If the NFL season had been just one week longer last season, it’s highly likely the Detroit Lions would have figured out a way to sneak into the playoffs. And they would have been a scary team to try and oust, too.
The journey for Detroit was long and winding, beginning with their 38-35 loss to the Eagles in Week 1 to their stunning defeat of Aaron Rodgers and Packers in Week 18 that prevented Green Bay from clinching a playoff spot, the 9-8 Lions certainly went through it. Buoyed by a terrific offense and slowly improving defense, Detroit recovered from a 1-6 start to go 8-2 in their final 10 games, just barely missing out on the last wild card spot.
Naturally, expectations are raised for 2023 and, in my opinion, the Lions pose as one of the biggest threats to Philadelphia in the NFC. Led by a rejuvenated Jared Goff, an outstanding core of skill position players, one of the best offensive lines in the league and a much-improved secondary, Detroit has the places in place to be a true Super Bowl contender this season.
Yes, the Detroit Lions. It’s as weird to type as it is to read.
As part of our continuing check-in on potential NFC contenders this off-season, Jeremy Reisman of Pride Of Detroit joined me on a recent Eye on the Enemy podcast to break down their off-season and the vibes surrounding the Lions right now.
Confidence Level Heading Into the Summer
“It’s been a pretty optimistic off-season for Detroit and this was already a fanbase... this is the time to be optimistic. So to add on actual results and actual reasons, to feel optimistic, it’s been a unique couple of months here.”
On Some Curious First Round Draft Moves
“I think a lot of people thought they were going to go Devin Weatherspoon at No. 6 but the Seahawks made him their pick, which surprised people. Trading down made some sense. There was some talk about Jalen Carter but that never made sense, there was never a personality match there... there were just too many red flags that I didn’t think he was going to fit into the culture they’ve developed there.”
“I’ve been pretty staunchly anti-running back in the first round and most of the conversation surrounded around Bijan Robinson so the fact the Lions went with the second guy [Jamyr Gibbs] on most people’s boards... I’m not sure it would have been the second guy on the Lions board, and there are some reports that if they hadn’t traded down, he might have been selected at No. 6 overall.”
“It’s controversial for a reason.”
Fixing the Secondary with C.J. Gardner Johnson and Cameron Sutton
“On paper, it’s a lot better. Expectations are much higher. Cameron Sutton was their priority, their 12:01 phone call to get him to Detroit. He’s a veteran guy they’ve been lacking in the secondary for a long time. They didn’t even have a veteran mentor to help the young guys out in recent seasons. He brings smarts, leadership, which is a much needed thing, and he’s a pretty talented corner. Maybe not a shutdown type, but definitely a No. 1 corner.”
“C.J. Gardner-Johnson was never really part of the free agency plan, I think Brad Holmes was just, like, ‘Oh, we’re at the end of week one and this guy isn’t signed yet?’ And two or three days later they made that deal. He reunites with Aaron Glenn, who he played with in New Orleans, he’ll probably play the nickel more than he did in Philly.”
Biggest Area of Need
“I think it’s defensive tackle. That was a target area of need in the draft and they waited until Round 3 to get Broderick Martin, a small school guy who probably isn’t going to play a ton right away.”
“Considering this wasn’t a team that was very good at stopping the run last year is a big concern. Obviously getting [linebacker] Jack Campbell in the first round, they’re hoping they’ll get some help there.”
“There’s also a little bit of question at wide receiver right now. You lose D.J. Chark in the off-season, you’re missing Jameson Williams for the first six weeks, you bring in Marvin Jones, which is a nice addition, you add receiving threats in Jamyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta, but specifically at the wide receiver position, it seems like they’re a little thin there.”
Amon Ra-St. Brown led the team with 106 catches for 1161 yards and 6 TDs, Kalif Raymond enters as the No. 2 or 3 receiver with Jones.
DeAndre Hopkins Rumors
“It’s why Detroit Lions fans really want him. I’m not sure the character fits what they’re trying to build there but the Lions have a ton of cap space right now and it would certainly make for a fun first six weeks before [Williams] gets here and then, pair them together, see what happens!”
Where Does Goff Rank Among NFC QBs?
“There’s been rumblings of starting a conversation for an extension, I’m hoping the Lions wait at least one more year on that conversation and just see how he does now with a slightly revamped room in terms of offensive weapons and really big expectations on the team’s shoulders. How does he respond to that? How does the team look? Has he grown at all? I need all those questions answered before I push him into the top two or three in the NFC.”
Where Does the Lions’ Roster Rank in the NFC?
“Probably four, I would say. In no particular order, 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys are probably my top three and then I have the Lions right behind them. I think they’re clear NFC North favorites, Packers might be the closest team to them because they kept most of their defensive roster intact... ...I think this team is going to be better defensively, and even if you look at how they played in their final 10 games, they were a top three team (in terms of DVOA) over that stretch.”
“I think expectations for the defense is top half of the league and if the offense can stay top five in the league, that’s a chemistry for a potential contender. You can hear me tremble over those words because I’m not used to saying them, but they really seem set up to be one of those teams that can be a Super Bowl contender.”
The Lions’ last playoff appearance was in 2016 when they lost in the wild card round for the sixth time in a row. Their last postseason victory was following the 1991 season, defeated in the NFC Championship Game by Washington, who was on their way to one of the most dominant seasons in NFL history.
No doubt, the Lions are due for some postseason success, and they may be well set-up to experience some in 2023.