I'm not sure a city has ever had a sports year better than Boston had in 2004. The Patriots won their second Super Bowl in a row. The Celtics finished first in their division and were a couple of years away from nailing down a championship team. Oh, and yes, the Red Sox ended what was, at the time, the most tortured title drought in all of sports. Heck, even the Bruins won their division.
That probably can't be topped. But, like 2016, 2017 promises to be a terrific year for several sports cities, and a lousy one for some others. I miss when The Sporting News used to rank all 271 major American sports cities -- this year, Terre Haute, Ind., edged out Ruston, La. -- and while I don't have the intestinal fortitude for such a massive endeavor, I thought it might be fun to look forward and predict which sports cities are going to have an amazing year.
By the way, how'd my predictions do for last year? Having Denver in the bottom five was a rough one, but I did have Chicago first … and, fair to say, that played out.
We'll rank the top 10, and the bottom five. We'll start with the happy stuff.
10. Minneapolis. This feels more like a test run for 2018, when they'll host the Super Bowl and all their young talent starts to mature. But the Vikings, Wild, Twins and especially the Timberwolves are all stacked with future stars just figuring their ways around their respective leagues. It might not all come together in 2017, but if you could buy low on a sports town, this would be the one.
9. Los Angeles. Everything depends on the Clippers here. If they can get Blake Griffin healthy and go on a run, they elevate the whole town, particularly if the Angels can be closer to their analytic projections than their 2016 record. The Dodgers are World Series contenders, the Lakers are improving, and either the Kings or Ducks will make a playoff run like they always do. Also: UCLA might be the best team in college basketball.
8. Pittsburgh. Sneaky-huge possibilities here. The Pirates look to be much improved with an influx of talent coming in. The Penguins are the defending champs primed to make a run again. And the Steelers are the team none of the top seeds in the AFC want to play.
7. New York City. The Jets, Nets and Islanders are toast. But the Giants are a surprise Super Bowl contender, the Mets and the Yankees are fringe contenders on an upward swing, the Rangers have improved from last year and the Knicks -- fingers crossed -- might not be an actual embarrassment. Still: The place looks sort of far from a title, minus another crazy Giants run.
6. Chicago. As long as the Cubs are still the Cubs, there's plenty to be happy about here, despite the Bears and White Sox. The Blackhawks look primed for another Stanley Cup run, and even if the Bulls aren't great, isn't it nice to see Dwyane Wade back in his hometown?
5. Dallas. The Mavericks have finally bottomed out, and the Stars are having a rough year. The Rangers might take a step backward. But all that matters here is that the Cowboys have, at last, gotten straightened out. If the Cowboys make, or, heavens, win the Super Bowl, this place will be lit up the next 11 months of the year. It'll sort of be comfortable back resenting and being envious of the Cowboys again, won't it?
4. Cleveland. They broke through! The misery is over! But the party might just be beginning. This Cavaliers team looks a lot better than last year's; the NBA Finals everyone assumes is coming is going to be amazing. There's no reason the Indians can't win their division and get right back where they were again. And I'm mostly sure that the Browns will in fact win one game in 2017 -- totally, gotta happen.
3. Houston. The hosting of the Super Bowl is just the start. The Rockets aren't just good again, they're a total blast to watch: Mike D'Antoni, James Harden and Daryl Morey should have gotten together years ago. Adding Carlos Beltran to that young Astros core is both nostalgic and exciting. Jeff Bagwell's probably going to at last make the Hall of Fame. And the Texans somehow look so much better with someone named Tom Savage as their quarterback.
2. San Francisco/Bay Area. The Warriors, somehow, look like this is the best team ever. The Giants lost their every-other-year title thing but are still serious contenders. The 49ers stink, but the Raiders have finally ended that playoff drought and are capable of even more. San Jose is probably going to win its division. And hey, the A's are due for a surprise, aren't they?
1. Boston. Yep, these guys again. The Red Sox look to these eyes like the favorite in the American League, the Patriots are the AFC favorite, and the Celtics are still well-poised to figure out how to finally add that second superstar they were this close to grabbing in Kevin Durant. Heck, even the Bruins could make a playoff run. Oh, and Harvard might make the tournament again, and "Manchester by the Sea" might win an Oscar.
And the bad …
5. Atlanta. You couldn't do much worse than 2016, which, as usual, began with promise and ended up unfulfilled. The good news? The Braves should improve, the Falcons will make the playoffs and there's an MLS team coming. If Kirby Smart could take control of the SEC East, that would help too.
4. Denver. This feels like the end, doesn't it? The Broncos are wobbling, the Rockies are making strange moves no one understands, the Avalanche are terrible and the Nuggets probably need to start blowing things up.
3. Miami. The Dolphins turned it around a bit, but only temporarily, and the Marlins just suffered the worst loss any franchise can bear. With the Heat having their worst season in a decade, this is the darkest timeline.
2. Buffalo. And here we are again. The Bills have to start over once more, and the Sabres' reconstruction projection is going ever sooo sloowwwwwly. Worse, the Raiders' playoff drought is over, which just puts an even brighter spotlight on the Bills. It's never easy in Buffalo.
1. Phoenix. So! The Coyotes are lousy. The Diamondbacks fired their whole front office. No one is really sure what the Suns are doing. And the one team this town did have going, the Cardinals, completely fell on its face after a whole offseason of hype. Oh, and the Final Four they're hosting has to follow that Final Four from last season. They'll always have the Arizona Fall League, anyway.