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Aaron Rodgers fallout: 3 things that changed after QB's injury

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Down 13 points on the road with 3:20 to go and 94 yards from paydirt in Minnesota Sunday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy called for two straight running plays.

This is what life without Aaron Rodgers looks like.

McCarthy wasn't exactly giving up with those play calls, just recognizing that this game, this season was irrevocably changed. Rodgers' broken collarbone, which the Packers tellingly announced could knock him out for the season, alters the trajectory of this entire NFL season. One week after the NFL lost transcendent stars Odell Beckham and J.J. Watt for the season, the game's most talented quarterback is gone too. Here's a look at what's changed in the wake of Rodgers' injury:

The NFC North Race


"Beating the Packers is fun," Vikings quarterback Case Keenum said after Minnesota's 23-10 victory on Sunday. It's also going to be a lot easier this season.

Division rivals like the Vikings, who were playing with their backup quarterback Sunday and without their top running back (Dalvin Cook) and No. 1 receiver Stefon Diggs, won't feel sorry for Green Bay. Now tied atop the division at 4-2, the Vikings are in solid position to win the division for the second time in three years.

Unlike the Packers, the Vikings are built around their defense. Coach Mike Zimmer's group boasts an impressive blend of youth and continuity, with their entire starting defense having been with the team for at least three seasons. Keenum is playing the best ball of his career by far and has already helped Minnesota to two division wins.

The Detroit Lions, now 3-3, had the rare experience of watching their playoff hopes rise Sunday despite losing a wild game to the Saints. Detroit has a bye week coming up to get healthy and is 1-0 in division play early. Most importantly, the Lions are the last team that still has its Week 1 starting quarterback intact. (Chicago's Mike Glennon was benched for rookie Mitchell Trubisky before Week 5. After a win Sunday, even Bears coach John Fox will feel like he's in the mix now at 2-4.)

This division, which looked like Green Bay's to lose like so many other years, is suddenly wide open. That's because this Packers attack could be unrecognizable.

Packers offense


Coach Mike McCarthy squashed all those Tony Romo jokes in his postgame press conference Sunday, saying definitively that "Brett Hundley is my quarterback" and that Joe Callahan would be the team's backup. Perhaps McCarthy could sniff around a veteran quarterback if things go poorly over the next few weeks -- the trade deadline is Oct. 31 -- but most likely McCarthy is being straight with the media. Hundley has been groomed for three years for this moment, and signing a veteran free-agent quarterback, such as Colin Kaepernick, is anathema to the approach general manager Ted Thompson has taken during his tenure.

The Packers have strongly supported Hundley, the team's fifth-round pick in 2015, as a potential future starting quarterback. The UCLA product flashed major skills in his rookie preseason and showed uneven development this August when given a lot of snaps. It's unfair to judge Hundley too harshly on Sunday's performance on the road against a tough defense, but the Packers were absolutely stymied once he entered the game.

Hundley averaged only 4.8 yards-per-attempt, with three interceptions on the forgettable day. Even the 10 points the Packers scored came off turnovers on two drives that totaled only 48 yards. There was only one play over 20 yards all day. McCarthy will be able to do a better job game planning for Hundley with a week of preparation, who will benefit from first-team reps. But this Packers offense will be extremely diminished even in a best-case scenario. McCarthy's reputation as an offensive mastermind will be tested like never before for such a long stretch.

Perhaps no team in football was more built around its quarterback's brilliance than the Packers, with Rodgers making up for offensive line injuries and erratic play through the first five weeks. Rodgers' uncanny ability to hold onto the ball and wait for plays to develop before making breathtaking throws doesn't work with a mere mortal behind center. For so long, Rodgers made players like Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb better. Now it's their turn to return the favor, ideally with the help of an improved offensive line.

Tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga were on the field together for the first time Sunday all season, then Bakhtiari aggravated his hamstring injury and Bulaga suffered a concussion. Left guard Lane Taylor also was hurt, serving as one of the reasons Hundley was hit 13 times and sacked four.

That's why McCarthy ran the ball late in the game Sunday. The Packers coach knew he couldn't protect his quarterback. Perhaps the NFC favorites entering Sunday, the Packers ended it with more modest goals of keeping their new quarterback healthy.

The Super Bowl Picture


Rodgers was able to return from a broken collarbone after seven weeks in 2013 to lead the Packers to the playoffs, but that injury came on Rodgers' non-throwing shoulder. This injury was originally labeled as his right throwing shoulder and the Packers' quick announcement that it could be season-ending seemed designed to temper the hopes of Packers fans.

This already felt like a wide open season in the NFC -- and the NFL at large -- and this injury only makes it more so. The Packers have made the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs in six of the last seven years, and it would be a shock if that spot didn't just come open. Rodgers' excellent early-season form and ability to manage the injuries around him had me thinking MVP. This Packers team felt like the one sure thing in an NFC sea of confusion.

It's not like the NFC North is the only division up for grabs. The Saints' three-game winning streak has put them right back in the mix in a crowded NFC South. The Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals all have winning records and some defined flaws in the NFC West. Last year's No. 1 seed is 2-3 and facing a potential Ezekiel Elliott suspension. Last year's NFC champion, Atlanta, is 3-2 after blowing a 17-0 lead at home to Jay Cutler's Miami Dolphins. The Eagles are ahead of the pack at 5-1, but their recipe of winning close games with a young quarterback hardly looks like the stuff of an unstoppable juggernaut.

Rodgers' injury is a huge downer in a month full of them for NFL fans. But for the Vikings, for Brett Hundley and for some surprise Super Bowl team-to-be-named later, it looks like opportunity.

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