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Perfect holiday gift for each NFL team

Jesse Reed
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton

Happy Holidays, everyone! With the impending flip of the calendar year soon upon us, there is no better time to hand out gifts, even if they’re just pretend. Every NFL team, whether a perennial contender or the Factory of Sadness, could use some holiday cheer.

With that in mind, these are the gifts we think would be just perfect for every team around the league heading into 2018.

Arizona Cardinals: Land Baker Mayfield in the draft

Carson Palmer is on his last legs. Drew Stanton isn’t the long-term answer. Blaine Gabbert sure as heck isn’t the answer. The Cardinals desperately need a quarterback, and they need one now before Palmer is gone and it’s too late. At this time, if the season ended after Week 15, Arizona would pick No. 12 overall. Some say that’s way too early to select Baker Mayfield, but that’s hogwash. He’s a first-round quarterback who has the skills head coach Bruce Arians covets. He’d be able to either play in Year 1 or sit behind Palmer for a season, allowing the Cardinals to continue staying competitive.

Atlanta Falcons: Improved red-zone scoring

Last season, Atlanta was among the best in the NFL at scoring touchdowns in the red zone, converting them 64.6 percent of the time. This season, the Falcons are well into the bottom half of the league, converting just 54.8 percent of the time, nearly 10 points off last year’s pace. Julio Jones in particular is barely making any impact, which is just crazy. He’s catching just 20 percent of passes his way in the red zone and isn’t targeted much to begin with.

If the Falcons are going to make any real noise in the postseason this January (if they get in at all), this has to change.

Baltimore Ravens: Injury-bug killing virus

The past couple of seasons, Baltimore has been ravaged by the injury bug, perhaps more so than any other team around the league. Even before this season began, they had lost nine players for the year, including the likes of Alex Lewis (starting guard), Tavon Young (star cornerback), tight end Dennis Pitta, running back Kenneth Dixon and rookie offensive lineman Nico Siragusa, who was expected to compete for a starting spot. Then All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda was lost for the season, and there have been seemingly countless other players who’ve missed games as well, including receiver Jeremy Maclin. It’s a wonder Baltimore is still in the playoff hunt right now.

Buffalo Bills: A playoff berth

The Bills still haven’t made the playoffs since 1999. It’s the longest playoff drought in the NFL. With two games left to play heading into Week 16, they’re 8-6, currently good for the No. 6 seed in the AFC. One wonders if their decision to bench Tyrod Taylor a number of weeks back for the rookie, Nathan Peterman, will end up biting them in the end. But at this point Buffalo is still in control of its own destiny. Win out and it will finally break through for a playoff berth. Lord knows, the crazy fans in Buffalo need this.

Carolina Panthers: Consistency from Cam Newton

When Cam Newton is on his game, the Panthers are very tough to stop. Just look at what they accomplished on Sunday at home against the Green Bay Packers. Newton was efficient, completing 20-of-31 passes while throwing four touchdowns and no interceptions. Not coincidentally, the Panthers beat a desperate Aaron Rodgers-led Packers team. Unfortunately, consistent excellence isn’t something we’ve grown to expect from Newton, who’s had an up-and-down season, not to mention career. If he can maintain a more even keel, then there’s only good things in store for Carolina’s offense, and the team’s Super Bowl aspirations.

Chicago Bears: Fire John Fox, hire Josh McDaniels 

The Chicago Bears are going nowhere fast with John Fox as the head coach. His conservative, defensive-minded approach isn’t doing Mitch Trubisky any favors, and at this point the best we can say for him is that he is a constant source of amusement due to his puzzling situational “awareness.”

If the Bears are serious about really building up Trubisky and helping him grow into a franchise passer, they would be smart to lure Josh McDaniels away from Bill Belichick. He’s one of the best game planners in the league and knows how to build an offense around the roster’s strengths.

Cincinnati Bengals: Make bold move to draft Lamar Jackson

Andy Dalton has hit his peak, and that mountain isn’t really all that high. He’s an erratic passer who has some great games but always seems to wilt under pressure. Both he and Marvin Lewis (rumored to be headed out the door after this season) need to go.

