Boston has had almost a week to digest the joke of a game against the Ravens, but the pain is still being felt. After a decade of domination in Foxboro, it was shocking to see the Patriots literally get run over. However, the good thing here is that in this sports-obsessed city, there are three other professional teams that we can look forward to succeeding.
But is that the case this year?
I hate to be pessimistic, but coming off of a decade that saw six professional championships, the start of this decade looks to be off to a shaky start. Some teams are injury-plagued, some are in flux, yet all of them are expected to compete for their respective championships in the coming seasons. I'm just not so sure that's realistic.
With President Obama's State of the Union coming up in a few weeks, consider this the State of the Sports...in Boston (not quite the same ring to it). I'll analyze how the Bruins and Celtics are doing, and how I expect them to finish. I'll also discuss the upcoming Red Sox season, and what the Patriots need to do this offseason. And I promise, this won't interfere with the Lost Season Premeire either.
So cue "Hail to the Chief," or maybe "Dirty Water" is more fitting.
State of the Sports
A Stanley Cup favorite going into the season, the Bruins find themselves in fifth place in the Eastern Conference halfway through the season. It's hard to place blame on the players or coach, though, since they haven't been healthy all year. Milan Lucic is finally back, but Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron are hurt. At this point, you just have to hope they can stay in the playoff hunt until everyone comes back healthy.
One thing you figure the B's will have to do is use their draft pick flexibility to their advantage. They hold four first round picks in the next two drafts, as well as five in the second round. I don't see them using all of these picks to draft young guys, so why not trade some of the picks for a viable winger to help out the offense? We all know they need it: The Bruins rank 27th out of 30 NHL teams in goals scored.
The Winter Classic has been the highlight of the Bruins' so-so season thus far. If they can't get healthy or make a trade by the March 3 deadline, it could very well be the highlight for the entire season.
Another team with injury issues, the Celtics have not been able to put together a healthy stretch this year. After an impressive road victory on Christmas Day in Orlando, Garnett, Pierce, and other important role players have all missed games. However, the C's still remain a game and a half away from the first seed in the Eastern Conference.
There are two things that worry me about this team going forward. One is their health to start the playoffs. I trust that Doc Rivers knows how to handle all of these guys at this point, so they'll probably be fine. The other issue is their rebounding. They rank 28 of 30 in the NBA in team total rebounds. You might say that's skewed because they shoot well, but they rank in the middle of the pack in defensive rebounds. Come playoff time, that won't cut it.
I see the Celtics right in the thick of things at the end of the season. This is a veteran team, and they have proven they can win on the road in the playoffs as well. However, this road won't be easy, as they will have to face a combination of the Hawks, Magic, and Cavaliers, then top it off with the Lakers. The currently constructed team has one or two deep runs left in them, so like the Michael Jackson tour, this is it.
3. Red Sox
The Yankees won their 27th World Series last season. They went out and made a monster trade for All Star center fielder Curtis Granderson.
The Red Sox were swept in the ALDS. They let their cleanup hitter go, and replaced him with nothing.
That's not exactly true, because the Red Sox signed John Lackey, Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro, and Adrian Beltre. These moves fall in place with Bill James, Sabermetrics, and the new school approach to baseball scouting. No doubt this team will be improved on defense, and have one of the scariest three-man rotations if they can make it to the playoffs. But the question is: Where will the runs come from?
I said in a previous article that the Red Sox needed to make a run at Adrian Gonzalez. Yes, the Red Sox have guys who will see a lot of pitches, get on base, and score a decent amount of runs, but who in this lineup puts fear into pitchers like Manny Ramirez used to?
Pedroia? No sir. Youkilis? Not quite. JD Drew? Maybe if he's healthy all year. Big Papi? Maybe if he starts juicing again, (By the way, thanks for getting to the bottom of that, Ortiz.)
If you haven't read Moneyball, it's a book I strongly suggest reading. If you plan on reading it, (***SPOILER ALERT***) it ends by saying that while setting a team up by Sabermetrics standards ensures winning over a 162-game season, it just doesn't translate into success in a short playoff series. So the Red Sox will be in the running for the AL East crown and the Wild Card at season's end, but I don't think they have the hitting to beat teams with great pitching.
Hard to believe the best team in Boston for the past decade is in need of the biggest makeover.
Or is it?
The Patriots kept much of their core together from 2003-2008 on defense. But then, in an instant, familiar faces disappeared. Ellis Hobbs and Asante Samuel headed south to Philly. Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour were traded to teams out West. Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison headed to television. Did we really expect all of these holes to be filled themselves?
I think this all stems from Belichick losing to the Colts in the AFC Championship back in '06. Belichick realized that the NFL rules catered to the offenses, and so Belichick changed his philosophy to bring in better offensive personnel. So 2007 gave New England fans one of the greatest scoring teams of all time, but the defense changed very little, just aging another year.
The Patriots have struck out on their recent defensive moves (see Derrick Burgess, Adalius Thomas, and Shawn Springs), so that puts them behind the eight ball. The first priority this offseason has to be signing Vince Wilfork to a long-term deal. Beyond that, the Patriots need to find some playmakers at linebacker and in the secondary. Former Patriot teams used to pride themselves on big plays, but this year seemed to be void of them.
Without addressing these needs and minus Wes Welker, it's not out of the question to think the Patriots could be staring up at the Dolphins and Jets in the standings next season.