Aaron Rodgers (USA Today Sports)
Aaron Rodgers (USA Today Sports)

2018 win total (via Bovada): 10

2017 ATS record: 7-9

Optimist view: No quarterback might mean more to his team than Aaron Rodgers, and he’s back after missing most of 10 games last season with a broken clavicle. Even with the Packers losing Rodgers’ Week 15 comeback start at Carolina late in the season, they were 4-2 in games he started and finished. They averaged 26.8 points in those games, 15.9 points in the remainder of the season, mostly with an ineffective Brett Hundley at QB.

They’ve added depth behind those two with former first-rounder DeShone Kizer, giving Mike McCarthy options if — God forbid — Rodgers goes down again for any notable length of time. And even with some turnover on the offensive side of the ball, the bulk of the skill-position players and offensive line are returning. A trio of young runners could provide more burst than expected after a game of musical chairs in the backfield a year ago. New TE Jimmy Graham certainly provides Rodgers the type of target he really hasn’t been able to depend on in recent seasons.

The defense improving will require new DE Muhammad Wilkerson providing a boost and a young secondary coming together for new coordinator Mike Pettine. Already, first-round CB Jaire Alexander has turned some heads — including Rodgers’ — and could be an addition in the same neighborhood as Marshon Lattimore was for the Saints in 2017.

There aren’t too many major weaknesses on this squad, health willing, and Rodgers gives the Packers a chance to be a Super Bowl contender when he’s at his standard best. Is this the best roster they’ve had in Rodgers’ time there? No. But it’s most certainly far from the worst.

Pessimist view: Let’s face it, another serious Rodgers injury probably kills any chances of the over bet. As game as they were staying in the playoff race a year ago, counting on either Hundley or Kizer to improve dramatically from what we saw a year ago (they combined for 34 interceptions on 792 throws, or one every 23.3 attempts). That’s now twice in his career Rodgers has suffered this type of injury, suggesting he might be more prone to it happening a third time.

Even with RBs Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and — to a lesser degree — Ty Montgomery showing some promise in little spurts, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be an effective trio. The offensive line has a few things to sort out, Graham has been strangely up and down the past few seasons and the loss of Jordy Nelson, Rodgers’ most trusted target in his career, can’t be overstated.

The defense gave up big chunks of ground at times — 18 drives allowed of 75 yards or longer, and all but one ended in a touchdown. (By comparison, that was only slightly better than the 0-16 Browns, who allowed 22 such drives.) The Packers rushed the passer fairly well at times and were effective at slowing down opponents’ run games, but other than that were ordinary to below-average in almost every other category. Will Pettine make that much of a difference or is this a talent deficiency we’re looking at here?

On schedule: First, let’s start with the division, which should be tough. Even with major coaching-staff adjustments to all four teams, we’re talking about the Packers twice facing the Super Bowl-contending Vikings, the perennially competitive Lions and the possible upstart Bears. NFC North teams won 34 games last season, second only to the NFC South’s 37, and it could be an improved division in 2018. The Packers open with the Bears and Vikings in Weeks 1 and 2, both in Green Bay.

Overall, this looks like a tough slate. They have six games vs. 2017 playoff opponents — including back-to-back whoppers at the Rams and Patriots in Weeks 8 and 9 — and face a few teams that are contenders to improve dramatically, including the 49ers in a Monday night game at Lambeau prior to the Week 7 bye.

But the reality is that the Packers could be favored in as many as 13 games. There are a few tricky road tests, and the Packers have been good but hardly dominant the past three seasons at home (15-9 combined). They also have five primetime games scheduled and must endure a trying gauntlet following the bye: four road games in a five-game span against the battle-tested Rams, Patriots, Seahawks and Vikings.

Prediction: Over

We’re gritting our teeth a bit here on this one, given the tough division and the fingers-crossed dependence on Rodgers staying out of harm’s way. But even if the defense and run game make only modest improvements, we still can see the path to double-digit victories for this team. Let's not overrate this division too much; only the Vikings really can lay claim to being a legitimate Super Bowl contender right now.

The Packers might have a hard time going way over 10 wins, but we feel a lot more comfortable picking the over than the under in Rodgers’ return this season. Don’t forget how special he is and how he might make the biggest wins-above-replacement difference in the entire NFL.

Previous projected win total breakdowns

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions