Aaron Rodgers' effect on Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Aaron Rodgers' shoulder injury could be the wild card that helps the Carolina Panthers earn a wild-card spot in the NFC playoffs.

Green Bay would be favored to win its next three games with Rodgers at quarterback, so a loss in one or more while he recovers would help a Carolina team that if the season ended today would own the No. 6 seed.

It's even more significant when you consider the Panthers (5-3) are coming up on their toughest three-game stretch -- against San Francisco (6-2), New England (7-2) and Miami (4-4).

That's a combined record of 17-8 compared to 7-18 for Green Bay's next three opponents -- the Philadelphia Eagles (4-5), New York Giants (2-6) and Minnesota Vikings (1-7).

So while Carolina currently would be a wild card, it is only a loss from being out of the playoffs as it's tied with Green Bay (5-3), Detroit (5-3) and Chicago (5-3). And the Arizona Cardinals (4-4) are only a game back and hold a victory over the Panthers.