The first year of the second decade of the new millennium is chugging to a close. Here's what I'm looking forward to in 2011.
We start with the NFL which is the king of all sports in our country.
The New England Patriots think they are going to win the Super Bowl and you can make a good case for the Belichickmen avenging their stunning Super Bowl loss in the desert four years ago. The Pats are 13-2 and have already beaten every threat in the AFC (Ravens, Steelers, Jets, Colts). The Pats will have a first-round bye, then play twice at home for their ticket to Jerry Jones' playpen and a date in XLV Feb. 6. Tom Brady and Michael Vick are going to wrestle for the MVP award and might go to head-to-head in the Super Bowl.
The NFC is going to come down to the Falcons and Saints and tonight's showcase game should be a preview of the conference championship.
Look for the NFL's disturbing concussion story to gather more steam in 2011. Along with the 18-game season and a franchise in Los Angeles, concussions are the NFL's hot button issue. How many more Sundays will we see a guy like Aaron Rogers starting a quarterback two weeks after sustaining his second concussion of a season?
Talk with any group of former NFL players and they will tell you of memory loss. These middle-aged men too misplace their keys and lose their way as they wade into their middle years. Still, you can't find one player who'd trade his NFL days. They would all do it all over again and that's one of the big problems. Ask Aaron Rogers.
NFL labor is going to get a lot of ink. This always happens when a billion dollar industry faces a lockout.
The NBA playoffs are going to be great and we can thank LeBron James and the Miami Heat for finally playing up to their reputations. The Heat believe they are on a collision course with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers (previewed on Christmas Day). The San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and Orlando Magic want to crash the Lakers-Heat party, but only the Boston Celtics can prevent a Kobe-LeBron Finals. I know this makes me sound like a Boston honk, but it's true. The Celtics have four Hall of Famers, plus Rajon Rondo. They are also getting their starting center (Kendrick Perkins) back at midseason. If they stay healthy, they are a threat to take out the Heat in the Conference Finals. Another Boston-LA cage match would titillate Basketball America, but Lakers-Heat is the series David Stern and the sponsors want.
In the NHL, the Penguins will beat the Capitals at Heinz Field on New Year's Day. Sidney Crosby is going to win his second Hart Trophy as league MVP. Boston's Tim Thomas is on course to win another Vezina Trophy, but the B's -- who last won a Stanley Cup in 1972 -- will be thwarted again in the playoffs. Boston likes to claim it's a hockey hub, but Detroit remains USA's true hockeytown. Come June, look for the Red Wings and Penguins in a rematch of the Stanley Cup Finals. Elsewhere on ice, Donald Fehr will bring his smarts and intransigence to the NHL labor table, the league is expecting to finally sign a significant television deal, and fans will keep watching CCM commercials to find out where Alex Ovechkin's severed head goes next.
In baseball, Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar will be announced as Hall of Famers in early January. The Phillies are going to be all the rage when pitchers and catchers report in February. We all expect Yankee GM Brian Cashman to do something big before the start of spring training, but I'm looking for the Red Sox and Phils to make it to the World Series. It will be the first Fall Classic featuring Boston and Philadelphia since 1915 when Babe Ruth was a kid lefty for the Sox. The Phillies will win the World Series because of all their starters, but Tim Lincecum will win the Cy Young Award.
Instant replay will be baseball's topic du jour and it's not as easy as it sounds, folks. The human element has been part of baseball for more than a century and the national past time is not best served by managers tossing red beanbags after a drive down the right field line which might have been fair or foul.
Auburn will beat Oregon Jan. 10 to win the national championship. Tiger Woods will come back to win the Masters and his story will somehow be equated with that of Michael Vick. A Kenyan will win the Boston Marathon. John Calipari will take Kentucky to the Final Four -- an appearance which someday will be vacated like Coach Cal's trips with UMass and Memphis. Rafael Nadal will win at Wimbledon. Lance Armstrong will be indicted and Roger Clemens will go to prison. No horse will win the Triple Crown. Christian Bale will win the Oscar for
Happy New Year.