Aaron Rodgers' injury is a warning for every team with real Super Bowl dreams.
Green Bay was a championship contender going into a Monday night game against Chicago on Nov. 4. Then Rodgers went down. Three losses later, with no set timetable for Rodgers' return from a broken collarbone, the Packers are hoping to just make the playoffs. Their chances don't look all that good.
There are a lot of teams who know that could be them.
There are nine legitimate Super Bowl contenders (Detroit showed on Sunday at Pittsburgh they're not ready to make it 10), and every one of them is a quarterback injury away from taking a huge tumble. There's no potential Colin Kaepernick/Alex Smith situation like the 49ers had last year. Every one of the Super Bowl contenders is one wrong hit away from irrelevance for the rest of the season.
A quarterback's importance to his team is nothing new, but the Packers are a reminder that things can change instantly in the NFL. The team that wins the Super Bowl is often the one that doesn't take on that key injury or two down the stretch, and then gets hot. Every team that can realistically envision itself winning a Super Bowl will be hoping to get through the next six weeks without its quarterback laying on the turf. Nobody wants to end up like the Packers.
Here are this week's power rankings:
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9, Last week: 32)
Glad to have ya back, Jags.
31. Minnesota Vikings (2-8, LW: 30)
Their best move is to lose out and grab Teddy Bridgewater or Marcus Mariota, whichever quarterback Jacksonville doesn't take first overall.
30. Atlanta Falcons (2-8, LW: 29)
You'd think the leaders in that locker room wouldn't let this team quit like it did on Sunday. That was embarrassing for the entire organization.
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8, LW: 31)
The only scary thing for Bucs fans is if ownership gets fooled by a couple wins and gives Greg Schiano another year.
28. Houston Texans (2-8, LW: 28)
The Matt Schaub-for-Case Keenum move is the type of thing that's done by people trying to save their jobs over doing what's best for the franchise.
27. Washington Redskins (3-7, LW: 26)
It's getting harder to imagine Mike Shanahan back for another season in Washington. Especially with Robert Griffin III not exactly showing a ton of support.
26. Tennessee Titans (4-6, LW: 21)
How awful do the Titans feel looking at the jumbled AFC playoff race, knowing they lost to Jacksonville and then blew an early lead at home to the Colts?
25. Oakland Raiders (4-6, LW: 24)
Maybe Matt McGloin is their answer at quarterback. But it would be a heck of a gamble to put their eggs in his basket and pass on all the quarterbacks in a tremendous draft class.
24. New York Giants (4-6, LW: 27)
I'll give Tom Coughlin credit for keeping this team together when it was 0-6. Look at what is happening in Atlanta. It's not that easy to keep a team from rolling over.
23. St. Louis Rams (4-6, LW: 22)
Is there a bigger NFL tease than tight end Jared Cook? The $35 million free agent hasn't had more than 45 yards in a game since opening day.
22. Baltimore Ravens (4-6, LW: 19)
Not being able to score a touchdown after having first and goal at Chicago's 5-yard line in the final minute of regulation might keep them out of the playoffs.
21. Buffalo Bills (4-7, LW: 23)
The Bills will play the Falcons, Buccaneers, Jaguars and Dolphins before finishing at New England, which could have its seed clinched by Week 17. Hmmmm ....
20. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6, LW: 25)
The defense did a heck of a job to keep the Lions scoreless in the second half on Sunday. If they can bottle that up, why not them for the sixth seed?
19. Cleveland Browns (4-6, LW: 18)
The Browns will look back at the 2013 trade deadline and be grateful no team stepped up to trade for receiver Josh Gordon.
18. Green Bay Packers (5-5, LW: 17)
The argument that Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the NFL gets stronger every week he's on the sideline.
17. Dallas Cowboys (5-5, LW: 15)
This week's game at the Giants isn't a good one, necessarily, but it is an important one for both teams. The Eagles are improving. Are the Cowboys?
16. San Diego Chargers (4-6, LW: 13)
And they still have three games left against the Chiefs and Broncos, two of which come on the road.
15. Miami Dolphins (5-5, LW: 20)
In retrospect, the comeback against the Buccaneers didn't result in a win, but it probably had a lasting effect. They competed hard in a win against the Chargers.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (6-5, LW: 16)
The Eagles are 4-1 with Nick Foles starting and 2-4 with Michael Vick starting. It sounds crazy but shouldn't Foles (16 touchdowns, no interceptions) get at least a little bit of MVP candidacy buzz?
13. New York Jets (5-5, LW: 12)
When the Jets are bad, my word are they bad.
12. Arizona Cardinals (6-4, LW: 14)
They can't run the ball (mostly because they insist on riding the Rashard Mendenhall train). Carson Palmer has more interceptions than touchdowns. It's hard to imagine a team with an offense this bad making the playoffs.
11. Chicago Bears (6-4, LW: 11)
The Lions have the easier remaining schedule and the tiebreaker, but the Bears aren't going away despite a pretty bad defense.
10. Detroit Lions (6-4, LW: 10)
It was a pretty obvious trap game situation for the Lions at Pittsburgh. Still, the fake field goal decision was a unique touch.
9. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4, LW: 9)
Sunday's win over Cleveland wasn't the greatest performance by the Bengals, but that's OK. They're now a near lock to win their division, and a first-round bye is still on the table.
8. San Francisco 49ers (6-4, LW: 8)
They should have won Sunday at New Orleans, which is really impressive. A shaky call cost them, but it was still a heck of a performance. Too bad the loss cost them any shot at the West title.
7. Indianapolis Colts (7-3, LW: 7)
There's too much at stake this season for the Colts coaching staff to give Trent Richardson as many or more carries than Donald Brown. They need to figure out the Richardson situation after the season.
6. New England Patriots (7-3, LW: 5)
I think a penalty should have been called against Carolina on the last play. But, let's also not forget that the Patriots got away with a blatant holding on their game-winning touchdown pass against New Orleans. It goes both ways.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (9-1, LW: 4)
My feelings about the Chiefs didn't change on Sunday. They're a good team with a solid defense and a very limited offense, which is what they've been all season. Didn't overreact to a nine-game winning streak against bad competition, won't overreact to a road loss to a very good team.
4. Carolina Panthers (7-3, LW: 6)
There's a good chance their game at New Orleans will determine if they go 13-3 or 12-4. Crazy. If only someone in the media had pointed out the Panthers' potential before the season.
3. New Orleans Saints (8-2, LW: 3)
Sunday showed they can be beat at the Superdome by a hard-nosed defensive team that can run the ball and has a dynamic young quarterback. Carolina will study that film with a lot of interest.
2. Seattle Seahawks (10-1, LW: 2)
Aside from a game against the Saints at home, their remaining schedule: at 49ers, at Giants, vs. Cardinals, vs. Rams. A 13-3 season seems like a worst-case scenario, and 15-1 isn't out of the question.
1. Denver Broncos (9-1, LW: 1)
Seattle and Denver are clearly the class of the NFL right now, but Denver gets a very slight nod. The Broncos were never in trouble against a very good team on Sunday.
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