In Dalton’s stead, the Bengals should make the bold move to draft Lamar Jackson with their first-round pick in 2018. Jackson would bring a level of excitement to the city of Cincinnati it hasn’t known in decades. His playmaking abilities as a runner and passer would spark the Bengals’ offense to great heights almost immediately, and he’s the kind of difference-maker this team needs.

Cleveland Browns: Finally, take the darn QB atop the draft

The Browns could have had Carson Wentz. The Browns could have had Deshaun Watson. The past two years, the picks they should have used to draft one of those passers were traded to the Philadelphia Eagles and Houston Texans, who’ve been more than thrilled with their acquisitions. It’s time for the Browns to finally bite the bullet and take a top passer for a chance. The worst thing that could happen is he doesn’t pan out. But that’s no different than what’s been happening the past two decades. Roll the dice, Cleveland.

Dallas Cowboys: Draft James Washington

As we covered in our latest mock draft, Dak Prescott needs a consistent deep threat who can gain separation. Terrance Williams comes through now and again, but the Cowboys need a true speed demon like Washington, who averaged well over 20 yards per reception this past year for Oklahoma State. Teaming him up with the aging Dez Bryant would give Dallas a tremendous 1-2 punch which, combined with Ezekiel Elliott, would be very difficult to stop.

Denver Broncos: Convince a top free agent QB to hop on board

Trevor Siemian did all he could the past couple of years. But clearly he’s not a long-term answer as a starting quarterback. Who knows if Paxton Lynch will ever become that guy? We sure don’t have faith it’ll happen, and there’s no way the Broncos can feel great about him, either. Given the team’s talent on defense and at receiver, all that’s really missing is a quarterback who can lead the offense.

Kirk Cousins might be that guy. Or perhaps John Elway could work his magic on Drew Brees like he did with Peyton Manning. Maybe, Sam Bradford or Case Keenum could come on for the short term to right the ship. But something like this has to happen, because the offense is broken.

Detroit Lions: A bell-cow running back

Julius Peppers

Matthew Stafford has languished far too long without a running game. He’s a remarkable passer who has carried Detroit’s offense for years. Get him a running back who can consistently pound out tough yards and suddenly Detroit’s offense is a dynamo. The incoming crop of running backs entering the draft is loaded with potential fits here. The Lions could do a lot worse than a guy like Bryce Love, Derrius Guice or Ronald Jones II.

Green Bay Packers: A pass defense

We’ll assume the 2017 season is already toast for the sake of this argument. Aaron Rodgers will have an entire offseason to get fully healthy, and the Packers will once again be among the most dangerous teams in the league in 2018, thanks to his brilliance. But that pass defense, it stinks. The Packers need help at linebacker and on the back end to shore up one of the NFL’s most inept units. Otherwise, they’ll just be right back at square one with Rodgers being the only reason they have a shot at postseason glory.

Houston Texans: Iron man suit for Deshaun Watson

Okay, so an offensive line that can pass protect would also do. But let’s be honest. It’s clear Watson is the franchise. If he’s healthy, the Texans have a shot to make noise in the playoffs, regardless of anything else that’s going on. Getting J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and the other injured defensive players back will make Houston even stronger. But this is all about whether Watson can stay in the game, so an Iron Man suit for the impressive young quarterback would be the perfect gift for this franchise.

Indianapolis Colts: Healthy Andrew Luck

We’ve seen how much Andrew Luck means to the Colts this year, simply due to the fact they’ve won just three games without him. Like many other young passers, he desperately needs better protection up front. But he also just needs that shoulder of his to heal properly, even if it means another surgery. If Luck can play and stay healthy next season, the Colts are going to be right back in the thick of things in the ultra-competitive AFC South. Without him, they’ll be making another very high pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars: A top-tier QB

Blake Bortles has been red hot of late. We freely acknowledge this. We also don’t trust him to stay hot when the calendar turns to January and the games become so much more competitive. This is still the same guy who is known for throwing it to the other team, his last few games notwithstanding. Give the Jaguars a top quarterback and you’re looking at a serious Super Bowl contender. With Bortles, it’s much like the Houston Texans and Brock Osweiler in 2016 — at some point he will cost them a game when it matters most.

