State of Play in the NFC North: Detroit Lions

Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

State of Play in the NFC North: Detroit Lions


State of Play in the NFC North: Detroit Lions


Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dan Campbell’s fighting Detroit Lions were one of the surprise packages of the 2022-23 NFL season. The youthful Lions played an aggressive, fast-paced brand of football as they surged their way to a 9-8 record. A year after finishing rock bottom in the NFC North, the Lions trebled their win total from 2021-22. It was a seismic step forward for the rebuilding franchise. 


Season Record: 9-8

A 1-6 start threatened to doom the Lions’ season from the get-go. Jaded fans and local talk radio started to waver and panic. Screams of ‘Same Old Lions’ emanated from Detroit’s suburbs. However, Campbell and his team remained steadfast. They never hesitated, and the Lions started to rattle off multiple wins. Detroit’s glorious losers began to taste that winning feeling, and they never let go of it. The Lions posted an 8-4 record after their bye week and defeated playoff teams such as the New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Minnesota Vikings. That furious finish got Detroit to the precipice of the playoff party and infused a v8 engine’s worth of momentum into the Motor City. 


Best Win: 20-16 win over the Green Bay Packers

The Lions went into this Sunday night game already eliminated from playoff contention. But Detroit did not let that derail them from their mission. Before that game, Lions players spoke incessantly about their desire to end the Green Bay Packers season. The Lions defeated the Packers decisively, as they displayed plenty of maturity and grit to get the road win. Historically, The Lions do not win many big games at Lambeau Field; they won this one ruthlessly. It sealed a season sweep of their erstwhile rivals.

Worst Loss: 0-29 loss to the New England Patriots

Most teams play one terrible game throughout the season. This trip to New England was the Lions’ rock bottom. Offense, defense, and special teams units all collapsed. A shutout defeat to a team like the New England Patriots felt like the nadir. 


Team MVP: Jared Goff

Jared Goff emerged as an off-field leader and on-field star in 2022. Goff finished fifth in total QBR and eighth in overall EPA. The former Los Angeles Ram was outstanding as he quarterbacked a top-five offense. Goff threw 29 touchdowns to just seven interceptions and broke the 4,000-yard barrier. Add all that to a Walter Payton Man of The Year Award nomination, and Goff became the franchise player in Detroit.


Biggest Roster Weakness: Cornerback

Detroit’s cornerback room requires a significant revamp this offseason. Amani Oruwariye was benched during the season and is a pending free agent. Converted safety William Harris is not a long-term answer, and Mike Hughes is another pending free agent. Jeff Okudah endured an inconsistent third season, while undrafted free agent Jerry Jacobs developed nicely. The Lions lack depth and elite talent in this position. It is something that must change. 


Biggest Roster Strength: Offensive Line

Detroit’s offensive line is the best unit in the division. Ohio State brethren Taylor Decker and Jonah Jackson are Pro Bowl behemoths on the left side of the line. Center Frank Ragnow is another Pro Bowler, while right tackle Penei Sewell is a phenom. If the Lions find a solution at right guard, this offensive line may become the best in the NFL. 


Biggest offseason question: How many free agents return? 

The Lions are in a strange position where their free agents want to return to the team. Stars like Jamaal Williams, D.J. Chark, John Cominsky, Alex Anzalone, and DeShon Elliott played significant roles during the Lions’ season. In total, Detroit has 13 pending free agents. Many of these players hope to stay in Detroit, but a team cannot re-sign everyone. How the Lions navigate the early part of the new league year will set up the rest of the player procurement phase. 


The Outlook: Promising

The Lions were one of the youngest, most inexperienced teams in the NFL last season. A winning season littered with big wins will help this young team build confidence and a winning mentality. Dan Campbell finished his Week 18 post game speech by telling his players that 2022 was just the start. With offensive coordinator Ben Johnson returning and a glut of talented youngsters, the Lions are eyeing a division title in 2023. General manager Brad Holmes said as much in his end-of-season press conference. And Holmes has a war chest to enact that vision; the Lions own five draft picks in the top 100 and are projected to have around $28 million in cap space. After two years of laying bricks and mortar, the Lions can start furnishing their rebuild with high-quality players. The future is promising. 


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