Healthy Aaron Rodgers, improved defense make Packers Super Bowl contenders

Here’s a look at the Super Bowl prospects of the Green Bay Packers, who finished the season 7-9. The tiers consist of: Realistic Super Bowl expectations; Should contend, but there are question marks; Middle of the pack; Lots of work to do; and Nowhere close.

Westgate odds to win Super Bowl LIII: 12-1

Realistic Super Bowl expectations: The first time Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone (2013), he returned the next season and had one of his best years. He won the 2014 NFL MVP and led the Packers to the NFC Championship Game.

This time, however, Rodgers is four years older. He turned 34 in December but was playing some of his best football when he broke his collarbone in Week 6 of this past season, so there’s still reason to think 2018 could be a repeat of 2014.

Without Rodgers, the Packers’ holes were exposed. Their franchise-record of eight straight playoff appearances came to an end, and it led to a house cleaning that started with general manager Ted Thompson and extended to a good portion of Mike McCarthy’s coaching staff. He moved on from both coordinators -- Dom Capers on defense and Edgar Bennett on offense.

New general Brian Gutekunst’s biggest task will be giving new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine some more pieces -- especially pass rushers -- to work with. He might have to be more aggressive in free agency than Thompson, otherwise it could be a much longer rebuilding process than Rodgers and McCarthy would like, considering their window to get to a second Super Bowl will start to close.

If Pettine can get the Packers defense into the top half of the league -- and by the way, he’s never coordinated a defense that finished outside of the top 10 -- then Rodgers and the offense can do the rest.