments of spectacle. Others will only be here to make you laugh. Why? Because winning at sports is important.
Winner: Peyton Manning
The Denver Broncos, somehow, are going to the Super Bowl. In the month of January, Manning guided the Broncos to a win over the San Diego Chargers in their regular season finale, the Pittsburgh Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship. In three games, Manning mustered a pedestrian 56.6% completion rate and just 467 yards along with two touchdowns. Regardless of the statistical output, Manning has set himself up to go out with the biggest bang possible. The only way this situation gets any better if he somehow found a way to put up 50 on the Panthers – you know, in honor of Super Bowl 50. -- Emily Van Buskirk
Loser: New England Patriots
While some look at the defending Super Bowl champions as the most vilified team in sports, the reality is that the Patriots came into the AFC Championship as arguably the one of the most beat up. Playing with a makeshift offensive line, a third-string running back as a starter, and key offensive stars Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski both playing through nagging injuries, the Patriots scuffled their way to just 18 points versus a tenacious Denver defense that hit Brady more than he ever had in each of the previous January games combined. Now at age 38, Brady's window to win one more championship becomes smaller by the minute. -- Eddie Maisonet
Winner: Carolina Panthers
Believe it or not, there's more to the NFC Champions other than Cam Newton (although he is quite super). This Panthers squad is loaded with dynamic playmakers up and down the roster. Josh Norman is now recognized as the best young cornerback in the NFL, the linebacker duo of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis (who will play in Super Bowl 50 with a broken arm!) is the best in the league, and offensive playmakers Greg Olsen and Jonathan Stewart have proven how good they can be when fully healthy. Carolina's squad is full of vibrant personalities and an ability to make make plays at the biggest moments, and they'll get a chance to show off their stuff on the biggest stage in sports. -- Eddie Maisonet
Loser: Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer had his chance to solidify his claim as an elite quarterback versus the top-seeded Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship, as the Arizona Cardinals were hopeful that another rehabbed quarterback could help them return to the Super Bowl. Those hopes were quickly crushed as Palmer put up one of his worst performances of the entire season. That performance consisted of completing just 23-of-40 passes for 235 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. Palmer also fumbled twice, both of which were recovered by the Panthers in what turn into a 49-15 drubbing over the Cardinals. Now at age 36, the former Heisman Trophy winner's rocky playoff performance will be a focus of Cardinals fans throughout the offseason. -- Eddie Maisonet
Winner: Kobe Bryant
The Black Mamba's final season in the NBA will be earmarked with one more appearance in the NBA All-Star Game, his 18th honor of his career. Due to the legion of fans around the world, Bryant was not only named a starter, but was the leading vote-getter with an impressive 1,891,614 votes. Of course, Kobe's performance this season is in no way shape or form deserving of an All-Star nod, but just as superstars before him like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan before him, Kobe will have his chance to have a proper send-off amongst his peers. -- Eddie Maisonet
Loser: Kansas Jayhawks
January has been a LONG month for Bill Self and his Jayhawks. Up until the 12th, Kansas had only suffered one loss on the year, courtesy of Michigan State back in November. Then, three straight conference road losses to West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Iowa State in the past two weeks (the first time for Kansas since the 2004-05 season) saw KU free fall in the rankings and put their regular season conference championship hopes in doubt. -- Emily Van Buskirk
Winner: Los Angeles
The City of Angels finally courted an NFL team to bring their talents to the west coast as the Rams dropped St. Louis to come back to their original home. After a 20-year hiatus, the Los Angeles Rams are back, with old highlights of Eric Dickerson running wind sprints for touchdowns and legendary stories of Jack Youngblood playing in the Super Bowl with a broken leg being retold again and again. -- Eddie Maisonet
Loser: Vontaze Burfict
Thanks to his attempted public execution of Antonio Brown in the Bengals’ Wild Card matchup against the Steelers, Burfict has put himself in the unenviable position of being labeled a “dirty player.” In today’s NFL, where head trauma is actually gaining some traction as a serious threat to people’s health, “dirty players” are no longer seen as bad-asses as much as they are dangerous. Right after the Brown hit, people immediately revisited and widely publicized a disturbing head shot he put on Maxx Williams the previous week. Everything that looks like it might be him trying deliberately to hurt somebody will be taken that way. Ask Ndamukong Suh how that goes. Because of plays like this, Vontaze Burfict has turned himself into an NFL villain, which is not the guy you want to be if you want your NFL career to last. -- Kyle Madson
Winner: Kathryn Smith
The Buffalo Bills made a ground-breaking announcement in January by hiring Kathryn Smith to be the team’s new special teams quality control coach. Smith will be the first woman to serve as a full-time assistant coach in NFL history. This immediately follows the Arizona Cardinals hiring Jen Welter to serve as an assistant coach during training camp and the preseason.
Smith previously served as an assistant for head coach Rex Ryan in Buffalo last season, and Ryan noted that if the opportunity arose, Smith would be a probable hire for the Bills in 2016. Smith joins two full-time assistant coaches in the NBA with Becky Hammon in San Antonio and Nancy Lieberman in Sacramento as women serving in that capacity at the highest level of professional sports. -- Eddie Maisonet
Loser: Blake Griffin
It's safe to say that Clippers Forward Blake Griffin was having a pretty good season. He's averaging about 23 PPG, just under nine rebounds per game and 5 APG. His 28-16 team is fourth in the Western Conference right now and just second behind the 41-4 Warriors in the Pacific Division. But hold up, wait a minute. Y'all thought I was finished?
Griffin, an integral part of his team both offensively and defensively, will now have to miss time due to a fractured hand sustained in a little scuffle with none other than a member of the Clippers equipment staff [record scratches]. For reasons still unknown, Griffin and said staff got into an argument which eventually led to the staff guy being hit multiple times. For whatever reason, Griffin heard the whispers of the internet calling him soft at this moment. You know, instead of...
