With 2020 officially in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead to what’s coming in 2021. 2020 was a rough year for Boston sports, as it saw the departure of some notable stars from the city. However, with a new year comes new hope, and there are still a lot of things to be excited about if you are a Boston sports fan. Let’s take a look at what we can look to expect from the four major Boston teams this upcoming year.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Patriots have struggled mightily in their first season without Tom Brady. However, this offseason can be a time for the Patriots to build themselves back up. With only one game left, the Pats will head into the draft with a mid-level first round pick in the draft. The Patriots will also have one of the highest salary caps in the league, with predictions ranging anywhere from $50 to $60 million. This gives them a lot of leeway to operate that they did not have last offseason. Their cap situation wasn’t good, and they really had to wait until Brady decided to leave before making their moves. They can now operate with the freedom of a team knowing what it has to accomplish heading into the offseason.
The first order of business should be finding their starting quarterback for next season. Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham have both shown us this season it isn’t going to be them. There are probably going to be a decent amount of quarterbacks on the move this offseason, so the coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots could explore that market if they feel so inclined. Or they could pick one up in the draft, whether they use their own pick, or trade up. Whereas the Patriots waited around to pick up Newton last year, they should be aggressive in identifying who they want, and making the move to get them.
The next order of business is they must fortify the other weak spots on the team. Certain areas of depth, such as running backs, offensive line, and secondary, really don’t need much help. The cap space and draft picks should be spent on wide receivers, tight ends, and the front seven on defense (linemen and linebackers), as they are position groups that are depleted. One of the more appealing names potentially on the trade market in Julio Jones, who has consistently been linked to the Patriots throughout his career. If he’s available at the right price, he would surely be an upgrade over the likes of Damiere Byrd and Jakobi Meyers.
Even if the Patriots are able to put together a successful offseason, expectations should be tempered heading into next season. They will still be far behind the powerhouses of the league, such as the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers. Their ceiling is probably sneaking into the playoffs as a wild card team and facing an early exit, while the floor could really go as low as a full scale rebuild. With Belichick leading the charge, the floor seems unlikely, but the Patriots are most likely going to spend the next few seasons in mediocrity before they are able to return to their prior dynasty status.
BOSTON RED SOX
The Boston Red Sox labored through the shortened 60 game season in 2020. Injuries, regression, and a weakened farm system, set the Sox up for failure last season, and fail did they ever. They will look to get things back on the right track in 2021. After his season long suspension, Alex Cora has returned and will take charge of the team again. That will provide the team with a solid building block as they move forward, as he is well liked among the players in the clubhouse, and has been a huge help in the development of younger players, with Rafael Devers being a prime example.
However, this team still has a lot of holes to fill. The MLB is currently in the midst of it’s free agency period, which has been dragging on for a couple months now, so the Sox have the opportunity to make some upgrades. The Sox have been aggressive in pursuing some players, but haven’t had much success. The two notable signings so far have been Hunter Renfroe and Matt Andriese, and while both aren’t name that are going to jump off the page, they should be helpful pieces on a team that didn’t have much depth last season.
With those moves in the books, the Red Sox should continue to look to add some more arms for the rotation and bullpen. Even before Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez missed the entire season, the Sox were ridiculously shorthanded in the rotation. Both are expected to return at some point during the 2021 season, but it still feels like the Sox are lacking the necessary number of quality pitchers. In the bullpen, they haven’t really had a true closer since Craig Kimbrel’s departure. Brandon Workman was used in that spot before he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, and then Matt Barnes held down the fort for the rest of season. Barnes is supposedly the guy heading into the season, but he’s really a setup man rather than a true closer. The Red Sox have some interesting arms in the bullpen and rotation, but it still feels like more is required.
The Red Sox will likely spend the next couple of years rebuilding in order to become a contender again. Even if the lineup is able to hit again, as bounce back years from Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez would be great to see, they will still struggle with pitching. There isn’t really a conceivable way for this team to make the playoffs this season, or the next few seasons for that matter. General manager Chaim Bloom has a large scale rebuild on his plate, and it will be interesting to see what he can pull off.
The Boston Celtics head into 2021 looking to build off a successful 2020 campaign. Of all the Boston teams, the Celtics have the most legit title aspirations out of them all. Led by the young duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics should continue to be contenders for years to come. While they have proven their talent, it now becomes all the more important for the Celtics to surround them with talent that can help them win a championship.
The 2021 season for the Celtics could be one to remember. The Celtics, barring absolute catastrophe, will most likely make the playoffs this season. How far they go is anyone’s guess. In a suddenly deep Eastern Conference, the Celtics will have a lot of competition to make it deep in the playoffs. The young core of players that play behind Tatum and Brown will have to step up in order for this team to make a deep playoff run. Tatum and Brown can play, but when teams are able to focus in on them, other players need to score.
This issue will hopefully be offset by the return of star point guard Kemba Walker. So much of this team’s success is reliant on Walker’s performance when he returns. Walker struggled with a knee injury through the playoffs last season, and you could tell he wasn’t at 100%. If he can come back and give the Celtics 20 points per game, while being the primary offensive facilitator, the Celtics will be a scary team in the East. If he continues to struggle with his knee injury, then cause for concern will be raised. The Celtics need Walker in order to make a deep playoff run.
The Celtics are primed for another deep playoff run. With appearances in three of the last four Eastern Conference Finals, it feels like the Celtics are destined to make the jump to the Finals. Whether they can pull it off this season remains to be seen. They certainly have the talent to make it happen, but we saw in last season’s loss to the Miami Heat in the ECF that it doesn’t always matter about how much talent how you have. The Celtics should be contenders for foreseeable future, but their goal should be set on raising Banner 18 in the Garden soon.
Time is running out for the Boston Bruins. With an aging core that has continually led the Bruins the playoffs, it feels like their Stanley Cup window is closing quite quickly. Their Game 7 loss to the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals may have been their last chance to raise the Cup for awhile. However, they are back for atleast one more season, and will look to make yet another push to raise the Stanley Cup this season.
The Bruins were torching the NHL prior to the shutdown, but came back looking like a different team. The Bruins were eventually eliminated by a far superior Tampa Bay Lightning team, and left wondering what was next. While the Bruins lost some main pieces on defense, such as Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug, there is still loads of talent on this team. The top line of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand, is still arguably one of the best in the NHL. However, when that line has struggled, the whole team has as well. Building up depth is important to this team’s success, probably more so this season than any of the past few.
The Bruins struggled to find consistent line pairings after the Perfection Line, and it came back to bite them against the Lightning. The second line has struggled to find another running mate alongside Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci, with Ondrej Kase not making much of impact after being acquired at the trade deadline last season. The defensive lines will now need to be reshuffled following the departures of Chara and Krug, with Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo both looking for new line mates now. With the NHL season kicking off on January 13th, there are more questions than usual for the Bruins to answer this year.
With all that being said, it would be genuinely surprising if the Bruins didn’t make a run to the playoffs again. The Perfection Line does enough to make up for some of the team’s deficiencies in the regular season, and that should be the case again this season. Tuuka Rask will return to net after leaving the NHL bubble early, and will hopefully provide a jolt to the team. But unless some of the younger players improve dramatically, the Bruins will probably be looking at a similar finish to last season. There’s a chance it all comes together and they can make a run to the Stanley Cup, but it becomes increasingly unlikely with each passing season.