The Tuesday Cap: Rodgers Injury Leaves Wide Open League

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While he wasn’t the first superstar that was struck by injury, the injury to Aaron Rodgers made an immediate impact.

With the league as wide open as it has been in recent memory, the Packers certainly brought an argument to the table for a Super Bowl appearance and quite possibly a title.

Now, the Packers will roll with their backup, Brett Hundley. Hundley has prepared for three years for this moment, and he will be ready. However, the Packers are certainly not a Super Bowl team with him at the helm.

Who Are The Beneficiaries?

The NFC clearly benefits from the injury to Aaron Rodgers. Still, it’s hard to tell right now who will win the NFC, mostly because the NFC is a pool of mediocre, inconsistent teams.

The Eagles are clearly the “favorites” right now because their only loss is courtesy of the 5-1 Kansas City Chiefs. Carson Wentz is playing at a high level and has the group around him elevating their own games. LeGarrette Blount is the LeGarrette Blount that scored 18 times last season for the Pats. Nelson Agholor is playing closer to the level that the Eagles expected when they took him in the first round in 2015. Having Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith around certainly helps on the perimeter. But, the biggest impact comes from Zach Ertz. Wentz and Ertz are very much on the same page this season, and the results are insane. Ertz is on pace for his first 1,000 yard season and his first season with double digit touchdown catches. It is clear he is important to the offense. The defense is also thriving with a consistent pass rush and secondary play. Even with both Ronald Darby and rookie Sidney Jones out, the Eagles still can hold it down in coverage while the blitzes are dialed up.

The Panthers are another big beneficiary in the NFC. Cam Newton is playing much better over the past few weeks. The Panthers are finally utilizing Christian McCaffrey more, and have also gotten Curtis Samuel in the mix. The receiving core is becoming more balanced, and Ed Dickson is playing inspired football at tight end. Defensively, the front continues to wreak havoc. Ageless wonder Julius Peppers continues to produce. They have a strong linebacking core and an improving secondary with James Bradberry emerging as a leader.

Even though they have continuously struggled at the beginning of this season, you cannot write off the Seahawks. They have the veterans on that team to right the ship. As long as the defense stays healthy and Russell Wilson is at the helm of the offense, they can find a way to beat teams when it counts.

How Open Is The AFC?

The AFC, with the Chiefs finally getting one in the loss column, is also wide open. While the Chiefs looked strong offensively the first five weeks, the Steelers finally exploited their weaknesses. The Steelers put the pressure on Smith and bottled up the running game. They also owned time of possession by continuously feeding Le’Veon Bell. Kansas City certainly had an off week, but it took a miraculous touchdown pass from Big Ben to Antonio Brown to seal the deal.

What do we know about teams in the AFC?

1. The Chiefs haven’t really separated themselves from the league as we previously thought.

2. The Steelers are certainly contenders, but they are hot and cold at times and have issues in the locker room.

3. The Patriots are still in the thick of the AFC race. Even if their defense gives up 400 yards per game, the offense can still find a way.

4. The teams out west besides the Chiefs still have a chance at postseason glory. The Chargers have won two in a row, and although Denver suffered a setback, they still have a solid team.

5. Watch out for the Titans and Bills down the stretch in the playoff race.

6. If DeShaun Watson can continue to play at a high level, the Texans are certainly a team to keep an eye on.

Sink Or Swim?

In this portion of the Tuesday Cap, we will take a look at teams that currently are in the thick of the playoff race, but are struggling to a point where they could soon fall off into the abyss of mediocrity.

Falcons – Swim. For now, the Falcons are sitting at 3-2 and are coming off a bad loss. A loss to the Patriots this week certainly nears them to the panic button with a slew of division and conference games on the way.

Bucs – Sink. This team is just too inconsistent. If they lose to the Bills this week, they fall to 2-4 on the season. Plus, they sit in a super tough division. If the defense fails to get a pass rush going, and Winston is inconsistent throughout the year, they will struggle to even get to .500.

Raiders – Sink. The issue with the Raiders lies deeper than just the defense giving up big plays. The Raiders hung in with the Chargers all game long, but the fact of the matter is that the offense isn’t clicking like they were last season. Derek Carr has yet to register a 300 yard game, while no receiver has posted a 100 yard game.

Broncos – Swim. The defense alone keeps them in the conversation into late November. As long as the running game stays consistent, the Broncos will bounce back from these early season hiccups.

Cardinals – Sink. The Cardinals are playing inspired football now with the new addition of Adrian Peterson. The issue is that they don’t have enough pieces on both sides. Peterson is not David Johnson. Carson Palmer will have games where he turns it over multiple times. Plus, the defense needs to step up opposite Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson. They are so close, but not enough.

Lions – Swim. As long as the defense doesn’t have a meltdown like they did Sunday, and that Matt Stafford and the offense continue to flourish, they will last into December. Plus, no Rodgers benefits them greatly, as two wins over the Packers could be huge.

Keep An Eye Out

Here are a couple teams to keep an eye out for as the season moves along.

New Orleans Saints – Don’t look now, but the Saints are 3-2. Next week they take on the Packers at Lambeau. With no Rodgers, plus a beat up secondary, they could come back home at 4-2. They can hang with the NFC South. Drew Brees is still dealing. The front is playing well on defense. Marshon Lattimore is the real deal. They have the playoff look.

Tennessee Titans – The Titans got back to work on Monday night against the Colts. They fell behind early, but Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry paved the way with a 21 point fourth quarter. They have a date with Houston again down the road, and no one runs away with this division.

What Is With The Browns?

The Browns are struggling at 0-6 right now. They have gone with Kizer, then to Kevin Hogan, then back to Kizer. I was a big defender of what Hue Jackson had planned for this team, but now they are at a fork in the road.

Hue Jackson needs to stick with DeShone Kizer. Rookies have growing pains in the league. Just ask Jared Goff about it. Kizer also doesn’t have many weapons to throw to.

The Browns need to play the young guns. There is no reason that David Njoku should be playing only 39 percent of the snaps. He needs to be on the field as a threat to defenses and to help make things easier for the young wide receivers.

This could all blow up in the Browns face soon. This team was supposed to be the team to make a difference this year. Right now, it isn’t happening. Amassing draft picks is good, but you need to hit on them. The past draft was loaded, and the Browns need to have franchise cornerstones from it.

Looking Ahead

Here are five games with importance heading into next weekend.

Bucs at Bills – The loser of this game is starting to creep into trouble. The Bills would fall to 3-3, and the Bucs would be slipping out of NFC South contention.

Broncos at Chargers – This is redemption for the Chargers. If they win, they are right back in the thick of things in the AFC. The Broncos need to keep pace with Kansas City.

Chiefs at Raiders – The Raiders cannot afford a fifth straight loss. They need to find it against arguably the best team in football. The Chiefs would like to rebound after their poor showing against Pittsburgh.

Falcons at Patriots – The Super Bowl rematch. All that really needs to be said. Both teams are struggling a bit this season, and the loser of this won’t be in the best situation. The Falcons need this one more.

Redskins at Eagles – Big week one rematch on the slate for Monday night. The Eagles could really separate themselves and grab a big hold on the division with a win in that game. If the Redskins win, it’s time to start talking about them as a serious threat.

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