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Carson Wentz injury hurts; time for Aaron Rodgers to lift spirits

You knew it. You knew something was off with Carson Wentz after he dove into the end zone for a touchdown that ultimately was erased by a penalty.

The Philadelphia Eagles' sensational second-year quarterback actually stayed in the game vs. the Los Angeles Rams -- the biggest bout of the NFL season thus far -- and threw his fourth touchdown pass. Because that's what Carson Wentz does. But when you saw Wentz go into the medical tent, you knew. And when he walked off the field, you knew. And when he was quickly ruled out for the game, you really knew.

And even though I was bracing for it, I immediately felt sick when the ACL reports first materialized on Sunday. Still do. Wentz is everything that's right about the NFL. In just his second NFL season, the former North Dakota State star had emerged as one of the most exciting players in the NFL at age 24. With a league-best 33 touchdown passes, an adventurous playing style and leadership skills beyond his years, Wentz seemed poised to lead the Eagles to Super Bowl LII. Philadelphia was the best team in the NFC. In fact, I had Philly as the best team in the entire NFL. And yes, Wentz was in line to receive my Associated Press MVP vote.

Now, Wentz is the latest high-profile player to be lost to injury in this seemingly cursed season. I can't imagine what Eagles fans are going through. From sheer season-long jubilation to sudden, pure agony. Gutted. Destroyed. Torn apart. This is the downside of sports fandom, when an exhilarating campaign is abruptly spoiled by a cruel twist of fate. The fact that the Eagles actually ended up winning Sunday's highly anticipated showdown, 43-35, becomes immaterial.

The 11-2 Eagles still have a great defense, one that leads the NFL in rushing D and ranks in the top 10 of numerous other categories. And QB Nick Foles actually has experience leading the Eagles to the playoffs. (Remember that 2013 season, when Foles racked up 27 TD passes against just two picks?) Philadelphia is currently the No. 1 seed, having clinched the NFC East on Sunday.

But while the backup QB looked solid in relief during Sunday's win, it's impossible to see the Foles-led Eagles making a deep playoff run. Foles' 2013 campaign is the outlier in an otherwise underwhelming NFL career. And with the way this team played over the first three months of this season, the bar was set: Super Bowl or bust. On Sunday, Philadelphia went bust. Carson Wentzmade these Eagles. Just ask Philly LB Nigel Bradham.

"I mean, he's everything to us," Bradham said in the postgame, per The News Journal. "It's definitely a hurting feeling."

The NFC is absolutely loaded. Yet, each team has its flaws. On Sunday, the Vikings -- and notably, Case Keenum (two picks) -- came back to Earth after playing next-level football for two months. It was Carolina who snapped Minnesota's eight-game winning streak, and the Panthers deserve immense credit for the win. But if you've watched this team on a weekly basis, you know it's tough to trust Carolina. In the two weeks prior to Sunday's big win, the Pantherssqueaked by the Jets and were thoroughly outclassed by the Saints. Speaking of New Orleans, that team is so tough and well-rounded. But injuries are starting to take their toll, with a bevy of Saints going down in last Thursday's loss to Atlanta. Those Falcons are loaded with talent, but they just haven't looked the same as last season. I'm a big fan of Sean McVay's upstart Rams, but do they have enough experience to make the Super Bowl? Can they hold off Seattle in the NFC West? On the latter question: I think they can and will, as I don't believe in the Seahawks, other than Russell Wilson. On the former question: Not so sure.

When it comes to the current NFC playoff teams, I think the Saints and Rams have the best opportunity to capitalize on the Eagles' awful misfortune. But there is one other team, presently on the outside looking in, that could wind up being the scariest in the entire NFC postseason field.

In an NFL season marred by a galaxy of injured stars, wouldn't it be rather ironic if Aaron Rodgers were to return this week -- the week after Wentz went down -- and lead the 7-6 Packers on another magical run? With extreme empathy for the passionate Eagles backers, this is the jolt NFL fans need after watching an MVP hopeful go down. It's time for Rodgers to remind the world, in case everyone forgot, that he's the Michael Jordan of today's NFL -- one man who can completely change the balance of power in an entire league.

This is certainly a possibility I've been eyeing. Following Green Bay's loss to Pittsburgh in Week 12, I thought the Packers could still run the table and finish the season at 10-6 and sneak into the playoffs. So far, so good. Yes, Green Bay needed a furious comeback to force overtime and eventually escape Cleveland with a victory over the winless Browns, but a win's a win, especially when you're rolling with your backup. That saved the season and kept the dream alive. Brett Hundley and the receivers came through. Clay Matthews stepped up. It had to happen.

If the Packers had lost, it might not be worth bringing Rodgers back less than two months after collarbone surgery. But now, the stage is set for Rodgers, who's eligible to return from injured reserve this week, to toss on his Superman cape and save the season. Football fans need Aaron Rodgers playing like Aaron Rodgers. Opposing coaches don't exactly share that sentiment, as the Rodgers-led Pack would be the team no one wants to face in the postseason.

The skeptic could say the task is daunting, even for Rodgers. Green Bay's remaining schedule is far from easy: at Carolina, vs. Minnesota, at Detroit. Well, I'd like to respond to the naysayers by quoting a great philosopher: R-E-L-A-X.

Carolina has won a lot of games, but -- like I said above -- these Panthers certainly don't give off a world-beater vibe. Case Keenum vs. Aaron Rodgers? I'll take No. 12. And Jim Caldwell's Lions are hanging on by a thread.

Yes, the Packers have issues of their own. Ted Thompson didn't give Rodgers requisite talent and the defensive backfield is all banged-up. But Aaron Rodgers is the ultimate deodorant. If he can indeed return to action this week, are you really going to bet against him?

Sunday was awful for the Eagles -- and the NFL, as a whole. I felt like I was punched in the gut with the Wentz news. It was the same feeling I got when Deshaun Watson went down. And when Rodgers snapped his collarbone in Week 6.

But if that collarbone checks out in a CT scan this week, Rodgers will have the opportunity to take us on another thrill ride deep into the new year. And in a season that's seen way too many superstars shelved by injury, this is the kind of fairy tale climax we all need.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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