While the Philadelphia Eagles clinched the NFC East crown on Sunday, they had little to celebrate. Their 43-35 win over the Rams feels like a Pyrrhic victory after star quarterback and MVP candidate Carson Wentz left the game with a knee injury.
On Monday, the worst was confirmed after an MRI: Coach Doug Pederson said that the injury is a torn ACL that will end Wentz's season. Wentz suffered the injury during a two-yard touchdown scramble in the third quarter. Rams defenders Morgan Fox and Mark Barron crashed into Wentz at the goal line, bending the second-year quarterback's knee awkwardly as he dived into the end zone. A penalty wiped out the touchdown and Wentz stayed in for four more plays, finishing the drive with a touchdown strike to wideout Alshon Jeffery.
Wentz's touchdown pass was his final play of the game. After coming off the field, he made his way to the medial tent for examination. The athletic training staff then took Wentz to the locker room and ruled him out for the remainder of the afternoon, leaving Nick Foles to close out the game for Philadelphia.
Prior to losing Wentz, injury woes had already tested the Eagles' mettle. Multiple torn knee ligaments ended the season of All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters back in late October, removing the most valuable piece of the offensive line. Around the same time, star linebacker Jordan Hicks ruptured his Achilles tendon. Meanwhile, the offense lost its two most explosive tailbacks -- Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey -- to a shredded knee and torn hamstring, respectively.
Despite myriad injuries, the Eagles have an NFC-best 11-2 record and have appeared as dangerous as any team in the NFL. With Wentz at the controls, the offense entered Week 14 tied with the Rams for the league lead in points scored (361) and ranked fourth in DVOA. Wentz's play reinvigorated the careers of Nelson Agholor and Jeffery and helped turn tight end Zach Ertz into a likely Pro Bowl selection. That dominance bolstered an already strong defense, one that made precious few mistakes on the ground (fourth in DVOA) and in pass coverage (third).
But while the Eagles remain dominant defensively and have tools to work with on offense, a season-ending injury for Wentz may deal a knockout blow to their title hopes. Few teams can weather the loss of an MVP-caliber quarterback, especially so late in the season. Foles, for all his experience, cannot emulate Wentz's impact on Philadelphia's offense, and head coach Doug Pederson can only do so much to mitigate the drop-off at quarterback. Though Philly has ensured its place in the playoffs, its ceiling has drastically changed because of Wentz's injury.
Wentz will miss the Eagles' final three games of the regular season and the playoffs, giving him approximately nine months to repair and rehab his knee for Week 1 of 2018. Meanwhile, the NFC suddenly becomes a wide-open field. The 10-3 Vikings appear to have the best chance to grab hold of the No. 1 seed from the Eagles, giving them the possibility of playing all their playoff games at home -- including Super Bowl LII. The Saints and Rams are top-tier conference contenders as well, with the latter having three weeks to recover from Sunday's loss to Philadelphia. The rest of the field remains unsettled, though an Aaron Rodgers-led Packers team suddenly look capable of repeating their successful 2010 Super Bowl run in 2017's weakened field.
The Eagles are still in the mix, in position for a first-round bye, but once Wentz's injury was confirmed, the outlook for the entire conference changed.