The Green Bay Packers were so close. They had multiple chances to finish off the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round. Had they held onto victory, a winnable game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field awaited, a matchup they had already conquered earlier in the season.
Matt LaFleur's young team fell short, but they announced the arrival of a newly-opened Super Bowl window on a national stage.
To the dismay of NFC North fans worldwide, less than a year removed from Aaron Rodgers' departure, the Packers are back. The "rebuild" lasted about eight games.
But the Packers can't expect to take the next step in the NFC without upgrading the roster. Green Bay must check off this to-do list to make it to next year's Super Bowl.
7. Keep Aaron Jones and Preston Smith
We were ready to hit the reset button halfway through the season. The Packers seemingly did, too, by trading starting cornerback Rasul Douglas. Had Green Bay's slow start continued and led to a losing record, Aaron Jones and Preston Smith would almost certainly be gone due to their increasing cap hits.
However, with a Super Bowl in sight, the Packers must find a way to keep them. They are too important to this team.
Jones rushed for over 100 yards in five straight games to close out the season. In the playoffs, he ran all over the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, showing that he is still playing the best football of his career.
Smith's eight sacks and 21 quarterback hits helped the Packers reach the playoffs, and he added 1.5 sacks to his total in the postseason. Green Bay can't afford to lose Smith, especially with Kingsley Enagbare likely to be sidelined for most of the regular season.
Whether the Packers restructure their contracts, offer extensions, or continue with their current cap hits, Jones and Smith must return no matter what. Whatever it takes.