The first return games are going to be incredible.
This is my annual top-of-the-year sports prediction column, a collection of crazy guesses and lightly educated guesses. And there will be plenty below.
But my first sports prediction for 2021 is the one I trust the most: Live sports events with large crowds will be an unforgettable experience whenever the vaccination allows it.
The sport and the encouragement of our teams will be part of how we come together. When enough of the population is vaccinated and the stadiums and arenas return to full capacity, it will be an incredible experience.
Imagine a full TD Garden the first time the Celtics threw a 10-2, forcing the opposing coach to request a time-out. Or when the Bruins tied the game in the last five minutes of the third period. Imagine Fenway Park rising when the closer Red Sox later got two strikes on a batter with two outs in the start of the ninth. The Patriots preseason games could even sell out.
The ovations will be louder, richer and warmer.
For nine months, most responsible adults were hyper-aware to avoid getting too close to anyone because the consequences of that simple act could be catastrophic. Eliminating these risks will be a huge weight lifted, especially during a game. Being stuck in Fenway’s tight seats, or lining up for beer, the bathroom, or walking into the crowded bar after the game isn’t going to seem so boring after a year of not being able to do these things.
Strangers will hit each other five times and smile at each other without a mask in a mutual and shared appreciation of this resumption of normality.
Hopefully that will come in time for the Bruins and Celtics playoff games, much of the baseball season, and the entire 2021 Patriots season. But every time that happens, it will be amazing.
Time for predictions …
2021 Patriots quarterback will be Derek Carr – Matt Stafford will cost too much and the Jets will keep Sam Darnold. The Raiders will choose Marcus Mariota, who is cheaper and eventually frees up Carr allowing the patriots buy low on an underrated quarterback.
The Red Sox will not participate in the playoffs – The Red Sox don’t dive into reputable free agents and they don’t have enough tradable assets to build a playoff-caliber team of pitchers. Chris Sale will show promise following Tommy John’s surgery, but he won’t be full again until 2022.
Patriots roster will have huge turnover – Jason McCourty, Patrick Chung, Matthew Slater, Dont’a Hightower, Stephon Gilmore, Joe Thuney, Marcus Cannon and James White will all be elsewhere or retired as the team uses their vast space for a massive overhaul. Devin McCourty will be the rare returning veteran.
College football playoff –Alabama defeats Clemson, 42-39, in the most predictable championship game of an unpredictable season.
Buffalo Bills win Super Bowl – After upsetting the Chiefs in a classic, the Bills finally win a championship but have to wait months for a parade.
The Tokyo Olympics will take place but without certain countries – The Japanese capital and the IOC badly need the games to take place in one way or another to avoid repaying sponsor money. But unfortunately, there will be countries that have not achieved a sufficiently high level of vaccination to send delegations.
Key player to miss Super Bowl for COVID-19 – The NFL’s decision not to bubble for the playoffs will mean that a key player, and possibly several players, will miss the game due to a positive test, creating an eternal cloud of simulations about the game .
Becky Hammond to be NBA head coach – Someone will recognize that she is a great choice.
The Boston Marathon will finally take place … in the fall – April is too early, but a course lined with foliage at the beginning of October will be surrounded by record crowds.
Bruins will struggle to qualify for the playoffs – No Torey Krug. No Zdeno Chara and no real replacements for them. The Bruins will be older and less talented and will barely enter.
Massachusetts will legalize sports betting, but … the state will impose so many restrictions on it that many potential players will either stay with their bookmaker or travel to neighboring states to place their bets – This is my third attempt at this prediction.
Curt Schilling Hall of Fame Induction Speech to be Non-Political– The former Red Sox pitcher, facing the moment of his induction, will be the man who loves the game and is impressed with his moment of induction. He will be talking a lot about politics before the event, but on the podium, it will be about baseball.
This year’s forecast will be better than last year’s – That’s a low bar to hit.
Follow MassLive sports columnist Matt Vautour on Twitter at @ MattVautour424.