There is only one certainty right now regarding the race for the NFC North title: the Vikings are way the hell out of it. After that the whole thing is totally up in the air.
This wasn’t necessarily the case going into Monday night’s Packers-Bears clash. Had you asked me at around 7 PM central last night to name a clear favorite in the division, I would have said the Packers without hesitation. To me they looked like a team that was really coming together, with their new-found running game, their improving defense and of course All-Galaxy QB Aaron Rodgers at the helm.
That all changed with one play Monday night. In the first quarter the Bears’ Shea McClellin took Aaron Rodgers to the ground for a sack, and Rodgers came up clearly injured. The Packers quarterback was soon seen jogging to the locker room to get his shoulder checked out. A stunned silence descended over the previously raucous Lambeau Field.
The news soon came down that Rodgers had suffered a shoulder injury and would be out for the game. Various reports swirled saying Rodgers had a broken collarbone or a separated shoulder or something even worse. Irresponsible speculation had Rodgers missing either one game or a few games or the rest of the season or possibly being put down like a sick horse.
I’m not sure we know even this morning exactly what is going on with Rodgers, but the most credible reports say he has a small fracture in his collarbone and may miss three weeks or more. Needless to say, with Rodgers sidelined everything changes for the Packers. Seneca Wallace is now their quarterback. They will have to lean on their running game and defense for as long as that remains the case.
The No Rodgers effect has already been felt. The Packers put together a solid effort Monday night after their leader went out, but despite Eddie Lacy’s tough running, the offense just didn’t have enough gas to get to the finish line against the Bears. The Packers can grind it out better than they used to but without Rodgers’ big play ability, they just aren’t the same team.
The Bears on the other hand were able to function quite well without Jay Cutler, thanks in large part to backup Josh McCown, who has put together two fantastic relief efforts in a row. Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery all came up big for the Bears against the Packers, helping Chicago overcome a pretty miserable defensive effort.
Thanks in large part to Rodgers’ absence, the Bears scored a huge victory at Lambeau Field, tipping the division race decidedly in their favor. The Packers and Bears do have to play one more time, and Rodgers may be back in the lineup by then, but that game will be at Soldier Field. Stealing one at Lambeau was huge for Chicago.
After last night’s result, the Packers, Bears and Lions are all 5-3. The next big game in the division will come this weekend when the Bears face the Lions for the second and final time this season. Jay Cutler is expected to return for Chicago, but even if he doesn’t, the Bears should be in good shape at home with McCown steering the ship.
The winner of the Bears-Lions game becomes the favorite in the division. The Packers meanwhile are left in limbo with Rodgers on the shelf. The good news for Green Bay? Their schedule over the next few games is very favorable. Even with Seneca Wallace playing QB, they may have enough to defeat the Eagles, Giants and Vikings. Then they have a Thanksgiving Day matchup with Detroit. If the three week recovery time frame is correct for Rodgers, he should be back in time for that pivotal matchup.
The Packers better hope Rodgers misses only three games, because without him they are in trouble. The idea that they can win by pounding the ball and playing great defense is delusional. They need Rodgers if they are going to go anywhere this year. Seneca Wallace is no Josh McCown.
And then there are the poor messed-up Vikings, divisional runners-up a year ago, now basement dwellers. Can the Vikes ultimately play any role at all in deciding the division? Of course they can, but only by playing spoilers. Unfortunately, the way things currently are going for Minnesota, I don’t give them much of a shot in any of their remaining division games. Even if Rodgers doesn’t play, the Vikes will be huge underdogs three weeks from now in Lambeau. Minnesota is in such turmoil that I honestly don’t know if I see two more wins for them this year.
It’s not a lot of fun sitting back watching the rest of the division duke it out. Spoiler is not an entertaining role to play. But that’s about all there is left now, with the Vikings look up at the rest of the division four games ahead of them. This thing went downhill fast. And the descent may not be over.