Kansas City Chiefs: Flip Alex Smith for more picks

Coming from a guy who is an Alex Smith apologist, this hurts. But that’s the way of the world sometimes. The Chiefs gave up way too much to keep Patrick Mahomes on the bench in 2018. It just so happens Smith has done them a huge favor by upping his trade value heading into the offseason. Some team will be more than willing to part with some valuable draft currency to land the veteran, who is still 33 years old and playing the best ball of his career.

Los Angeles Chargers: Finally draft Philip Rivers’ replacement

Philip Rivers just turned 36, and let’s be honest as good as he is he’s starting to hit that downside. The past couple of years he’s thrown 31 interceptions, and though he’s been remarkably resilient over his career at some point he’s going to take a big hit that takes him out. The Chargers currently have nobody behind Rivers. If he’s done, so is the offense, which is already just barely above average in terms of scoring with him this year. This is an unsustainable model. One the Chargers must fix quickly.

Los Angeles Rams: Draft a top CB

There aren’t may areas of weakness on this Rams team right now. Blessed with young talent on both sides of the ball, they are cruising into the playoffs after clinching the NFC West in Week 15. But with Trumaine Johnson playing on the franchise tag and looking to get paid, they could lose him in free agency and don’t have any other cornerbacks on that elite level. Even if he stays, the Rams would be smart to invest a top pick in another cornerback to tandem with Johnson to bolster an already dangerous defense.

Miami Dolphins: Bionic knee for Ryan Tannehill

The Dolphins looked like they had something going heading into the playoffs last year. Then Tannehill injured his knee. Predictably, Matt Moore wasn’t able to keep the momentum going. Then this summer Tannehill re-injured the same knee, forcing him to undergo season-ending surgery, which he should have had done in the first place after the initial injury. Needless to say, the current season has gone poorly with Moore and Jay Cutler running the offense. The Dolphins desperately need Tannehill to stay healthy in 2018 or they’re going to have to go back to the drawing board.

Minnesota Vikings: Win Super Bowl LII at home

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum Monday Night Football

No team has ever won (let alone played in) the Super Bowl in their home stadium. The Vikings certainly are a team to be reckoned with heading into the month of January. They enter Week 16 with a record of 11-3, good for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Case Keenum has the offense humming along nicely, and Minnesota’s defense is downright frightening for opposing offenses these days. You couldn’t dream up a more perfect gift for Mike Zimmer and Co. than to win Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis this upcoming February.

New England Patriots: Discover Fountain of Youth

As long as Tom Brady is under center slinging the pigskin around, and as long as Bill Belichick is the man behind the curtain in New England, the Patriots are Super Bowl contenders. However, Brady is now 40 years of age, well past the point where most players deteriorate. He’s still playing at a high level and intends to continue playing for as long as his body allows. But let’s be honest, he’s not going to last much longer. The Fountain of Youth must be around here somewhere…

New Orleans Saints: Another pass rusher

For the sake of this list, we’re assuming Drew Brees and the Saints come to an agreement after this season that keeps him in New Orleans until he retires. He’s still playing at a high level, and now the team has a dynamic duo at running back that is incomparable in today’s NFL. The biggest thing the Saints need now is another difference-maker on the edge playing opposite Cam Jordan. They really need another pass rusher to round out the rebuild on that side of the ball, not to mention some more speed/talent at linebacker.

New York Giants: Use top pick on QB

Eli Manning. He’s a legend in New York. We love him. But his time has come and gone. It’s clear the Giants have to move on now, and that means investing heavily in a young passer. At this point, New York would be selecting No. 2 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft if the season ended today. It’s unlikely that will change with two games left to play. It’s highly likely either Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold will be there at No. 2 if the Giants want them, and they absolutely must make that tough call.

