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Billy Penn Illustration

Why 2017 is going to be awesome for Philly sports

Playoffs? Contenders? Don’t be afraid to hope for that — for all of them.

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What would make for the best 2017 in Philly sports? A Super Bowl run, The Process leading to an NBA championship, a Stanley Cup parade, an MLS Cup, Villanova repeating, Temple going undefeated and making the football playoffs and an improbable-yet-possible World Series title for the Phils.

That would be one heckuva year.

Would you take the five Philly pro teams making the playoffs in this and/or next season, Villanova winning the stout Big East and making a deep NCAA repeat run and Temple going to another bowl game? It seems far-fetched to think all five teams will make the playoffs in 2017 given how rough 2016 has been, but there’s no doubt that as fascinating as this calendar has been in Philly sports, 2017 is going to be better. Maybe more boring. But better.

Here’s what to look forward to in 2017.

Eagles

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles
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The Eagles have a very good defense, one the Seattle Seahawks players called one of the best in the NFL; high praise coming from that unit. All season, the Eagles one big weakness on defense has been in the secondary, but that was after Ron Brooks went down with a season-ending injury. Now, Brooks isn’t Darrelle Revis in his prime, but his return should bolster that unit without needing to sign another free agent. Still, the Eagles should target a corner in the early rounds of the NFL Draft, maybe even with the first round pick they got from Minnesota. Oh, right, we’re hosting the draft this year.

On offense, yes, things are a mess. However, Carson Wentz will enter year two with a full season under center and the offensive line will, ironically, be stronger and deeper after having to face all the issues this season. Doug Pederson may have found a viable starting tackle in fifth-round pick Halapoulivaati Vaitai, allowing Lane Johnson — assuming he’s not suspended forever next year — to move to left tackle. That said, Jason Peters has indicated he wants to return next season, which means he might be willing to restructure his $11.2 million cap number that will only cost the Eagles $2 million off the cap if they release him.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles

Jason Kelce

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles should try to keep the Pro Bowl tackle for 2017 to make tackle a real strength on the line. Their guards, if healthy, should be solid, and Jason Kelce’s $6.2 million cap hit could be gone ($2.4 million if they cut ties), giving Isaac Seumalo the chance to slide from guard to center for the next 10 years.

The skill position players are still a huge concern on offense, as the Eagles need to find a true No. 1 receiver and an every-down running back. Could DeSean Jackson be coming back, or is he saying he wants to return just as leverage to get a better contract out of Washington?

Yeah, 2017 may not be that boring after all.

Sixers

NBA: Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

At some point in the next, say, eight weeks, Ben Simmons will be on the basketball court alongside Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Ersan Ilyasova and in an instant the Sixers will look like a playoff contender in the East.

Yes, the Sixers have the worst record in the NBA, but they’re still just eight wins from a playoff spot this season. Imagine what this roster will be once Bryan Colangelo finally figures out which big man to trade — Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor or both of them — and drafts a combo guard who can help Simmons bring the ball up the floor, defend opposing point guards and shoot a little bit.

Yes, finding one player to do all that is a tall task, but the Sixers will have another top five pick of their own plus the Lakers first-rounder if it falls out of the top 3 in 2017. Plus, just in case they need it, the Sixers still own the right to swap picks with Sacramento should the Kings hit lottery jackpot.

Will the Sixers go from 15 or 20 wins this season to 45 or 50 next season? They honestly might.

Flyers

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Philadelphia Flyers
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The Flyers face the difficult task of trying to get back to the postseason after bowing out in the first round last year. Dave Hakstol’s team is currently in fifth in their own division, despite having the ninth-best record in the entire NHL. The Metro division is insane this season, as Columbus just won their 14th-straight game on Thursday to take over first place from the Penguins with three games in hand. Pittsburgh has 16 points from their last 10 games and the second most points in the NHL and they aren’t even leading their division anymore.

And yet, the Flyers should only get better as the regular season rolls along, getting off to a slow start as Hakstol and GM Ron Hextall infused the roster with inexperienced but ultra-talented youngsters. Wayne Simmonds is having a career year and the offense as a whole is one of the best units in the league. If the Flyers can shore up the defense, they can compete in the East the rest of this season. While perhaps we shouldn’t expect a super deep run in the playoffs given who is above them in the standings, the Flyers could be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender come 2017.

