By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The calendar has flipped to another year after an eventful 2016 in Boston sports. It’s incredible to say that it’s a surprise that no Boston sports teams won a championship this year, but that’s just how it is in this city since the turn of the 21st century.
It’s been a devastating two calendar years (almost) since the last Boston sports championship when the Patriots took down the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. In 2017, it will be about time that Boston ends this agonizing drought and brings a title back to the city after nearly 96 weeks of suffering. The duck boats are starting to gather dust – those things need a workout to stay functional.
The start of a new year is also a great time to bust out some bold predictions for the upcoming year. Some of these are bolder than others – only one of them involves winning a championship – but the idea is to think big, here, and that’s what I’ll try to do. Predicting a title for any team that’s not the Patriots may be over-the-top, however, even for “bold predictions” – so I’ll think a little more outside-the-box for these.
Boston’s major sports teams may not all be legitimate championship contenders, but they are not without their fair share of intriguing storylines. Here are eight predictions for how things will go in 2017. Let us know how bold you think these takes really are in the comments.
The Patriots will blow out the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl LI. I know, the Patriots winning the Super Bowl isn’t exactly a scorcher of a take around these parts. But if I were to go on, say, ESPN’s Around the Horn and predict that the Patriots would destroy the 13-3 Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl, I might get kicked off the show.
But here’s the thing … The Cowboys may have the best offensive line in the league and a pretty good defense, plus two very good rookies in quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. But that, right there, is why the Cowboys would get smoked against the Pats in the Super Bowl: they are rookies.
If and when Super Bowl LI does indeed end up Patriots-Cowboys, it would be Dallas that gets the bulk of the hype for the game. It’s no longer an exciting prospect for anyone outside of New England to bloviate on Tom Brady and Bill Belichick reaching yet another Super Bowl, so the focus would probably be on how great the Cowboys offense is.
That is where Belichick takes over. He will dedicate his defensive gameplan to shutting down Elliott and the Dallas running game, forcing Prescott to pick them apart. And you’ve seen too many rookie quarterbacks get hoodwinked by Belichick’s defensive scheming to believe that Prescott would be any different. Expect a Patriots blowout along the lines of 34-3 if these two teams meet in the Big Game.
The Patriots will KEEP Jimmy Garoppolo. With Tom Brady showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, and the Patriots going out of their way to make sure Jacoby Brissett is with the team and embracing a leadership role, it appears that Garoppolo could be on his way out. Expect the opposite to be the case.
Perhaps there are questions about Garoppolo’s toughness after he didn’t play in Week 4 against the Buffalo Bills, but that alone won’t deter the Patriots from cutting bait with such a promising young talent at by far the most important position. They will ride out Garoppolo’s rookie contract and maybe even franchise him – anything to keep Brady’s heir apparent around.
Sure, Garoppolo ‘wants to play,’ as the cliche goes. Too bad. The timing of the situation may not be perfect with Brady continuing to play at a high level as he approaches age 40, but to keep a player of Jimmy G’s caliber around, the Patriots will pull out all the stops.
David Price will win the Cy Young AND win a playoff start. It’s pretty common for new Red Sox acquisitions to struggle in their first year. There’s a lot to adjust to with the whole environment in Boston, which is unlike almost any market in baseball. That kind of struggle should have been expected for a player with the demeanor of David Price – but expect year two to be much better.
Especially now, with ace Chris Sale atop the pitching staff and leading the way as the alpha dog of the Red Sox rotation, Price will have a big turnaround season in 2017 as he settles into his new role as the “Outstanding No. 2 Starter.” Expect yet another durable season of 30-plus starts, this time with a sub-3.00 ERA and an even better record than last year’s 17-9.
But the real bold prediction here is that Price finally wins a playoff start. He does have two playoff wins in his career, just not as a starter, as he infamously pointed out to reporters. I’m not even predicting that he will pitch well – just that he gets that W. The Red Sox offense will learn from its mistakes last season and give him more run support, while Price will not feel the pressure that he’s felt in past seasons and get the proverbial monkey off his back. Speaking of the offense …
The Red Sox will lead the American League in runs. David Ortiz is retired and everything is awful with the Red Sox lineup. Right? Wrong.
Going from Ortiz to a platoon of Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez is certainly not ideal, but it is far from a death knell for the Red Sox offense. They still have MVP candidate Mookie Betts in the fold, as well as cornerstones like Dustin Pedroia and Jackie Bradley Jr. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is a strong candidate to take another step forward at the plate in 2017 after a poor second half of 2016 undid an absolutely scorching start to the season. Expect Bogaerts to finally put it all together on 2017.
The offensive improvement won’t end with Bogaerts, either – Pablo Sandoval will be a big part of it as well. The third baseman will finally stay healthy and show the Red Sox why they signed him in the first place – especially when they get to the postseason. There’s also this Benintendi kid who showed some big-time potential at the plate in his rookie season, which culminated with a towering home run in the ALDS against Cleveland.
The Bruins will move on from Claude Julien – BEFORE the end of the season. I would prefer that the Bruins stay the course with Julien as they rebuild the roster, but sometimes it comes to a point where teams just have to move on and have a different voice at the helm. Julien’s time in Boston may be up sooner rather than later.
Amazingly, this wouldn’t be the first late-season firing of Julien’s career. The New Jersey Devils let Julien go with just three games left in the 2006-07 season. They’ve made the Stanley Cup Finals once since then, in 2011-12. But a similar move may be coming for the Bruins if their top-end talent continues to underachieve, even if they sneak into the playoffs. Julien will then get another job and turn around another franchise.
But despite cutting Julien loose right at the end of the regular season …
The Bruins will make the playoffs – and WIN a round. Turning to Bruce Cassidy as interim head coach, the Bruins will win a round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2014 when they beat the Detroit Red Wings in the first round. They will shock the hockey world as a low seed upsetting one of the conference’s top teams, but hype alone won’t be enough to make it any further. That won’t make their accomplishment any less surprising and impressive.
The Celtics will win TWO playoff rounds. Sure, it doesn’t look very probable right now, but the Celtics are poised to take a leap forward in terms of postseason performance. That leap will come this summer.
Isaiah Thomas will put the team on his back offensively, as he has already done for much of the 2016-17 season, and prove to be the best player in the first two series of the playoffs for the Celtics. First they will get revenge on Al Horford’s former team, the Atlanta Hawks, in the first round, then the real surprise will come in the second round when Isaiah outplays Kyle Lowry and the Celtics oust the Toronto Raptors.
Incredibly, it might be even bolder to predict that …
The Celtics will WIN the draft lottery, for a change. If the 2017 NBA Draft lottery took place today, the Celtics would have the best odds of winning it with the Brooklyn Nets sitting at an NBA-worst 8-24 on the season. But they’ve been in this spot before, and gotten royally screwed.
The Celtics have had such bad luck in the draft lottery – they lost the Tim Duncan sweepstakes in 1997 despite having the best odds, and in 2007 dropped a precipitous three spots to No. 5 after having the best chance to land the No. 2 pick (which would have been Kevin Durant). It’s another ten years later, and in 2017, the third time will be a charm and the Celtics will land the No. 1 overall pick.
Join the conversation!
What’s YOUR bold prediction for Boston sports in 2017? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.