Wrapping up 2021 with a few random thoughts…

• Patriots fans should rejoice that the league expanded the playoff field last season, and the schedule this year. After losing to the Bills on Sunday the Pats have two games left in the new 17-game season to try to catch the first-place Bills. If they can’t, they’ll have to settle for one of the three AFC wild-card spots, a field that was increased by one a year ago. They’ll need all the help they can get – there’s a pack of three teams lurking just one game behind New England entering Miami’s game against the Saints on Monday Night Football.

• The Bruins won’t play again this year. The NHL has postponed a total of six Bruins games as the team and league deal with the latest spike in COVID-19 cases. The best hope for the black and gold to face an opponent is on New Year’s Day against the Sabres.

Boston’s Brad Marchand is not happy the NHL won’t allow its players to compete at the Olympics, but with the Bruins and the rest of the league dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks, it was the right call. Winslow Townson/Associated Press

• Brad Marchand doesn’t agree, but the league did the right thing by pulling its players out of the Olympics. That opens up a three-week gap to reschedule games lost to the pandemic. Marchand, 33, was in line to appear in his first Winter Games for Team Canada. It’s unfortunate he won’t get the chance, but the alternative was for Boston to play games without their top players or for the league to extend its season, meaning another Stanley Cup final in July.

• The Fenway Bowl was another victim of this latest surge. It was the second straight year the inaugural bowl couldn’t be played. This time the University of Virginia was forced to withdraw from the game after having dozens of players test positive. There was a last-ditch effort to have Boston College replace Virginia in the game. BC was suddenly without a bowl game when the Military Bowl was canceled, but with BC reportedly losing more than 40 players to COVID and injuries, arrangements couldn’t be worked out.

• It was bad enough the Celtics had to work Christmas Day, but blowing a 19-point lead and losing to the Milwaukee Bucks was the chunk of coal no one wanted in their stocking. If that wasn’t painful enough, Jaylen Brown lost half a tooth when he was smacked in the face by the elbow of teammate Jayson Tatum.

Celtics Coach Ime Udoka was seen picking up the remainder of the tooth during the ensuing timeout. Now he needs to figure out how to put a little bite back into a team that had a losing record heading into Monday night’s game against Minnesota.

• A lot has been made of the increasing number of coaches on Major League Baseball rosters. Alex Cora will be assisted by 11 coaches this summer. That includes two assistant hitting coaches, a game-planning coordinator and a mental skills coordinator. It makes perfect sense. There is more information available to major leaguers than ever before. Having more coaches to dissect and disseminate that information to players is a huge asset.

• Those 11 coaches can’t do much during a lockout. As we approach the one-month anniversary of the work stoppage it’s time to keep an eye on any discussions taking place between players and owners. They haven’t met since they walked away from the table Dec. 2. That’s fine. But if they haven’t scheduled more talks in the next two weeks you can start worrying about games being lost to this labor dispute. And baseball cannot afford to lose a single game. Doing so will alienate a fan base that has little empathy for two sides’ inability to divvy up the revenues of an industry worth more than $10 billion annually.

• We don’t give soccer enough attention, but give the New England Revolution credit for bringing back Bruce Arena to coach the team next season. Arena, the greatest U.S. coach in the history of the sport, led the Revs to the best regular-season record in league history last year. Despite a disappointing one-and-done playoff appearance, there is plenty of reason for fans to be fired up about the team’s postseason hopes next year.

• Speaking of pro soccer, the USL to Portland efforts continue. The latest talk surrounds upgrading Fitzpatrick Stadium to make it a professional soccer jewel. I love the idea of another pro team playing alongside the Sea Dogs and Maine Celtics near Deering Oaks, with Troubh Ice Arena in the middle of it as well.

• Talking to Sea Dogs Chairman Bill Burke last year, we reminisced about the time in December 1992 when the renovation of Hadlock Field was underway. I lived up the street from the ballpark and used their parking lot during snow parking bans. When I went to get my car the next day I was having trouble pulling it out of a snowbank. As I revved in reverse I suddenly felt a jolt and the car moved out of the slush. I looked up and Charlie Eshbach, then president of the fledgling team, had come out of their temporary office and helped push me.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.

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