Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Next Philly Sports Champ?

It's on the minds and in the hearts of every Philadelphia sports fan. No major Philadelphia sports franchise has won a championship since 1983. The 4 major sports teams have all been to the finals 7 times since '83, with no titles to show for it. The Flyers have been in the Stanley Cup Finals 3 times, the Sixers have been in the NBA Finals once, the Phillies have been to the World Series twice and the Eagles made the Super Bowl once and all came up short. The "loser" tag has been placed on all of the Philladelphia sports teams, not only by fans of our rivals, but by Philly fans themselves. It is the final argument that all Cowboys, Rangers, Celtics and Mets fans have made: how many championships have you won in the last 10/15/20 years? Right now it's been zero for 24 years and counting.

So, which Philadelphia team will be the first to break through and give this town it's parade down Broad Street? And, the better question, how long will it be until it happens? This is a topic that has been brought up numerous times over the last decade, but with 3 of the clubs selling off superstars (Allen Iverson, Peter Forsberg, Bobby Abreu) and the other club coming to a crossroads with their superstar, the dynamics have been changing. In this column I have ranked the four major teams based on their shot to win a title. I count them down from least likely to most likely:

(One note: the years listed here are not predictions at to when these team will win titles. They are the soonest that these teams can be considered an elite, finals worthy team if everything breaks right for them)

4. Sixers
I think everyone can agree that they won't be winning anything anytime soon. I made this comment a few posts ago, but really the only starter that they have who would be a starter on nearly any team would be Andre Iguodala. The rest of their starters range from bad to mediocre. The Sixers really only have two things going for them right now. One would be they have a ton of young players who seem to be getting better every game. Thaddeus Young and Louis Williams will be a couple of solid players for them for many years to come. The only other thing positive about this team is their new GM, Ed Stefanski. He has come into town and quickly won the confidence of the fans. He's a Philly guy who makes himself available to the masses and seems competent, unlike the disposed Billy King. In Ed we trust, and Sixers fans think he will make the right decisions to turn this franchise around. He already started with one solid move, trading Kyle Korver for an expiring contract. That will free up money for a quality free agent to come into town.

Sixers earliest possible title chance: 2015. If all the drafting and free agent signings go well, I give them two years until they can make the playoffs, and then two more before they can get out of the first round, and then three more after that until they can compete for a title. That's assuming everything goes perfectly.

3. Eagles
Two years ago, this team would have easily been the first choice on the list. It's hard not to think the window of opportunity is closed for this team. They had their run of four straight NFC Championships and the Super Bowl appearance, but does anyone think they can get back there with the current group? Andy Reid is going through a bunch of personal problems, Donovan McNabb might not be back next year, they are losing assistant coaches to other teams, and Brian Westbrook isn't always going to be this good. I think they are going to look at the 2008 season as their last chance. They will bring McNabb back and sign a few cheap veterans and try to make one last run. If it doesn't work, then it will be a new system, coach and QB1 in 2009. Does anyone really think the 8-8 team from last year can all of the sudden get 11-12 wins? This entire off-season they will try to sell to us that they were a few bounces away from winning 10 games. Well, a few of the games they won could have easily gone the other way, so I don't buy that logic. They were an 8-8 team because they were an average football team. They had an average offense, an above average defense, and below average special teams. Sounds like a recipe for .500 to me.

Eagles earliest possible title chance: 2013. They will start the rebuilding process after next season's first round playoff exit. Luckily, in the NFL, teams can turn things around quickly. The Eagles do have some young guys to build around on both the offensive and defensive lines, so a lot of it hinges on how good Kevin Kolb is. If Kolb isn't a solid quarterback, their chances get pushed back 5 years.

2. Flyers
Talk about a fast turnaround. This team was awful last year, and if this list was made then, they would be battling for the bottom spot with the Sixers. Since that time, the Flyers have made all the right moves. The have added youth, speed and toughness to the team through trades and free agency. It's amazing how good the young guys are on this team, considering the Flyers have always been competitive, except for last year, which meant they never had a top five pick. This whole turnaround started at last years trade deadline, where they moved Peter Forsberg to Nashville for a bushel of talent and draft picks, and then acquired Martin Biron to be their No. 1 goalie. While Biron has not completely stepped in and established himself as The Man in goal, he has been steady. The Flyers were later able to make another trade with Nashville using one of their extra first round picks that they originally got from them to acquire Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen, two more key pieces. Their other off-season move was to sign Danny Briere, a top playmaker. All of the sudden, the awful Flyers from last year turned into a really fun team to watch and a really good team. They will almost certainly make the playoffs this year, and even could win the Atlantic Division. Of course, the Peter Forsberg situation looms, and his decision could sway the Flyers one way or the other.