- NOT when Z-Bo was ready to choke him out.
- NOT when Jason Smith forgot he wasn't a strong safety saving a touchdown and delivered this blow.
- NOT when Greg "Father Time" Oden nonchalantly pushed him in the chest mid-air.
But it was at this moment, with an equipment staff member, that Griffin finally was fed up. Not very smart, Griffin. People with Kias don't behave in such a manner! -- Tanisha Robinson
Winner: Alabama Crimson Tide
You know you've done something special when you put your name next to the all-time greats. For Nick Saban, winning his fifth national championship means being compared to the likes of Bear Bryant. Saban's ability to retool and reload has been incredible, and Alabama's gutsy 45-40 win over Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl proved why the Crimson Tide faithful pay him the big bucks. For Derrick Henry, ending the season with 158 rushing yards and three touchdowns meant finishing with 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. Henry broke Shaun Alexander’s school record for most career rushing yards, and his name is right next to Mark Ingram as Alabama's all-time greatest running back. -- Eddie Maisonet
Loser: David Blatt
The Cleveland Cavaliers have the best record in the Eastern Conference and were just two wins away from winning an NBA championship last season. Yet, with David Blatt as the head coach, the Cavs' roster were constantly embroiled with issues regarding their coach. Subsequently, Blatt was relieved of his duties and was replaced with NBA journeyman and assistant coach Tyronn Lue. While Blatt's record and past success make the firing a bit shocking, his poor relationship with LeBron James and mismanagement of Kevin Love forced the Cavaliers hand. -- Eddie Maisonet
Winner: John Scott
After careful deliberation and a bit of heat from fans across the continent, the NHL figured out how to make things right and announced that St. John's IceCaps winger John Scott will take part in the 2016 All-Star Game and its accompanying events in Nashville. Scott, a journeyman enforcer who has grinded out a 10-year professional career, was the top vote-getter by the fans. The then-Arizona Coyotes forward was set to captain the Pacific Division team under the league’s new All-Star Game format, but his trade to the Montreal Canadiens last week created a bit of a hassle. The NHL wanted Scott not to participate, but he would not withdraw from the game. The NHL decided to bring the people's voice into the game, and the league had no choice but to honor it. We hope Scott savors the moment in playing in his first NHL All-Star Game.
Winner: UNC Men's Basketball
January has been an impressive month for the UNC men's basketball team. Coach Roy Williams and team are undefeated in the month of January with six straight wins, and after a recent win at Virginia Tech, they're 7-0 overall in the ACC. This team is looking as good as they have in years, and the emergence of Brice Johnson as a model of consistency has a lot to do with it. In the month of January, Brice Johnson is averaging 25 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks per game. Even more interesting? The Tarheels have rallied together to compete at a high level in spite of Marcus Paige’s lack of production this month. UNC has also officially landed a Number 1 spot in the AP Coaches Poll, and many like them as a favorite to win a national title. January has been quite the treat for Tar Heel Nation. -- De'Shay Turner
Loser: Duke Men’s Basketball
After last season’s national title run, and a recruiting class that looked to keep them right on pace for a potential repeat, the Duke Blue Devils have officially lost four of their last five games in the month of January. This is not typical of a Coach K team, and Blue Devil fans across the nation seem completely stunned and at a loss for words (something I’ve rarely witnessed in my life as an avid sports fan). Duke's officially 4-4 in the ACC, and after a recent loss to Miami, they could find themselves out of the Top 25. On the flip side, rivalries will be rivalries. Therefore, I expect nothing but classic, competitive basketball when Duke and UNC meet up in February and March. Duke will need to find a source of momentum between now and then to secure their place in the NCAA Tournament though. As of right now, I can’t say I know where it comes from. -- De'Shay Turner
Winner: Buckeyes in the NFL
THE Ohio State Buckeyes will be well represented in Super Bowl 50. With six players in total being on the rosters of the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers it gives the Buckeyes the most players from any other university in the Super Bowl. Ted Ginn Jr., Philly Brown, Andrew Norwell, Kurt Coleman, and Bradley Roby all start for the respective teams, and Heuerman is holding down the fort on the injured reserve. The Buckeyes, who've had the chance to grace the field, have played huge roles in helping their teams to get to Santa Clara. I can assure you that Urban Meyer is using the success of the former players dawning scarlet and gray as a recruiting tool to help lure recruits to Columbus, Ohio. -- Ron Hampston
Losers: Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith
Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith were brought to the Los Angeles Clippers to add depth, toughness, and versatility. What Doc Rivers didn’t know, is that they would bring their sparring skills to the team. The perplexing duo spent their invaluable time on the bench in an overtime victory against the Houston Rockets slap boxing. Perhaps Houston liked the way that the southpaw Smith was able to bob-and-weave as they ironically traded to get him back just a few days after the boxing match. -- Ron Hampston
2015 was the most exciting calendar year of tennis since the 2008 season that introduced us to Novak Djokovic and gave us the greatest Wimbledon match ever. Both Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic were two sets away from completing Grand Slams last year, growing the interest of the sport both domestically and globally. 2016, unfortunately, got off to the worst possible start ever with allegations that some of the games top players were involved with fixing matches. On top of a scandal that could demolish all the good will tennis garnered over the last half-decade, one of the game’s biggest stars, Rafael Nadal, was eliminated in the first round of the first Slam of the season. The Aussie Open is historically his worst tournament, but to see him fall in the first round is also to see a considerable number of casual tennis fans tune out of one of the most marquee events. ATP officials have to be praying that January is this year’s outlier, not the beginning of a trend. -- Phillip Barnett
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