At FOXSports.com, this definitely qualifies me to give Christmas gifts — both naughty and nice — to every NFL team. Here are some presents I would leave under the tree if ol’ Kris Kringle didn’t already have dibs on the reindeer.
Dallas: A permanent head coaching gig for Jason Garrett. He deserves the shot after leading Dallas to a 4-2 record — with a backup quarterback, no less — after the midseason firing of Wade Phillips.
New York Giants: A punter who can kick the ball out of bounds when asked, especially when it’s Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson on the receiving end. The Giants already gave the erratic Matt Dodge an early Christmas gift by letting him keep his job after Sunday’s debacle against the Eagles. Should Dodge make another costly mistake like that, head coach Tom Coughlin and general manager Jerry Reese deserve to get run out of dodge for not making a change.
Philadelphia: An electric shock collar for Michael Vick that goes off any time the quarterback speaks about wanting to own another dog in the future. This would serve as a painful reminder of how Vick should have felt when torturing animals for his own sadistic pleasure. I hope he has learned his lesson, but it’s much too soon for Vick to publicly talk about the desire for pet ownership again.
Washington: A refresher course for Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen on how to successfully rebuild a team. Washington’s 5-9 record is bad, but the handling of the Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb situations has been even worse. It’s amazing that the Redskins are entering 2011 with far less reason for optimism surrounding the franchise than when Shanahan and Allen — who came with a track record of success — took charge.
Chicago: T-shirts that say, “We told you so!” During the preseason, Chicago head coach Lovie Smith began trying to channel the spirit of successful Bears teams from years past by giving his players clothing with the slogan, “Monsters of the Midway.” The Bears (10-4) have honored that tradition by shocking skeptics and winning the NFC North.
Detroit: A mended right shoulder for quarterback Matt Stafford. The Lions (4-10) are showing late-season signs of life. But to emerge as a true NFC North force, the Lions need Stafford to fully recover from the arm injuries that have ruined his first two NFL seasons.
Green Bay: A voodoo priestess to break the hex on the franchise left behind by Brett Favre. Injuries and poor special teams play are factors, but I’m starting to think that Favre must have cursed this team with awful luck. The Packers haven’t won a playoff game since their ugly split with Favre during the 2008 preseason. Unless Green Bay (8-6) ends a two-game losing streak Sunday against the visiting New York Giants, the Packers very well may be sitting at home watching the postseason this year — just like Favre.
Minnesota: A new stadium and a new quarterback after the roof caved in on both in 2010.
Atlanta: Respect. The Falcons (12-2) are tied with New England for the NFL’s best record and have an even longer winning streak at eight games. Atlanta, though, isn’t creating the same Super Bowl buzz as the Patriots. That should start to change Monday night if the Falcons defeat visiting New Orleans to clinch the NFC South title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Carolina: A visit to Panthers owner Jerry “Scrooge” Richardson by the ghosts of Christmas in hopes it will inspire him to spend some money on his moribund franchise. In a year without a salary cap, no NFL owner made a bigger cash grab than Richardson. The Panthers have a player payroll in the $77 million range. Such penny-pinching has played a significant role in Carolina (2-12) fielding the NFL’s worst record. It also gave sitting-duck head coach John Fox no chance to win entering the final year of his contract. Fox, who has led Carolina to one Super Bowl and two other playoff appearances in the past eight seasons, deserved better. So did Panthers fans who stuck by the team.
New Orleans: A return to form by running back Reggie Bush for the playoffs. New Orleans (10-4) is still sitting pretty for a postseason berth, but another Super Bowl run will be much more difficult if Bush isn’t once again causing matchup headaches for opposing defenses. Bush hasn’t displayed the same elusiveness since returning from a fractured fibula in Week 12.
Tampa Bay: The return of a once-impressive fan base. It’s sad to see that not even a winning season with an exciting young quarterback (Josh Freeman) was enough for the Bucs (8-6) to sell out any of their first seven home contests to lift a local blackout. The Bucs need to revamp their offseason marketing efforts to revive the interest that plummeted after the 2008 campaign.
Arizona: Kurt Warner to come out of retirement. OK, that’s as likely as world peace. But the Cardinals still need a veteran quarterback with rookies John Skelton and Max Hall no sure thing at the position. One intriguing possibility: Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2011 and knows the division’s defenses inside and out from having spent 10 seasons in Seattle. The 35-year-old Hasselbeck is having a down year, but let’s not forget that Ken Whisenhunt helped rejuvenate Warner’s career after becoming Arizona’s head coach in 2007.
St. Louis: A bona fide No. 1 wide receiver for Sam Bradford. It’s amazing how much success the rookie quarterback has enjoyed considering the injuries and inexperience that have maligned his pool of targets. If Bradford is paired with an elite wideout, the Rams could rule the division for years to come.
San Francisco: Jon Gruden. With Mike Singletary overmatched as an NFL head coach, the 49ers (5-9) need a fresh start. Gruden and his West Coast system would give San Francisco a chance to recapture the glory days when that style of offense led the way to Super Bowl titles.
Seattle: Name tags. With 266 roster transactions since the Pete Carroll/John Schneider regime began earlier this year, some Seahawks veterans may not know who occupies the surrounding lockers. Expect more change in the upcoming offseason as Seattle (6-8) tries to find the right mix of talent to post its first winning record since 2007.