New York Jets: Lamar Jackson falls in draft

The Jets won too many games this year. They just did. Josh McCown was really darn impressive before breaking his hand, but that doesn’t change anything for this team going forward. It still needs a quarterback. But by virtue of winning five games (so far), they’re not going to be in great shape to draft a top passer. The best thing the Jets can hope for is that Lamar Jackson falls in their laps. He has the kind of hard skin to endure the New York media, not to mention the talent the Jets need to grow as an offense.

Oakland Raiders: Fire Jack Del Rio, hire Jim Bob Cooter

Jack Del Rio

Jack Del Rio was supposed to bring the swagger back to Oakland. Yeah, that hasn’t happened. If anything, the Raiders have devolved under the defensive-minded head coach. They suck defensively and the offense is broken. It’s time to change course. Bringing in an offensive guru like Jim Bob Cooter, who has transformed Matthew Stafford the past couple of years, would do wonders for this team going forward.

Philadelphia Eagles: Bolster offensive line

The Eagles are flying high, but they have a major area of weakness in the offensive line right now. After Jason Peters was lost for the year, the line took a turn for the worst, and now Carson Wentz is out until next year with an ACL tear. Assuming Wentz has no setbacks, he’ll need some help up front, even if Peters does come back. He has made a ton of plays this year outside the pocket because pressure broke through. And while he’s great at that, the Eagles need to shore up the front to ensure their future.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Speedy recovery for Antonio Brown

The Steelers lost their best player Sunday night against New England. Antonio Brown had to be helped off the field and ended up suffering a partially torn calf muscle. He’ll be out at least one game but could play this postseason. Pittsburgh desperately needs him, because he’s the most dangerous receiver in the NFL. Without him, their offense is significantly diminished, much like it was last year when Le’Veon Bell hurt his groin.

San Francisco 49ers: Lock up Jimmy G long term

There’s no need for the 49ers to see anything more from Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s absolutely the real deal. In just over three games played this year for San Francisco, he’s passed for 1,026 yards, completing 68.1 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions, one of which was not his fault. Now the only thing left to do is lock this guy up on a long-term deal. General manager John Lynch said the team hasn’t started negotiating yet, but that needs to change, and change now.

Seattle Seahawks: Offensive line or bust

Did you happen to watch Seattle get lambasted by the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday? Russell Wilson finally broke in that contest. He finished with just 71 net passing yards, took seven sacks for 71 yards, threw the ball backward at one point while getting dragged to the turf by Aaron Donald and was taken down for a safety, to boot. The Seahawks feature one of the most inept offensive lines we’ve seen in years. Somehow, Wilson has kept them winning games, but it’s not sustainable. He’s not going to be able to stay healthy taking all these hits for a prolonged period of time, either. Seattle absolutely must remedy this situation as soon as possible.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston finally takes that next step

Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston

Everyone was waiting on pins and needles for Winston to take a big step this year. And he did. Just not in the right direction. Winston looks like the same guy who came out of Florida state a few years back. He still makes critical errors in judgement at the worst possible time, still throws high across the middle, still takes too many chances and turns the ball over too much. Worse yet, he’s thrown just 14 touchdowns in 10 games this year. Yuck.

Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota staying healthy

Coming out of Oregon in 2015, Mariota’s talent was not in question. His frame, however, was. As a quarterback who tends to run, he’s not the biggest kid on the block, and he has suffered injuries in each of his three seasons as a professional. Mariota has been banged up multiple times this year and is having the worst season of his career, with 14 interceptions compared to just 12 touchdowns. If he’s not healthy and/or isn’t playing, Tennessee has no shot at winning.

Washington Redskins: Daniel Snyder sells team

Since Daniel Snyder bought the Washington franchise back in 1999, the historic franchise has gone into the toilet. Perennially one of the biggest dumpster fires in the league, this team has posted winning seasons just five times since then. Most recently, Bruce Allen and Snyder ran a top personnel man, Scot McCloughan, out of town citing baseless accusations of alcoholism. If Washington is ever going to become a legitimate contender, rather than laughingstock, then Daniel Snyder needs to sell the team to someone who’ll actually let football men and women do their jobs.