NFC's All-Storyline Team
Every NFL season is loaded with storylines, developments, things to watch. This year is no exception. What follows is our NFC 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. Cutler has his critics, as we all learned when he exited the NFC Championship Game with a knee injury last year. The volume of the doubters will only continue to rise until Cutler proves he can lead a team to the Super Bowl. Again, at least this season, he'll have to do it behind a lackluster offensive line.
After a mini holdout and some reported trade demands, Gore has the new deal with the 49ers that he's wanted. The team couldn't afford to lose him, but what can we expect? Gore's carries, yards, average and touchdowns plummeted in 2010, and his carries have been on the decline for three straight years. At 28 and on two surgically-repaired knees, and with his bruising style, was Gore's down year an aberration or a sign of things to come?
With Marion Barber sent packing, the Cowboys are looking for Felix Jones to emerge as a star in his third year. There's still Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray in the Dallas backfield, but Jones is expected to be the lead back after being taken in the first round in 2009. For the always newsworthy Cowboys, Jones' contributions will make a big difference between returning to the playoffs or another disappointment.
Sims-Walker was one of the best under-the-radar signings in free agency. Playing in Jacksonville's anemic pass offense the last three years, Sims-Walker still managed to produce respectable stats. Now he gets to be the No. 1 option on a team with a budding star at quarterback in Sam Bradford and a new coordinator in Josh McDaniels who has a proven history of producing a vaunted air attack. Looking for breakout stars this year? Sims-Walker could be one.
Somehow, the Bears didn't learn from the mistakes of the Lions or Cowboys, and are set to give Williams a sizable role in their offense. But Williams has looked his typical unreliable self, getting thoroughly outplayed by Johnny Knox and admitting that he isn't in the best shape. If the Bears continue to try to force Williams into prominence, it could be their undoing.
Here's the good: Donald Driver has a Super Bowl ring and very early this year will become the Packers' all-time leader in receiving yards, a lofty achievement to say the least. Here's the bad: Driver is 36 and wants to play until 40, but showed signs of serious decline in 2010. No longer the yards-after-catch threat he's always been, and no longer the offense's focal point with a bevy of younger playmakers in town, Driver's great career could end more with a whimper.
Coming off of a career 2009, Greg Olsen looked poised for great things in 2010. Then Mike Martz and his notoriously tight-end-unfriendly offense came to Chicago, and Olsen took a step back in 2010. Traded to a Carolina team light on pass-catching talent and breaking in a new quarterback (Cam Newton) who will need a safety valve in the middle of the field, Olsen should once again take his spot among the league's elite tight ends.
Kevin Kolb has brought a lot of excitement to Arizona, but who will protect him? The Cardinals' line was a mess last year and though they've improved the talent level with former Packer Daryn Colledge, there are still question marks. The NFC West is there for the taking in Arizona, but not if the team can't keep its new star quarterback upright.
The Eagles were the biggest headline-grabbers of free agency, adding a number of pieces, including the market's biggest fish in Nnamdi Asomugha and a pretty big one in Jason Babin. Those two will playing under a coordinator in Juan Castillo who hasn't coached defense since a stint in high school from 1986-1989. With expectations sky-high, how the talent-laden unit will respond under their neophyte coordinator will be as exciting as a Michael Vick scramble.
The Cowboys didn't have a very good 2010 on offense or defense, but they stood out on special teams. Dez Bryant electrified with two punt returns for touchdowns, and the Cowboys boasted the league's best average punt (47.2 yards) while finishing fourth in punt return yards allowed (205). Big things are expected from Bryant in his second year, meaning you should take notice instead of heading for the bathroom or to get chips when he's lined up ready to return.