Flyers earliest possible title chance: 2010. Even with Forsberg this year, I don't think they will win the Cup. I see them getting to the second round and then falling to a team like New Jersey or Ottawa. Their real weakness right now might be on the defensive end, where they are probably one or two d-men away from having a great defense. Of all of these teams, though, this one has the best chance of winning multiple titles, because the core of the team is so young and talented. The sky is the limit for this group as soon as they get more playoff experience under their belts.

1. Phillies
The only Philly team to make the playoffs in their previous season, this team clearly has the best chance of them all. There are four reasons why the Phillies will be a great team for the next five seasons: Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins. Assuming they keep all four players (cross your fingers with the Howard situation), this team will always be at or atop the NL East. This team is currently constructed to win now, although they do have a few holes that could keep them from a title. The vacancies at third base and at #5 starter are worrisome, but I think this team has more than enough offense to overcome those deficiencies. The Brad Lidge acquisition did two things for this team: gave them a top flight closer in Lidge, and gave them the #2 starting pitching they desperately needed in former closer Brett Myers. Even though Myers doesn't like it, he is much more valuable to the team pitching 7 innings every fifth game than he was pitching 5 innings a week.

So, despite a few shortcomings, the Phillies are poised to repeat as NL East Champions. In baseball, half the battle is simply making the postseason, and once you get there it is any one's title (See the Cardinals of two years ago). The rest of the division hasn't done anything to make the Phils nervous, although the Mets could change that by landing Johan Santana. If they do that, it could set the Phillies back a few years. With this core group of players who are still young, including the best infield in baseball, the Phillies window of opportunity is just starting to open.

Phillies earliest possible title chance: 2008. The Phillies are ready to be contenders now. Only pitching can keep them from being in the mix. If the Phillies acquire a top pitcher, they move from contenders to the favorite. The National League is wide open, so the Phils have as good a shot as anyone this year. Beating the American League representative might be a taller order, with the Red Sox poised to repeat and the Tigers lineup looking scary good.

The four teams in Philadelphia all are at different stages. The team with the best chance to host the next parade is the Phillies, who are ready to win now. The Flyers seem to have the beginnings of something that could be great in a few years. The Eagles are on their way down, and the Sixers are a long way off from even contending for a playoff spot. All of these teams need a few breaks to go their way to get into contention. If the Phillies or Flyers run into bad luck or injuries, it could be a great while longer before we can celebrate. Let's hope it's not another 24 years.

Who do you think will be the next team to win it all? Post your thoughts below.

8 comments:

Ian-Inside the Iggles said...

Phillies do have a great chance of winning now, but they had a horrible off season. They let Rowand walk, and bring in Geoff Jenkins. They trade for a head case closer, and have nobody who can play third base. This team frustrates me.

EnriqueFed said...

Agreed, but there is no way Rowand was going to have the same kind of season again. Jenkins/Werth in RF might actually be pretty productive.

Anonymous said...

IF THE FLYERS ADD FORSBERG, THEY WIN THE CUP THIS SEASON!!! AS FAR AS THE EAGLES, I DON'T THINK THEY ARE AS FAR OFF AS PEOPLE BELIEVE...THEY FINISHED 10TH IN DEFENSE AND IF THEY CAN ADD A PLAYMAKER AT RECEIVER THEY WILL BE RIGHT THERE NEXT FEB...

Anonymous said...

The Flyers will win the Cup within the next five years, maybe three. Bet the bank on it. The Phils probably won't go all the way with the team they have now, but are only a few pieces away from being a legit World Series-caliber team. Problem is, management isn't as committed to winning as it is in selling tickets, so they'll likely fall short. The Eagles aren't winning the Super Bowl for a long time. They need to dedicate themselves to rebuilding or toil in mediocrity for the foreseeable future. As for the Sixers...they are a long, long ways off from winning anything, and that's pretty much all there is to it.

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