Dougherty: Injury changes NFC North outlook

Pete Dougherty
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We can only imagine the pall cast over the Minnesota Vikings’ offices at Winter Park in Eden Prairie, Minn., on Tuesday after Teddy Bridgewater’s apparently serious knee injury.

Coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman have a team on the rise, but their promising 2016 season pretty much went down the tubes when Bridgewater went down early in practice. Considering the aftermath — the team gathered around him and prayed as he clutched his left knee; he was taken away in an ambulance; and practice was canceled — we have to assume Bridgewater’s season is done.

The Vikings won the NFC North division title last season and were going to be the Packers’ primary challenger for the division title this season. More than that, they were a threat to make a jump from last season and perhaps go on a deep playoff run, depending on how much Bridgewater improved from a decent second season in the NFL in 2015.

RELATED: Bridgewater suffers 'significant' knee injury

REACTION: Bridgewater injury rocks Vikings

Bridgewater isn't a great player, and very likely wasn't going to be in 2016. But he wasn't bad last year (88.7 rating) and as a young player had a chance to get better. The quarterback position is so outsized on NFL teams' fortunes that now the Vikings will be lucky to go .500.

Their starter for now is Shaun Hill, a 36-year old with a 16-18 career record as a starter. As far as backups go, he’s probably OK, but as an every-game quarterback for a season? Even with Adrian Peterson at running back, the Vikings aren’t going anywhere now.

Now, maybe Spielman can swing a trade, but really, is there anyone available who will make that much of a difference? Anyone who could come in from another team and system to play even at the level Bridgewater did as a second-year pro last year?

Colin Kaepernick surely is available. But based on what the Packers have seen of him last season and again last week, he at age 28 looks like he’s getting worse, not better.

Maybe the Vikings could trade for Denver’s Mark Sanchez or one of the New York Jets’ backups (Geno Smith, Bryce Petty). Some other backups in the league are Tampa Bay’s Mike Glennon (5-13 as a starter) and Arizona’s Drew Stanton (7-5).

But it’s hard to see any of them giving the Vikings much chance to get into the playoffs, let alone make a deep playoff run that at least looked like a possibility before Bridgewater went down.

The Vikings certainly can’t look to the NFC North for help. There’s no way Packers GM Ted Thompson would trade them his backup, Brett Hundley. Well, not unless the price were outrageous, which ain’t happening. Same for the Chicago Bears with Brian Hoyer.

This injury probably makes Jay Cutler’s Bears the best bet to challenge the Packers in the division. With Alshon Jeffrey and 2015 first-round pick Kevin White at. receiver, the Bears have weapons. Regardless, life just got a little easier for the rest of the NFC North.

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