With the start of all the training camps and actual football games coming soon to our televisions, I feel like an excited kid on Christmas morning. Seeing as how it is the 25th of the month, I thought I'd play Santa Claus and give each team a little present before the start of the season.
For Atlanta ... Two young and talented offensive linemen to help protect rookie quarterback Matt Ryan as he becomes baptized under fire this season. Keeping Ryan upright and confident will be a huge step in the right direction for the Falcons.
For Arizona ... Consistency for Matt Leinart and the discipline to behave like a professional on and off the field. This is the make-or-break year for Leinart. If he can find a way to win a game early in the season for the Cards, his career just may take off.
For Baltimore ...Joe Flacco finding the key for speeding up his game in all areas, mentally, physically and emotionally. His advancement and development as a potential starter in the NFL will hinge solely on his ability to anticipate the routes in the passing game.
For Buffalo ... Fewer visits to the training room. The Bills had seven starters hit IR last season (13 overall) and also need to find a way to not mismanage games down the stretch.
For Carolina ... Plenty of pass pressures and sacks, as the Panthers were one of the worst teams in getting to the quarterback last season. Carolina needs to get a big year out of Julius Peppers and its defensive front if it intends to move up in the NFC South.
For Chicago ... The return of the play of their defensive line from the 2006 season. Forget giving them a legitimate quarterback. It's Chicago, it's the Bears -- they win with defense and the kicking game. The Bears will just need no mistakes from their quarterbacks.
For Cincinnati ... A bona fide third wide receiver to help take some of the pressure off Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Offense will be the concern in Cincinnati, not defense. Without a third wideout, the two starters will see all sorts of double teams.
For Cleveland ... A nickel corner who can help the pass defense. The Browns have little depth in their secondary and will need to find a promising young defensive back this summer.
For Dallas... Peace, harmony and a secondary that can actually cover at critical times in the game. The Cowboys were one of the worst teams defensively in allowing points at the end of each half.
For Denver... A few big offensive and defensive linemen to help protect and rush the passer. The Broncos are losing the battle in the trenches against everyone, especially the Chargers, a team Denver scored six points against in two games last season.
For Detroit... Some pass protection for Jon Kitna. He got killed last year and will again this year, unless the Lions find a way to protect.
For Green Bay... A smooth transition for Aaron Rodgers. The Packers have a very good team, and now without Brett Favre, we shall find out what he really meant to the team last year. My guess is -- plenty.
For Houston... A left tackle who will allow Matt Schaub to play all 16 games and not get injured. Maybe Duane Brown, their first-round pick, can handle the job for this sleeper team.
For Indy... A healthy team by Week 17. The key for the Colts is their weekly injury report. When they are healthy, they can beat anyone; one or two of the wrong injuries and they are in deep trouble.
For Jacksonville... A 10-sack season for either one of its rookie defensive ends, either first-rounder Derrick Harvey or second-rounder Quentin Groves. Pass rush from the outside is what will close the gap for the Jags on the Colts.
For Kansas City... The ability to remember the important lesson of getting good before great. The Chiefs need two offensive linemen to play like Pro Bowlers and a host of other players to play well. What will be more important than wins in K.C. will be the enthusiasm and passion the team displays each week.
For Miami...Chad Henne becoming the new Dolphins starter by Week 4 as they rebuild the team one block at a time. The Dolphins will be better this year but they will improve greatly if they have their quarterback of the future playing well.
For Minnesota... Super Bowl-quality play from the quarterback of a Super Bowl-quality team. I can't think of one player who will control the won/loss record of any team in the NFL more than Tarvaris Jackson. His ability to throw the ball will really enhance the Vikings' chances.
For New England... One more win at the end of the season and more speed and quickness with their defensive back seven. New England has a dominating defensive line, but last year, its linebackers and secondary lacked quickness and speed.
For New Orleans... A big running back (LaMont Jordan?) to complement and add power to the offense. Reggie Bush or Pierre Thomas cannot carry the load full-time. The Saints are just one big power back away from really having something special this year.
For New York Giants... WRs that don't lead the NFL in dropped passes. Last year, quarterback Eli Manning really struggled with his numbers until the team played well down the final playoff stretch.
For New York Jets... Someone who brings them production and longevity at the quarterback position. At some point in the next few years, someone at the Jets will think having a great quarterback is the key to winning championships in the NFL.
For Oakland... A pro style passing game to go along with a very good running game. The Raiders ran the ball well last year, but had no passing game. If they can find a way to do both, they can surprise a few people.
For Philadelphia... The ability to force many more turnovers this season. In 2007, the Eagles ranked last in forcing turnovers. A trip to Tampa may be in the cards for the Birds if they force some fumbles and pick off a few passes.
For Pittsburgh... A cohesive group of talented and well-schooled offensive linemen who can pass block. Ben Roethlisberger is the hardest quarterback in the NFL to get on the ground. With a little protection, he can make this passing game very good.
