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Does Rodgers Injury Thrust Lions Into Driver's Seat In NFC North?

By: Will Burchfield

Maybe this is the break the Lions needed to end a 24-year-old drought.

Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone on Sunday and will be out for a significant amount of time, potentially the rest of the season, rendering the NFC North a division for the taking.

Can the Lions claim their first division title since 1993? They're in third place through six games, but a 3-3 team was perhaps never in better position.

Detroit already owns a road win over 4-2 Minnesota, and 4-2 Green Bay is sure to take a step back with its best player on the sideline. The Lions figure to be a healthier team when they return from their Week 7 bye, particularly with left tackle Taylor Decker progressing toward a midseason return, and they still have five division games remaining, three of which are at home and two of which are against the lowly Bears.

The Packers, who have won five of the past six NFC North titles, were yet again the favorite with a healthy Aaron Rodgers. With backup Brett Hundley, who threw three interceptions and coughed up a fumble in relief of Rodgers on Sunday, they are hardly a sure thing.

"Does it change the division? Yeah," defensive tackle Akeem Spence told "What (Rodgers) does to this division, they've been the top dog in this division for the last couple years."

Rodgers has been especially good versus the Lions throughout his career. He's beaten them 13 out of 16 tries, including twice on the final day of the season with the division hanging in the balance. When the Lions travel to Green Bay in Week 9, they'll be comforted by the sight of Hundley instead of Rodgers.

Of course, Jim Caldwell expects the Packers to rally in Rodgers' absence.

"He's a great player, but you look across the League and there's a number of teams that have guys starting for them that aren't a starter at the quarterback position that still play extremely well. That's a good football team all the way around. They're good on defense. They're good in the kicking game. They have a really good unit. He's obviously a phenomenal player, but I still think Green Bay is Green Bay," Caldwell said.

The Lions have been in this position before, and they failed to take advantage. Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone in Week 9 in 2013, and the Lions, at the time, were leading the division. But they went 2-6 down the stretch, ceded the division lead to the Bears, who ceded the title to the Packers when Rodgers returned to action in Week 17.

There's no guarantees, even with Green Bay compromised.

Still, an opportunity has arisen for the Lions, whose best shot at making the playoffs is probably by winning the division. Their wild-card hopes have been dented by losses to a trio of NFC South teams in the Falcons, Panthers and Saints. Their NFC-North hopes have been bolstered by Rodgers' injury. It's on them to step up.

Rodgers might still have a say in how the division shakes out. He missed seven weeks with his collarbone injury in 2013, a timeline that would put him on track this season for a Week 13 return. And looming on the Lions' schedule is yet another date with the Packers in the final game of the season. If Rodgers is back for that one, and a division title is still up for grabs, expect the two-time MVP's very best.

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