by Paul West
2022 is here! Welcome to the future, and welcome to another installment of PDub’s Observatory. Submitted for your approval (in the words of the great Rod Serling): a few bold predictions for the coming year in sports. I hope the year has begun with you safer, healthier, and wiser than the year before; and I hope, as usual, you’ll find my takes to be of a reasonable critical standard.
Kansas City wins a Super Bowl rematch with the Buccaneers
On one hand, this prediction seems odd when both teams are coming off disappointing losses; on the other, it seems less than bold to predict two teams that made it last year would make it again. But the NFL has been known for season-to-season parity for years now; and aside from anomalies like the Brady-Belichick dynasty, it’s relatively rare for teams to make the big game twice in a row. In fact, it’s surprisingly common for teams to outright miss the playoffs after making a Super Bowl. Still, late-season losses don’t necessarily predict playoff performances–if anything, sometimes, they spur late-season adjustments that carry teams to deep playoff runs. Despite the fact that the Jets virtually handed them the game with a botched 4th down play call, Brady & the Bucs proved their threat potential with a field-length drive involving players virtually nobody has on their fantasy teams. Brady & Bruce Arians will make adjustments, the Brady-Gronk connection seems back in full force, and Mike Evans’ return is nearing. The Bucs are deep, too: the aforementioned ‘nobody’s fantasy team’ players include Cyril Grayson Jr. and Tyler Johnson, and their receiving corps boasts unheralded speed and good route runners. Their path to February seems isn’t easy, but the biggest threat is Aaron Rodgers & the Packers and they’re at their most dangerous at Lambeau; but the Packers give up lots of points. The NFC Championship could be an all-time shootout, and if the Bucs get a little healthier they could be back in the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs have looked unsettlingly vulnerable all year. Travis Kelce has been mysteriously shut out of a couple of games; Pat Mahomes, despite still putting up great numbers, has missed reads and throws at odd times; they continue to struggle with pass protection, and their defense seems to either get roasted or do the roasting without much in between. Still, the AFC’s top tier is full of ailing and increasingly erratic stars, and like Brady & company, all Mahomes’ flying troupe needs is to be within striking distance to steal a game. They’ve still got all their weapons from last year, and Byron Pringle has stepped up as a tertiary threat. They’ll scheme a way to stop Ja’Marr Chase from going Megatron on them again if they meet in January; and unless they get stuck in a snowy Buffalo (like when the Fouts-Winslow Air Coryell Chargers–coming off arguably the best playoff game in history-lost to a lesser Bengals team in the ‘Freezer Bowl‘ in 1982), they could get it all together and streak their way back to the big game.
Of course, last year’s Super Bowl was largely decided by the absence of a viable offensive line for Kansas City, which left Mahomes running for cover–and throwing from his backside–while dealing with an ailing ankle and turf toe. This time, he’ll outduel Brady in a thriller.
Ohtani repeats as AL MVP & the Angels win 85 games
Ohtani is already the reigning MVP, along with being named the AP Male Athlete Of The Year. He did this while acclimating to all the things that make the MLB season a grind, including travel distances and the sheer number of games. This year, he’ll get to play without adjusting to these kinds of nuances; and he’ll be turning 28 in July, meaning he’s likely entering his prime. With all the damage he was able to do in 2021, imagine what he’d do with Mike Trout hitting in front of or behind him–and playing behind him in center field, when he’s on the mound? For years now, the Angels have perennially been the ‘why aren’t they better?’ team; and aside from the occasional scoring binge, they continued to underperform as a group. But Max Stassi, Jo Adell, Jared Walsh, and David Fletcher have the makings of a balanced, well-rounded supporting cast, and the Angels have solidified their rotation and bullpen. If they were in a weaker division, they’d win 90 games; but in a tough AL West, they’ll clear 85 wins and contend for a Wild Card spot.
The Mets win 92 Games
Among free agent left fielders this offseason, Mark Canha ranked first in WAR; among free agent center fielders, Starling Marte ranked second in WAR. The Mets landed both players, as well as Eduardo Escobar, who’s third in WAR among free agent third basemen (Kyle Seager was at the top of that list, and he recently announced his surprising retirement). Their lineup is already talented on paper, and it seems likely that last year’s collective swoon was something of an aberration. They also added Max Scherzer to their rotation, and he won’t even be their best pitcher when Jacob deGrom is healthy. Thus far in an eventful offseason, the Mets are clearly the most improved team in the National League.
The likely arrival of a National League DH will also work to the Mets’ advantage, as they have a few good hitters without clear homes on defense. Robinson Cano had a resurgent season in the Dominican Winter leagues, and if he were even an approximation of the player he was in 2020 this would be a huge addition. Meanwhile, nobody else in the NL East has made a significant move–and a couple will likely end the offseason in worse shape than they went in. Last but not least, the Mets & their freewheeling front office are almost certainly going to make another significant move once the lockout is over.