AFC's All-Storyline Team
Every NFL season is loaded with storylines, developments, things to watch. This year is no exception. What follows is our AFC All-Storyline Team. These are a few players we're keeping an eye on this season for various reasons. Some selections are obvious, others aren't. But either way, every player on the squad adds his own bit of intrigue to the 2011 season. Neck surgery for a second consecutive year has Manning's readiness for the season in question. Whether or not he plays a full 16, though, it's safe to wonder if Manning and the Colts are finally watching their championship window close. With Manning 35 and ailing physically, it's natural to look for the start of his decline.
After five mostly disappointing years in New Orleans, Bush gets what he's wanted: the chance to prove that he can be a featured back. With a new team and new scheme, as well as the USC scandal finally in the past, Bush won't have any more excuses if he fails to produce this year.
The NFL world had high expectations of Mathews as a rookie in 2010, but the Fresno State product couldn't cement his role as the Chargers' workhorse, splitting carries with Mike Tolbert. If the Chargers want to return to the playoffs in 2011, Mathews will have to prove he wasn't a wasted pick.
After 20 months in prison, Plaxico Burress is back in New York, this time with the Jets. He's had a great camp and preseason and should pick up where he left off as one of the league's best red-zone threats for the Super Bowl hopeful Gang Green. Can he follow Michael Vick's post-prison footsteps back into the spotlight?
For one of the league's most explosive playmakers, Josh Cribbs doesn't get nearly enough attention. With the league changing the kickoff rule to limit returns, though, a big piece of Cribbs' game has taken a hit. For a Browns team in need of big plays, finding other ways to take advantage of Cribbs' skills is crucial.
Evans was mostly underwhelming in his last two seasons as a Bill, but a preseason trade to the Ravens could be the spark the speedy threat needs. He's produced admirably in the preseason, and could be the missing piece the Ravens offense needs to get over the playoff hump and into Super Bowl contention.
Daniels looked like the game's next elite tight end in 2009, when he caught 40 passes for 519 yards and five touchdowns in eight games before tearing his ACL. Daniels returned for 11 games last year and performed well, but not up to the level he reached before injury. Two years removed from that injury and fully healthy, Daniels has been impressing in preseason and looks set to return to his pre-injury heights.
The Steelers have won with a patchwork offensive line over the last few years, but eventually that has to catch up to them. Eight different linemen started for the team in 2010, and that can't happen again. But injuries already have the line in flux this season, a bad sign that could derail an otherwise stout team.
The only thing keeping the Texans from the playoffs in recent years was the defense. But new coordinator Wade Phillips brings a 3-4 scheme that should better take advantage of Mario Williams' pass rush ability, and free agent addition Johnathan Joseph solidifies a secondary that was terrible in 2010. The offense shouldn't have to carry Houston any more.
How did a team that finished No. 1 in total offense and defense miss the playoffs in 2010? Simple: Their special teams cost them too many games. The Chargers had a league-high four punts blocked (including two allowed by now-departed Antwan Applewhite in one game against the Raiders), allowed four returns to be brought back for touchdowns and Nate Kaeding finished 23rd among regular kickers in field goal percentage. The team has a new special teams coach; if the unit sinks the squad again, head coach Norv Turner could be next out.