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Aaron Rodgers’ injury has ripple effects for the entire NFC

The Eagles are the clear favorites to win the NFC with Aaron Rodgers gone.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers has a broken collarbone, and it may be significant enough to end his 2017 season. Even if it isn’t, it’s still an injury that will sideline the Green Bay Packers quarterback for a long time. That doesn’t just affect the Packers, either. It changes things for much of the NFL.

With Rodgers under center, the Packers are a tough out for any team, as he proved once again last week when he torched the Dallas Cowboys on a last-minute touchdown drive to give the Packers a win. If he doesn’t return this season, Rodgers will finish with 13 touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 103.2 passer rating. Although it won’t count in the record books due to the truncated year, it marks the ninth season of his career with a rating over 100.

Without him, there’s nothing really special about the Packers.

Rodgers is one of the all-time greats at the position, a future Hall of Famer, and someone the Packers simply can’t replace.

The best they can do is hope Brett Hundley can keep the team afloat and live up to the potential that made him a fifth-round pick in 2015. But with the Packers looking much less intimidating, the playoff hunt in the NFC looks a lot different.

The NFC North is now one of the NFL’s worst divisions

A win Sunday would’ve been an opportunity for the Packers to jump to 5-1 and own an early two-game lead over the rest of the division.

But now the Vikings and Packers share the lead at 4-2, with the Lions just behind at 3-3. The division features a hodgepodge of quarterbacks and four teams that all look very beatable.

Minnesota Vikings are getting devoured by injuries

With a 23-10 win over the Packers, the Vikings are tied atop the NFC North. But many of the most encouraging things about Minnesota’s early start are gone.

Dalvin Cook is done for the year after tearing his ACL, and Sam Bradford’s entire career may be in jeopardy due to his long history of knee problems that were only exacerbated by a terrible, premature return from injury in Week 5.

In the back half of the 2017 schedule, the Vikings meet the Rams, Falcons, Panthers, and Washington.

The Vikings still have a strong defense and could be nearing the return of Teddy Bridgewater, but for now it’s Case Keenum at the helm and that makes the team hard to buy into.

Are the Lions any better than last year?

There was reason to be excited about the Detroit Lions after a 2-0 start, but they have now lost in three of the last four weeks.

Detroit is dealing with many of the problems that have bogged down the team under Jim Caldwell. The team struggles to run the ball and has difficulty stopping the pass. Stafford needed to lead eight fourth-quarter comebacks to get the Lions to 9-7 a year ago, and that’s not the most sustainable model for success.

It also doesn’t help that Stafford has been beat up behind the Lions offensive line and entered Week 6 with ankle and hamstring injuries.

After a Week 7 bye, the Lions will play the Steelers in Week 8 and could soon be under .500.

Winning would’ve been tough for the Packers, regardless

It’s not like the Packers were unstoppable before Rodgers went down Sunday, either.

The team isn’t particularly special in any aspect outside of Rodgers and would probably have two more losses — to the Bengals and Cowboys — if not for his heroics.

The Packers were already dealing with a banged-up secondary and offensive line. A Week 8 bye couldn’t come soon enough, but first Green Bay has to face the surging Saints next week and has battles with the Steelers and Panthers still on the horizon.

Without Rodgers in the lineup, the rest of the team suffers. Rookie Aaron Jones will have less running room, the defense will have less margin for error, and the Packers passing offense will take a significant step backward.

The Eagles are the NFC front-runners

The NFC’s top team right now is the 5-1 Philadelphia Eagles, who are tied for the best record in the entire league with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Philadelphia already dealt out losses to Washington and Carolina — two of the other nine teams with winning records in the conference.

The Falcons and Seahawks don’t look like the same powerhouses of the recent past, and it’s hard to really believe that the Rams are the real deal after similarly strong starts in 2015 and 2016 fizzled.

Green Bay was one of the few teams that looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the conference, but now the Eagles are the team clearly atop that list.

The door is open for challengers

Philadelphia may be in the lead for the best record in the NFC, but there are six spots in the playoffs. If the Packers fall off, that leaves a lot of room for the rest of the conference to battle for those spots.

Despite their many issues, the Vikings and Lions are in great shape to compete for a division title. Outside the NFC North, teams like Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington, and Seattle are all biting at Green Bay’s heels, too.

There are still 11 weeks of the regular season left, and it’s unfair to write off the Packers just yet. But Rodgers is a transcendental player, and his absence will have ripple effects around the NFL.

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