NFC North: Aaron Rodgers and the NFC

Aaron Rodgers' effect on Bears

November, 5, 2013
Rodgers' effect on: 49ers | Seahawks | Lions | Bears | Cowboys | Saints | Panthers

Perhaps Chicago Bears defensive end Shea McClellin unwittingly became the NFC North’s most valuable player Monday night when he sacked Aaron Rodgers with 12:38 remaining in the first quarter at Lambeau Field, causing a small fracture in the quarterback’s nonthrowing shoulder that jeopardizes his availability as the division’s postseason push gets underway.

“Do I feel good about that?” McClellin asked. “No, not at all. Rodgers is a great player. I wish him a speedy recovery because he’s great for the game of football. I had no idea he was hurt. You never try to injure anyone. It just kind of happened.”

It also potentially altered the landscape of the NFC North and perhaps the entire conference -- which currently has five or more teams fighting for the two wild-card spots -- because of Rodgers’ significance to Green Bay’s offense, not to mention the uncertainty concerning backup Seneca Wallace’s ability to help the Packers hold it together down the stretch.

That bodes well for Chicago. And while it’s bad form to laud an injury, the simple fact is that attrition is common in pro football. The banged-up Bears obviously know this firsthand. So if Rodgers -- one of the NFL’s top offensive players -- is forced to miss significant time, that can only help the Bears in what’s shaping up to be a three-team race for the NFC North crown over the next eight weeks.

“This is a thing that’s been built over time with Aaron as the centerpiece,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

With that centerpiece likely out of commission for the foreseeable future, the Packers need to find a way to beat the Giants, Lions and Cowboys on the road with matchups against the Eagles, Vikings and Falcons sandwiched in between. In the meantime, the Bears could help themselves Sunday with a win over the Detroit Lions to claim sole possession of the division lead.

If the Bears do that, and eventually bring back Jay Cutler, Lance Briggs and a healthy Jay Ratliff to beef up the defensive line while winning two of the next three against the Lions, Rams and Vikings, they’ve got a decent chance to capture the NFC North crown for the first time since 2010. The Bears advanced to the conference championship game that season, only to be done in by Rodgers and the Packers.

In the aftermath of Rodgers' injury, Chicago’s prospects look bright.

Aaron Rodgers' effect on Lions

November, 5, 2013
Rodgers' effect on: 49ers | Seahawks | Lions | Bears | Cowboys | Saints | Panthers

Once again, the injury issues of others could benefit the Detroit Lions.

When Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler went down with a groin injury last month, it looked as if there was an opening for the Lions to make a move in the division standings -- and there still is even if Cutler returns against Detroit on Sunday.

NowGreen Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is out for at least a while with a fractured collarbone. While Rodgers may return in time for his game against Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, both of Detroit’s main competitors in the NFC North will have lost their starting quarterbacks for a period of time.

And in a divisional race in which all three teams are at 5-3 and at least one almost will definitely not make the playoffs, that’s a huge deal. The injuries to Cutler and Rodgers open up a massive door for Detroit to potentially win its first NFC North title.

Of course, the only way the Lions can capitalize is if they continue to play well and Green Bay falters with Seneca Wallace at quarterback. That may or may not happen over the next three weeks, with the Packers facing Philadelphia on a short week, traveling to New York to face the Giants, and then playing the lowly Minnesota Vikings at home.

Even without Rodgers, Green Bay could go 2-1 during that stretch and still be in the divisional race on Thanksgiving.

But all these questions for their opponents only help Detroit, a team that has stayed remarkably healthy for the most part this season. It has only lost two contributors -- receiver Ryan Broyles and defensive end Jason Jones -- to injury. And quarterback Matthew Stafford has played every snap while staying mostly upright through the first half of the season.

All of these are good things for Detroit and might point to the Lions being the divisional favorites, at least for the next few weeks of the season. For years, the Lions have waited for an opportunity like this: a talented team, opponents facing major injuries, a chance to really make a difference in the division.

Now the Lions just have to take advantage, starting with Chicago on Sunday, whether Cutler plays or not.