After years of being an automatic NFC Super Bowl contender, Green Bay was exposed badly last season. The Packers finished 7-9 and in third place in the NFC North last season. Losing Aaron Rodgers again was a tremendous blow, but only provided the realization that many Green Bay fans and maybe most in the organization did want to face.

The Packers with or without Rodgers were lacking in talent and that was brought to light with late-season wins against teams like Tampa Bay and Cleveland. Rodgers was the AX deodorant that made everything look and smell better.

Packers sign first-round CB Alexander

With Philadelphia, the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota on the rise, Green Bay had the look of fading franchise whose window was about to close. The comparisons between them and Seattle being in the same situation seemed real and possibly at best the Pack might be a wild card club.

But this offseason brought change as Ted Thompson retired or shown the door depending on what you want to believe. Thompson was always a skillful drafter (1 thru 7) and talent-assembler, but he'd missed on various players the last few years and did not believe in big free agent signings or trades, which frustrated head coach Mike McCarthy.

Enter little known Brian Gutekunst to take over as GM and nobody quite knew what to think. Gutekunst did not play it safe and dip his toe in the green and gold water. He dived right in making moves like signing TE Jimmy Graham and DE Muhammad Wilkerson and cutting Jordy Nelson.

As opposed to taking the best player or the right fit, Gutekunst went to fill the team's biggest need at cornerback and start developing wide receivers, as depth and production were evaporating.

Willson with Detroit after growing up across the border

By most accounts, the Packers aggressiveness was positively viewed and the hiring of Mike Pettine as defensive coordinator also brings a fresh face, voice, and viewpoint to a defense not loaded with playmakers.

Green Bay Understands Situation

Rodgers will be 35 in December and compared to Tom Brady and Drew Brees, both who are a few years older, the former Cal product has been more injury-prone. With just one Super Bowl appearance and title, most would have thought Green Bay should have had at least made one more showing in the sport's showcase event.

That is why the next three years really matter in Title Town and they have to assemble all the right parts to have a shot at another Super Bowl.

So just how good are the Packers? Most NFC futures odds had Green Bay fifth or six in the NFC back in March, but they have moved up to third at most sportsbooks behind the Eagles and Rams.

There is a trust factor involved that Pettine will improve the defense and better utilize their talents. Last year, time and again opposing teams knew the Pack's blitz packages and rendered them useless. If a pass rush emerges, that will help a young, but potentially talented secondary.

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Though not their type, Dez Bryant still has something left in the tank and would give Rodgers a rather dynamic passing offense. If the offensive line could finally have a below average injury season, the Packers offense could be a high-scoring group again.

Green Bay's win total is 10 and their first six games before the bye is manageable. There last five contests also provide them a chance to do well. But, right after the bye week, they have as tough a schedule as any team will face, especially on the road.

Sun. Oct. 28        @ Los Angeles Rams 4:25 PM FOX          
Sun. Nov. 4         @ New England 8:20 PM NBC   
Sun. Nov. 11       vs. Miami 1:00 PM CBS 
Thu. Nov. 15       @ Seattle 8:20 PM FOX/NFL      
Sun. Nov. 25       @ Minnesota 8:20 PM NBC

If McCarthy's crew could find a way to win possibly three of these encounters, an 11 or 12-win season is not out of the question.