Here’s a toast to 2017. All four of our pro teams look better as the year ends than they did when it started. And we enter January with realistic hopes that the Eagles can go to the Super Bowl – yes, even with a backup QB.
So let’s look ahead. Here’s my vision of Philadelphia sports in 2018 if, just for once, everything manages to go right.
Well, this is obvious. Ride that home-field advantage to playoff wins over the Saints (or Falcons) and Vikings – dome teams that will shrink in the January chill of South Philly. Then head to Minneapolis for revenge (13 seasons later) over Bill Belichick and the Patriots.
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The Eagles win that elusive Lombardi Trophy by running Jay Ajayi and former Pat LeGarrette Blount 30 times. Nick Foles becomes the modern-day Jeff Hostetler – a backup QB leading his team to a Super Bowl title.
After the season, Carson Wentz rehabs and springs back to pre-injury form. The Eagles survive the poaching of coaches and free agents that inevitably scavenge elite teams. And the 1st-round pick is invested in some huge side of beef (Mike McGlinchey, Orlando Brown) to replace Jason Peters at LT.
Realistic chances of this occurring: I honestly think the Eagles will get to Super Bowl LII. Win it? Well. . .
Wentz is young and strong enough to bounce back just fine. I expect, however, that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and QB coach John DeFilippo will be carrying clipboards elsewhere next season.
Making the playoffs is a must. Winning a round this season? Too much to dream for.
Three things are critical: Ben Simmons needs to develop a jump shot to compliment the rest of his outstanding game. Markelle Fultz must debut (mid-January?) and prove to be a consistent pull-up shooter. And Joel Embiid must stay healthy – and continue to be the most-fun athlete in America.
Oh, and Brett Brown still must show he can draw up plays to win the close games. Much as we all love the coach, those nail-biters always seem to go against the Sixers.
In the off-season, the Sixers need to add just one player. Lebron James.
Realistic chances: James is a pipedream, of course, but I have confidence in all the rest. Except, perhaps, for the part about Fultz debuting in January.
The Next Generation moves in. Rhys Hoskins hits 35 homers, Nick Williams drives in 90 and Jorge Alfaro guns down runners and sends rockets over the CBP fences. J.P. Crawford takes over at SS and fields, well, 90 percent as well as Freddy Galvis. Veteran free agent Carlos Santana puts up a .365 OBP and becomes a fan favorite by playing walkup music of his namesake.
Either Maikel Franco or Odubel Herrera gets traded for a solid No. 2 starter – and whichever one remains stops confounding Phillies fans with inconsistent play. Aaron Nola throws 200 solid innings and makes the All-Star Game. Somewhere from the jumble of prospects and injured vets a reliable 3rd starter is found.
And Gabe Kapler, the most out-of-the-box hire to run a team in this town since a QB coach named Andy Reid was handed the Eagles in 1999, proves to be not just another pretty face.
Realistic chances: I’m likely too hopeful about the kids, because baseball prospects are so iffy. And, while I believe in Nola, I have no blessed idea where the other pitching is coming from.
It’s optimistic to think they even make the playoffs this season, let alone win a round. But Claude Giroux is back to top-caliber form and Jakub Voracek is on pace for 80 assists. Ivan Provorov continues to justify belief that he may become the top defenseman in the NHL.
Things will work if goalie Brian Elliott plays as well in May as he has in December. And while GM Ron Hextall keeps preaching patience, some of his bus-full of prospects have to start excelling at the NHL level. Thus far, the hype has exceeded the reality.
Realistic chances: I like many of the Flyers pieces. But all the stats on puck possession, power play and penalty kill suggest something’s lacking from this team.
And I’ve got doubts about coach Dave Hakstol. The Flyers system doesn’t suit their personnel and, sad to say, they’re boring to watch. Of all four local teams, the Flyers are the one where I expect the most change in 2018.