Celtics

Who's got next?

590568.jpg

Who's got next?

I dont know about you, but I could get used to having Wednesdays off. Really breaks the week up, dont you think? Honestly, screw healthcare and immigration, all Obama or Romney needs to do is adopt a Wednesdays Off! policy and theyll run away with the election.

Anyway, welcome back to work. Hope youre not too tired, too hung over, or too still drunk in front of that keyboard. Hope youve got all your limbs in tact. Hope you celebrated freedom with the passion of a sermonizing Ray Lewis.

And most of all, hope youre ready for some wild excitement in the world of sports!

OK, that last part was a joke. Excitement? Come on now. Its July, aka the most boring month on the sports calendar. And this summer in Boston, July takes on an extra boring identity. The Pats dont start until the 26th; the Celtics will take a few days to sort out Brandon Bass and Ray Allen before heading into virtual hibernation; the Bruins have spent the off-season quietly stroking their Zambonis while the rest of the NHL feasts on free agency.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are all we have, but until Crawford, Ellsbury, Middlebrooks and Pedroia are back in the everyday line-up, Bobby V.s boys are merely treading water. And thats fine, but after three months, the noveltys wearing thin.

No, no. Despite what you saw last night, July is not a time for fireworks in professional sports. Its a time for boredom, for forced rhetorical contemplation. For questions like this:

Which team is the mostly likely to bring home Bostons next title?

OK, so let's see here . . .

Instinctively, the Pats are the most logical answer. After all, the AFC picture hasnt changed too much since February.

The Steelers and Ravens didnt get better. The Jets continue to flail. The Broncos are interesting, but you don't know howif Peyton will bounce back. The Texans are still terrifying when healthy, but lost one of the best defensive players in the league. The Bengals, Bills, Chargers, Raiders and Chiefs theyll be fun, but aren't quite ready. And what else can I say? Its July. But considering what happened last year, and in the five months since, the Pats are in prime position.

The biggest question is still the defense, especially if they dont come to terms with Andre Carter. But Ill tell you this: Belichick's building himself an army at linebacker.

Its the calling card of every dominating Belichick D. In the 80s, he had Taylor, Banks and Carson with the Giants. In the 2000s, he had Bruschi, Vrabel, McGinest and Co. Now, between Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and hopefully Donta Hightower the Pats have a core of angry and tough, but also versatile and athletic LBs. And you know Belichicks got his Tommy Bahama boxers all twisted in anticipation. If those guys can do some damage and the offense can just stay healthy, the Pats will be among the NFL elite.

One that note, the issue of elite is what will probably haunt the Celtics moving forward.

We can all agree that theyre in a much better position than we thought theyd be at this point. With KG, Pierce, Rondo, Bradley, Jason Terry and hopefully Jeff Green and Brandon Bass, the Celtics will be competitive; they're one of the top four teams in the East. But while the Pats are undoubtedly in the upper echelon of the NFL, the Celtics arent quite there in the Association. Even with their encouraging off-season, you cant help but feel like the Green will spend the next few seasons on the outside looking in while the likes of LeBron and Kevin Durant imprint their legacies on NBA history.

Still, as we saw last year and numerous times before that all it takes is one injury to really shake things up. Derrick Rose goes down and the Bulls go from contender to pretender, and suddenly opportunity knocks. And if the Celtics can somehow stay healthy and reach next years playoffs with their entire team intact, theyll once again be in a position to take advantage of any love the basketball Gods want to throw their way.

Its not ideal, but all things considered, well take it.

The Bruins situation feels a little more optimistic than the Celtics, mostly because theres no one in the NHL on the level of Miami or OKC. No one that you look at on paper and say: "Oh man, there's so much better than the Bruins. Boston doesn't have a shot!" While Peter Chiarelli defiantly shrugged his shoulders at free agency, you can't really blame him. He's happy and confident with what the Bruins have a core of players who already climbed the mountain, who know what it takes to win and still have the talent to do so. Throw in a still-improving Tyler Seguin, who should continue to expand upon his dominance, and the Bruins will be in the mix for all Stanley Cup conversations.

Of course, there's a huge wild card in this year's discussion: Goaltending. It's what won them the Cup last summer, and could very well leave them short from here on out.

Tim Thomas was a pain in the ass this season, but he still ranked third in wins, third in goals against and second in save percentage in the Eastern Conference. Sure, in Tuukka Rasks's 23 games he had a better percentage and GAA than Timmy, so there's reason for hope. But as we know, the postseason is a different beast, and it's now been two years since Tuukka even played in the playoffs. We still don't know what he's capable of under that spotlight, and until he proves otherwise, questions will linger. It will be impossible to enter any playoff series with the confidence that you had under Thomas, and I'm going to stop talking about hockey now before I say something incredibly stupid.

And finally, there's the Red Sox. Ah yes, the Red Sox. On their third month of treading MLB water, but getting closer to judgment day.

Listen, I know it's easy to write this team off. To say: "Please . . . they suck! They don't have a chance in October!" And then "I told you so" yourself silly when they fall short. You know why? Because odds are that the Sox WON'T win this year. Hell, they've only won it twice in 94 years! It's not an easy accomplishment.

But to say that the Sox don't have a chance is insane. All they have to do is sneak into one of the Wild Card spots right now, even after the awful West coast swing, they're only two and a half back and anything's possible. Then you have Beckett, Lester and Buchholz. Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Ortiz and Crawford. You have a rotation with the potential to win games by itself with a line-up capable of torturing any pitcher. You have a chance. Just as much as any other team that's reached that point.

Still, it won't be easy. It's impossible to sit here today and not worry about how Ellsbury and Crawford will fare after missing a few months, or how Beckett's shoulder will hold up, or if Pedroia's thumb will ever get better or if David Ortiz's bitching will reach a boiling point and start affecting his on-field production. There's so much baseball to be played and unknowns to come to light. But they still have a shot.

Fortunately, all four of our teams do. But if I'm ranking their chances, here's my break down:

1. Pats
2. Bruins
3. Sox
4. Celtics

What do you think?

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Jayson Tatum vs. Markelle Fultz debate

best_of_bst_podcast.jpg

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Jayson Tatum vs. Markelle Fultz debate

0:41 - Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith give their reactions on the Celtics getting their first win of the season and a comparison between Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving in the 4th quarter.

7:17 - Phil Perry joins BST to break down the tale of the tape between the Falcons and the Patriots as he breaks down the quarterbacks, offense, defense, coaching, and intangibles between the two teams.

11:57 - Our crew on BST discuss number 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz and number 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum going up against each other and debate who seems like the better pick so far. 

16:35 - In this segment of Irrelevant Questions, Tom Curran interviews Patriots WR Phillip Dorsett as he asks him a bunch of random questions. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

astros_justin_verlander_102017.jpg

ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

HOUSTON -  Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE