Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
I have time to sneak in some last-minute Christmas shopping Tuesday and spread holiday cheer to all in the AFC North division.
Here is what's on my list.
For the NFL:
Full-time referees. Has there ever been a worse year for officiating? It's time to make refereeing a full-time job. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry, so it is odd that the league refuses to pay its officials year-round. In any line of work, you get part-time work for part-time pay and we're seeing it every weekend. So I will come out of pocket this Christmas and pay for full-time officials. I don't want NFL refs going back to being lawyers or entrepreneurs in the offseason anymore. I want them continually working their craft to the point where they can look at a simple replay and get the call right.
For Bengals coach Marvin Lewis:
A good offseason. When was the last time the Bengals had a good January-June? If it wasn't Chad Ocho Cinco's numerous trade demands, it was players getting arrested. If it's not an uneventful free agency, it's Carson Palmer rehabbing his knee. Cincinnati needs to make a positive splash for once this offseason or, at the very least, stay out of the headlines and quietly work hard to improve this team. I think Lewis will like my gift for him this year.
For Browns coach Romeo Crennel:
A fond farewell. It's clear that Crennel will not be back as Browns head coach in 2009. Every week there seems to be information leaked from the organization in that regard and the latest is the team is already compiling a list of candidates. Crennel didn't succeed in Cleveland, but it wasn't for his lack of trying. Yet for four years he's been a respectful, standup coach to his players, the media and the people around him. He deserves that same type of exit this week.
For Ravens coach John Harbaugh:
A raucous crowd Sunday. The Ravens (10-5) need one more win Sunday at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-10) to lock up a playoff berth. It would mark quite a turnaround for a team that finished 5-11 last year and brought in a rookie head coach in Harbaugh and a rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco to resurrect the franchise. With so much at stake, I'm guessing that I don't really have to purchase a raucous crowd for Harbaugh this Christmas. But I will do it anyway to be safe.
For Steelers coach Mike Tomlin:
A coach of the year vote. Tomlin has done a masterful job this year of keeping his team focused through injuries and the toughest strength of schedule in the NFL. He also avoided the sophomore jinx and proved that his first season was no fluke. There are other strong coach of the year candidates, such as Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans, Atlanta Falcons' first-year coach Mike Smith and John Fox of the Carolina Panthers. Those are the favorites, but both Tomlin and Harbaugh from the AFC North at least deserve mention.
For Bengals receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Ocho Cinco:
Two tickets out. The time has come and gone for the tandem of Houshmandzadeh and Ocho Cinco to lead the Bengals to a Super Bowl. Both receivers are over 30, Houshmandzadeh will be a free agent in 2009, and Ocho Cinco clearly wants out. So we're going to buy both receivers a parting of ways from the team that drafted them seven years ago. It's best for everyone involved.
For Browns receiver Braylon Edwards:
Thicker skin. I know, I know. Everyone is worried about Edwards' hands. But the bigger issue is his tendency to get easily flustered in games and off the field during the week. Edwards needs thick skin more than anything -- thick skin with himself, the media and the fans. He is in a performance-first business. If Edwards doesn't perform, the media will point that out and fans are going to be disappointed. Edwards has to handle the criticisms better, or at least stop caring to the point where it bothers him. So I feel good about this purchase, because Edwards has the talent to succeed.
For Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis:
A new contract. Let's face it, Lewis wouldn't look right in another uniform. He is a beloved figure in Baltimore and still playing at a Pro Bowl level. So I'm going to purchase Lewis a new contract with the Ravens immediately. This is an expensive purchase, but Lewis deserves to retire in the same uniform he entered the NFL with 13 seasons ago.
For Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor:
A pair of hands. Unlike Edwards, I will be looking to purchase a set of hands for Taylor. He has developed into one of the better corners in the NFL this year, but Taylor cannot take the next step to Pro Bowl level until he finishes plays by creating turnovers. He has a whopping 13 pass deflections this year and just one interception. That's a lot of missed opportunities to change games.
For Bengals fans:
Hope. When I roamed the streets of Cincinnati several weeks ago, hopelessness was the resounding feeling from Bengals fans. Cincinnati has been hoping for a consistent winner for nearly two decades. When does it end? In Cincinnati, this gift of hope is extremely scarce, sort of like the Nintendo Wii or the Wii Fit. Maybe I can find it on eBay.
For Browns fans:
Love. There is not a lot of love with Browns fans right now. You booed your Pro Bowl quarterback (Derek Anderson) and receiver (Edwards) all in the same year. You also booed the tea
m in general throughout the season. You want everybody gone -- the coaches, the front office and half the players. I live in Cleveland, and this city is just not the same when the Browns are losing. So I'm going to buy love for the many disgruntled Browns fans and cheer them up.
For Ravens fans:
Respect. I hear you, Ravens fans. Your team is playing well and you want respect on a national scale, so I'm going to purchase it for you. I will call up my people in Bristol and get more highlights and Ravens talk on SportsCenter, NFL Live and all the other ESPN platforms. The Ravens are streaking toward the playoffs and Baltimore fans have waited for this gift all season.
For Steelers fans:
Health. Pittsburgh is an elite football team that's going places. As you know, Steelers fans, your team didn't have much luck with health all season. So I'm going to buy it for you today. This gift, along with a first-round bye, should get the Steelers through the stretch run. And a healthy Pittsburgh team has as good a chance as any in the postseason.
Wow! Looking at the receipts from all of these purchases, it's not pretty. I never expected to spend this much money. But at least everyone in the AFC North will be happy with what's under their tree this season.
Merry Christmas everyone!