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Some fearless (or brainless) predictions for 2022 sports in Tampa Bay

John Romano | From the Super Bowl to the Stanley Cup, teams from Tampa Bay have a lot at stake in the coming months.
Do Devin White (45), Sean Murphy-Bunting (23), Mike Edwards (32) and Jason Pierre-Paul (90) have another celebration in Green Bay ahead of them in 2022? That's a mighty tall order.
Do Devin White (45), Sean Murphy-Bunting (23), Mike Edwards (32) and Jason Pierre-Paul (90) have another celebration in Green Bay ahead of them in 2022? That's a mighty tall order. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jan. 1

Let’s face it, the beauty of predictions resides in their potential to implode.

Even the most kindhearted, empathetic and generous person on the planet has, at one point in his or her life, ridiculed some poor yutz for backing the wrong team.

You picked Poughkeepsie to win? What a dork!

Nothing wrong with that. If I’m not on the receiving end of derision on a semi-regular basis, then I’m clearly not stepping out on enough limbs. It is, strangely, one of the joys of being a sports fan.

But, to me, the best predictions are not just the ones that are correct. It is the ones that are correct for all the right reasons. In other words, it is the process of arriving at a prediction that makes it worth remembering and applauding. Or belittling.

And with that in mind, here are a half-dozen predictions for sports in Tampa Bay in 2022. I will happily accept all ridicule that follows in the coming months, although bonus points will be awarded for those who disagree before the results are in.

The Bucs will not return to the Super Bowl

Tom Brady's daughter, Vivian, clutches the Lombardi Trophy while dad takes in the post-game scene after Super Bowl 55.
Tom Brady's daughter, Vivian, clutches the Lombardi Trophy while dad takes in the post-game scene after Super Bowl 55. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Yes, I thought Tampa Bay was the team to beat earlier in December, but two things have happened since then. A number of key players (most notably, Chris Godwin) have gotten hurt, and the Bucs have pretty much lost any chance at the No. 1 seed.

Now, you could correctly point out that the Bucs won the Super Bowl last season as the No. 5 seed in the NFC. But Tampa Bay also had a lot of good fortune last postseason. They drew a historically bad division champion in the first round (Washington), faced a beat-up quarterback (Drew Brees) in the next round and caught Kansas City with a decimated offensive line in the Super Bowl.

The most impressive victory in Tampa Bay’s postseason run was winning the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay. Based on how the standings look today, the Bucs would need a repeat performance at Lambeau Field. And that just doesn’t seem likely.

Since the NFL merger in 1970, no team has ever won consecutive conference championship games (in either the AFC or NFC) on the road. And only one team (the Eagles in 2002 and 2003) has lost consecutive conference championships at home. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, it just points out the difficulty involved.

The Lightning will not win a third straight Stanley Cup

Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy hoists the Stanley Cup while celebrating the Lightning’s 1-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy hoists the Stanley Cup while celebrating the Lightning’s 1-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
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Three months ago, I was certain about this. Since then, the Lightning have done a pretty good job of shaking my confidence.

These guys just keep winning, no matter how many obstacles are put in front of them. I once thought the Yanni Gourde-Blake Coleman-Barclay Goodrow line gave the Lightning the intangible quality that allowed them to succeed in difficult moments, but it now seems as if that resolve is imbedded in the DNA of that entire roster.

At this point, betting against the Lightning is just stubbornness on my part but I keep falling back on the idea that three-peats are ridiculously difficult to pull off in the salary cap era. Hopefully, I’m dead wrong.

Kevin Kiermaier will be in Tampa Bay’s opening day lineup

Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier makes a catch during a September game against the Blue Jays.
Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier makes a catch during a September game against the Blue Jays. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Anticipating a Kiermaier trade has become a routine part of the offseason landscape. And now, more than ever, seems like the right time to deal the Rays centerfielder.

He’ll be the team’s highest-paid player, he’s coming off a strong bounce-back season and the Rays have a Manuel Margot/Brett Phillips replacement platoon in the wings, not to mention Josh Lowe waiting for a promotion from Triple-A Durham.

Yet, I’m guessing the Rays hold on to Kiermaier. At least until July. No matter how proficient Phillips and Margot are, they cannot replicate Kiermaier’s defense. Few players can.

If the Rays decide they have a glut of outfielders, I think it’s more likely they trade Austin Meadows, who is coming off a strong offensive season, still has three years of team control and likely will bring better prospects in return.

Bruce Arians will retire before the 2022 season

Even if the Bucs don't win the Super Bowl this year, coach Bruce Arians doesn't have anything left to prove in the NFL.
Even if the Bucs don't win the Super Bowl this year, coach Bruce Arians doesn't have anything left to prove in the NFL. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Ideally, he would ride off into the sunset on the shoulders of his players after winning Super Bowl 56 in six weeks but I don’t think postseason success will dictate his decision.

Either way, it just feels like the time will be right. The roster is getting older, the salary cap is getting more difficult to navigate, and his coordinators are getting wooed by other teams.

Arians, who will turn 70 in 2022, has nothing left to prove. In eight seasons as a head coach, he won 10 or more games five times, made the playoffs four times, successfully turned the fortunes of a woebegone franchise and won at least one Super Bowl. He will also have been able to walk away on his own terms in both Arizona and Tampa Bay.

Wander Franco will be the youngest MVP in MLB history

Rays shortstop Wander Franco celebrates a single with Rays first base coach Ozzie Timmons during a June game against the Angels.
Rays shortstop Wander Franco celebrates a single with Rays first base coach Ozzie Timmons during a June game against the Angels. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]

Is this a stretch? Oh, yeah. Franco has less fewer than 300 at-bats in his big league career, so projecting an MVP award in 2022 seems ridiculously premature. Particularly with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Dante Bichette, Aaron Judge and Jose Ramirez still in the American League.

But when you consider Franco had a slow first month in Tampa Bay and still posted a 3.5 WAR in less than half a season, it is not inconceivable to think he could be in the 7-8 WAR range in 2022.

Vida Blue was 21 when he began his MVP season in 1971, but turned 22 in July. Franco will not turn 21 until March.

At least one of these predictions will make me look foolish

That’s the only sure bet on the list.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes

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