For San Diego... A healthy LaDainian Tomlinson down the stretch of the season and deep into the playoffs. Losing him hurt in New England last year, when the Chargers kicked field goals in the red zone instead of scoring touchdowns.
For St. Louis... A healthy, protected Marc Bulger all season. In over two decades in the league, I can't remember an offensive line so ravaged with injuries as the Rams were last year. If they stay healthy in the line, the Rams might surprise a few people.
For San Francisco... A starting quarterback who may not make everyone forget Joe Montana, but at least can function and lead the team to victories. This is it for Alex Smith. If Mike Martz cannot make him a player, then all is lost.
For Seattle... A star running back who can restore the Seattle running game to the level it reached in 2005. With a solid RB, the Seahawks have a chance to give Mike Holmgren a Super farewell in February.
For Tampa Bay... A much better performance from its young offensive line in key games down the stretch. Last year it let them down big time. This line will control how far the Bucs can go.
For Tennessee... To have Vince Young play quarterback using his arm and his feet to challenge defenses. We know Young can run, but if he can add a few downfield throws to his arsenal he will be a very tough opponent for defensive coaches.
For Washington... Leads in games. The 'Skins need to have early success in games so that the talents of newly acquired pass rusher Jason Taylor can shine and make the trade worthwhile. Their offense is the key to this trade.
Got your own idea of what teams need? Feel free to send them along.
• Devin Hester told the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday he intends to hold out of training camp until the Bears grant him a new deal. "I'm not coming," he said. "I have to make a statement. I showed by going to [organized team activities] that I was a team player. But then, I just felt they weren't taking it seriously that I wanted to get a new deal. I can't go out and play this year making $445,000. Come on, man."
Everyone knows Hester deserves a raise, but the club does hold his rights, and allowing himself to be fined is plain stupid. He attended the OTA days, which were voluntary, and skips the training camp, which is mandatory. Now that is really stupid. Make a statement when it does not cost you money. And if the Bears don't make him pay those fines when he returns, they will have 10 guys holding out next year.
• Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that players usually make a "dramatic jump" from their rookie year to their second one, and he is optimistic linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley will make big, if not quantum leaps this year. I could not agree more. The pro game is long, it's tiring, both mentally and physically for rookies, and with a year under their belt, they become much better equipped and can make a huge impact.
• From the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Vikings head coach Brad Childress, when asked whether he had talked to Favre, as cell phone records reportedly indicated, said, "You can't believe everything you read, but that's an NFL matter. I'm not going to touch that one."
Tampering is very hard to prove in the NFL. We all may work for different teams, but we all have friends on different teams. I don't doubt that Childress and Favre may have talked, but it might have been about their families and not all football.
• From Raiders coach Lane Kiffin's press conference on the whereabouts of running back LaMont Jordan: "Like I said, that's Al [Davis, Raiders owner] and LaMont's agent on that and I'm out of that. They're handling it so all the information I've got for you that was relayed to me is that they're continuing to work on it. LaMont won't be here and we won't be fining him."
Why can't the Raiders just cut LaMont and move on? Why does it have to be so difficult? Everyone in the NFL knows he is going to get cut and no team seems to be willing to trade for him.
• If I worked for the Pittsburgh Steelers, I would make sure I had a period every day in training camp to stimulate the speed and quickness of the Houston Texans running game. Pittsburgh's running game is not similar to Houston's and the Steelers have to find a way to get ready for the speed of the game on opening day.
• If I worked for the Cincinnati Bengals, I would prepare and practice during camp for every new blitz and scheme concept coming from the Baltimore Ravens, their opening day opponent. The only time to really practice and prepare for a blitzing team is during camp and not the week before. The Ravens will be much better on defense this year.
• If I were a fan of any team, before I made a determination, either positively or negatively about my team during the preseason, I would make sure I knew who was on the field for BOTH teams during the games. Depth charts and level of competition are the key factors in determining the quality of your team in the preseason.
• If I played fantasy football, I would take running back, Rashard Mendenhall, the 2008 first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is going to be involved in their nickel offense, their short yardage and goal line offense and he has the potential to score points. In fantasy football, I want backs who play on all three downs and are especially involved in the red zone offense. One other word of advice: You may want to avoid running back Larry Johnson of the Chiefs. It might be a rough year in K.C.
• If I were any team playing the Miami Dolphins late in the year, I would be worried. The Dolphins will be a fundamental team, sound in their technique and less scheme driven. Teams driven by fundamentals improve week in and week out in the NFL and are the most difficult to play in November and December. Remember, Miami lost six games by three points or fewer in 2007.
No one was more inspirational and influential in my life then the late great 49er head coach Bill Walsh. July 30 marks the one-year anniversary of his death. Bill, you may not be with us any longer, but your words, your thoughts, your ideas, and most of all your spirit are a part of the daily lives of many in the NFL.