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Posted: Thursday September 3, 2009 12:36PM; Updated: Thursday September 3, 2009 1:40PM
Kerry J. Byrne Kerry J. Byrne >

Eight statistical storylines for 2009

Story Highlights

Will Jay Cutler be the quarterback the Bears have never had?

New Saints safety Darren Sharper will be counted on to help improve defense

For the Lions to turn things around, it will start with the offensive line

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Jay Cutler could have Chicago eating out of his hand with a solid first season.
Al Tielemans/SI

The interminable NFL offseason -- 221 days long this year for those of you keeping score at home -- is about to end.

With its conclusion comes a long list of statistical and historical storylines that we'll be watching throughout the 2009 season -- from Jay Cutler's chances to rewrite Bears history, to the effort of underappreciated Darren Sharper to give the Saints a fighting chance at the playoffs, to unknown San Francisco quarterback Shaun Hill's opportunity to become the next Tom Brady.

Here are eight we eagerly anticipate.

Jay Cutler

The Cutler story will be the great drama of the 2009 season.

At one end of the spectrum is the big-armed passer's opportunity to rewrite the Chicago history books. He could change an incredible half century of frustration for an organization that's traditionally so inept offensively that they consider Jim McMahon the second best QB in team history.

How bad has it been for the Bears? Let's put it this way: Cutler passed for 4,526 yards last year in Denver. If he can keep up that pace in Chicago, he'll need just 52 games to become the franchise's all-time passing leader (Sid Luckman, who last played in 1950, holds the franchise record of 14,686 yards).

At the other end of the spectrum is his opportunity to spin out of control in a fist-fight with the media, Mike Ditka and Chicago's feisty fans. There have already been some rocky moments with the Chicago press. In fact, Cutler seems to operate with the same media relations attitude once employed by Ryan Leaf -- except he can actually play.

If Cutler produces early and the defense dominates and Devin Hester returns to game-breaking form, it could create a mountain of hype and excitement out of the Second City. If he fails to produce early, it could turn ugly fast. Pass the nachos, this will be fun!

Brett Favre

We're going to watch Favre this year only because we have a television and we sit in front of it quite a bit.

By now, you know the Cold, Hard Football Facts' take on Favre of recent vintage, on the desperate decision by Minnesota in signing him, and onthe nauseating coverage he generates from a compliant sports media that bows down to him like thirsty frat boys at the feet of the keg-delivery man. The media's Old Yeller Fever will reach pandemic proportions Nov. 1, when the gunslinging all-time interception leader walks into Lambeau Field in another team's uniform with the NFC North lead on the line.

Given no other option, we'll enjoy the drama, especially sometime late in the season, when the HMS Favre-tanic cracks up against an iceberg and another promising Minnesota season sinks into the deep.

Peyton Manning

The Chosen One steps onto the field for the first time in his prolific career with a rookie head coach (Jim Caldwell) and without his binky, the great Marvin Harrison. Granted, Harrison was something of a non-factor, by his standards, over the past two years (combined 80 catches, 883 yard, 6 TD), and Manning still managed to win MVP honors in 2008.

And, granted, as we noted earlier this offseason, Caldwell represents continuity more than an abrupt change: he's been a long-time fixture in the Tony Dungy camp. But these are big changes just the same. And the most interesting aspect of these changes will be how it impacts the sideline dynamics in Indianapolis.

The coach-QB dynamic there in Indy during the Manning-Dungy years was always a little bit different than it was on other teams. The quarterback seemed to carry an unusual amount of decisive weight, even when paired with a coach of the gravitas possessed by Dungy. Who could ever forget the image of Manning waving off the punt team on 4th and 11, during a December 2004 win over the Chargers?

We expect that Manning will come to dominate the always critical QB-coach relationship ... and what that means for the Colts will be fascinating to follow.

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