Phillies

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MLB Network

The Phillies have basically admitted that this coming year could be a tough one as they formally reboot with the last of their aging, high-priced veterans off the payroll. That said, back in April, several MLB pundits pegged the Phillies as a team that can “leap from the doldrums and contend within the next two years.”

ESPN’s Buster Olney compared the 2016 Phillies to the 2012 Cubs, which portends great things to come for the Fightins in three or four years. Would you take full season of rebuilding, getting to see what the Phillies have in Nick Williams and J.P. Crawford? Would you be excited to see 2016 All-Star Odubel Herrera hold down centerfield until first-overall pick Mickey Moniak is ready in a few seasons? Can Maikel Franco continue to develop into a top-tier third baseman? There are a lot of pieces settling into place for this team, but unlike the Sixers, where the stars are there they just need to get healthy, development of the Phillies prospects is still the key.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak talks with manager Pete Mackanin

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak talks with manager Pete Mackanin

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The rotation should be fun to watch in 2017 as well. Sure, Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz won’t do much to excite the fans, but they can probably both be solid starters and good trade bait near the deadline. The young arms of Jerad Eickhoff, Aaron Nola (if healthy), Vince Velasquez and Jake Thompson should be enticing to track this season, while the Phils list Alec Asher, who had great numbers in the minors last year, and Zach Eflin, who was up-and-down in 11 starts for the Fightins last season, as seventh and eighth on the starting rotation. Finally, maybe, some depth. The bullpen, meanwhile, was a huge question mark going into last year, but in 2017, it could be the strongest part of the team.

Could the Phillies actually be good in 2017? A lot would have to go right, but it’ll be fun to, ahem, trust the process.

Union

Keegan Rosenberry scored his first Union goal in a 2-2 draw with the Galaxy

Keegan Rosenberry scored his first Union goal in a 2-2 draw with the Galaxy

Philadelphia Union/Twitter

The Union made the playoffs in 2016 and should be better next year as Earnie Stewart has more time to put his stamp on the roster. Jim Curtin has made it clear he doesn’t expect to go out and spend big money on designated players, instead focusing on building a winner from within and if last season is any indication, with young stars like Andre Blake in net and Rookie of the Year candidate Keegan Rosenberry on the back line, the future looks extremely bright for the Union for, perhaps, the first time in their history.

What’s more is that with the wacky MLS playoff structure, just getting into the tournament can be enough to have a real shot at a title. Since 2003, only two teams to win the MLS Supporter’s Shield for the league’s best record have gone on to win the MLS Cup. No MLS Cup since 2003 has featured both No. 1 seeds in the playoffs and nine of the last 26 teams to make the MLS Cup — the last 13 MLS seasons — have been No. 3, 4 or 5 seeds in the playoffs.

Of all the teams in Philly, the Union may have the best chance to win the next title, if only for how unpredictable the MLS playoffs can be.

Villanova Basketball

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Villanova vs North Carolina
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Villanova hasn’t lost a basketball game since the Big East tournament in March. The No. 1 Wildcats end 2016 in a huge game at No. 10 Creighton on New Year’s Eve day, hoping to head into 2017 undefeated this season and still atop the Big East standings.

In the calendar year 2016, Villanova has only lost three times. In 40 games. It’s hard to think 2017 will be better than 2016 has been, but with a great chance to go deep in the NCAA Tournament this season, it may end up just as good for Jay Wright’s crew.

Temple Football

NCAA Football: American Athletic Conference Championship-Temple vs Navy
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Temple won 10 games for the second straight season. Then Matt Rhule left. But Geoff Collins left his gig as the defensive coordinator at Florida after two seasons to take the Temple head job and hopes to keep the Cherry and White train rolling.

Collins was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State before Florida and while he’s clearly using the Temple job as a stepping stone to a bigger gig — he admitted as much in an on-camera interview during the Military Bowl, telling ESPN, “they aren’t giving away top 20 jobs nowadays,” before talking about how excited he was to be at Temple — 2016 may have been the best season in Temple football history, and 2017 is lining up to reap the benefits of the groundwork Rhule laid out before ditching Philly for Waco, Texas and Baylor. No, Temple will not make the College Football Playoff next year, but they could win a bowl game for just the fourth time ever, which would be nice.

Soul

Uh…

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Dan Levy/Billy Penn

Yeah, it’s been a weird year. Here’s hoping 2016 was the start of a great run.