What’s going to happen in sports during 2021?
It’s a new year and a fresh start for all of us as sports fans. That doesn’t mean that we’re out of the woods, though. The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. As a result, we don’t know if games or events will be canceled or postponed, especially ones that are well into the future.
Still though, that doesn’t mean we can’t think positively. Vaccines are starting to be administered and I suggested in my previous column, if we all come together and continue to do what we can, everything might get back to normal by the end of the year.
I know that’s my mindset and that’s why I decided to make some bold predictions. Feel free to email me if any of these don’t pan out.
I’ll start with football. The NFL playoffs started over the weekend and looking at the big picture, barring an impressive run, there are maybe three or four teams that have a legitimate chance of winning Super Bowl LV.
I know Green Bay Packers’ fans are becoming giddy with the prospect of their fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy, after all, they won it 10 years ago.
However, I think they’ll come up short and it’s not just because I’m a bitter Minnesota Vikings fan. Green Bay is probably the best team in the NFC, but as Yooper fans know, it tends to trip up in the NFC Championship and I think it’ll happen again. My guess is the tripping will be to New Orleans, whose Saints will exorcise the demons that have haunted them for the past two seasons and upset the Packers.
However, the Saints will flop in the Super Bowl to a team that I thought might never win a Super Bowl, the Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen is having a MVP-like season at quarterback, Stefon Diggs is a great No. 1 receiver and I think Buffalo does just enough defensively to stop the Saints. Yes, you read that right. The Bills will win the Super Bowl. I’ll let you laugh for a bit before I continue.
Now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, let’s move on to college sports. As we all remember, the Final Four and Frozen Fours were both canceled and that was the big sign for every sports fans that COVID-19 was serious. Right now, it looks like both tournaments will happen, but the experience won’t be the same, with limited, if any, fans in the building.
When it comes to hoops, Gonzaga seems like the team to beat on the men’s side and I think they’ll finally get that elusive title. That may not be a surprise, but the idea that Iowa makes it to the Final Four probably is. The Hawkeyes have a budding NBA star in Luka Garza and I think he helps carry them all the way to Indianapolis, but they’ll ultimately fall when they get there.
With the women, UConn may be the default pick simply because they’re UConn, but I’m going with Stanford. Head coach Tara VanDerveer became the all-time winningest women’s coach and I think the Cardinal caps off her special year with a national title.
With men’s hockey, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference has won the last four national championships, but the NCHC’s run comes to an end at the hands of the Big Ten, specifically Minnesota. The Golden Gophers haven’t won a title since 2003, when Northern Michigan University head coach Grant Potulny was a player, and haven’t made a Frozen Four since 2014 when Potulny was an assistant coach. This is the year when it turns around for them and although it’s still early, the veteran Gophers are 8-0, goalie Jack LaFontaine has been sharp and they don’t appear to be slowing down. As a result, Dinkytown will be literally fire come April when UM fans start rioting. Trust me, it’s happened before.
Moving on to pro basketball, I think this is the season for the Milwaukee Bucks, but only where they get to the NBA Finals. After underachieving in the Florida bubble last year, Milwaukee looks primed for a deep run again and I think Giannis Antetokounmpo proves he’s one of the elite players in the league by a trip to the big show. However, he and the Bucks will run into a stacked Lakers squad and Los Angeles will win its 18th championship, passing the Celtics and spoiling its fickle fanbase again. Woohoo.
The NHL spent all of last postseason entirely in Canada with the Florida-based Lightning beating the Texas-based Stars. I don’t see any of that happening again, although depending on the pandemic, the whole party-across-the-border thing isn’t completely out of the question. It’s hard to win the Cup two years in a row and although I think Tampa Bay makes it back to the Stanley Cup Finals, it’ll be the desert-dwelling Vegas Golden Knights who will be celebrating on the ice. Oh, the irony.
Let’s close out the year with baseball. Some things won’t change with the Detroit Tigers continuing to be awful, the Milwaukee Brewers underachieving and the Cubs basically being content with that World Series win in 2016 and not really trying anymore.
Some things will change, though, as we’ll get an entertaining World Series with the exciting San Diego Padres meeting up with the Tampa Bay Rays. Padres pitcher Blake Snell will be the storyline with everybody bringing up how Tampa manager Kevin Cash pulled him early and basically cost the Rays Game 6 and the World Series.
However, this time Cash redeems himself and doesn’t make a highly questionable decision with the game on the line. As a result, minds are blown around the baseball world, the Rays win their first championship and my wife is thrilled beyond belief.
Speaking of being thrilled, I think we all will be feeling that emotion by the end of 2021 when it comes to sports. There will be some guaranteed hardships that we’ll have to bear in some capacity, like canceled games and such, especially in the early months, but I think when it’s all said and done, sports will be better shape than when it started this year.
And hopefully, I’ll be feeling better about my Super Bowl prediction.
Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is email@example.com.