In the world of sports, hope springs eternal. For the Detroit Lions and their dedicated fan base, hope is alive and well. The 2023 NFL season has the potential to be a turning point for the Lions as they aim to capitalize on the momentum they ended their 2022 season with.
Although the Lions posted a mediocre 9–8 season overall, serious fans know they finished with a strong 8–2 record in their last ten games, with one of those losses coming at the hands of a last-second field goal by one of the NFL’s elite teams, the Buffalo Bills.
Many Lions fans and even national sports media outlets continued to buy in after an especially strong free agency and draft. This included adding 2022 interception co-leader C. J. Gardner Johnson on defense, who was considered by many to be one of the biggest prizes of this year’s free agent class.
However, even if the Lions don’t capitalize on the hype and falter at points in the season, they may still have hope for the playoffs, mainly because of the perceived weakness of their division, the NFC North. With a record similar to last year’s (9–8), they could secure a playoff berth and, perhaps, even make a deep postseason run.
The NFC North Landscape
As we enter the 2023 NFL season, the NFC North appears to be a division in transition. Historically dominated by the Green Bay Packers, recent developments have shaken things up. Aaron Rodgers’s departure from Green Bay leaves an obvious void, creating an opportunity for the Lions and their rivals to step up.
So how about the rest of the competition? In 2022, the Vikings still won the division, but they did so with a historically abnormal season. While Minnesota finished last year’s regular season with an impressive 13–4 record, you’ll find they had also had a –3 point differential and suffered an embarrassing 31–24 loss to the New York Giants in the Wild Card Round of the Playoffs. And it didn’t help that they lost various keystone pieces in free agency, such as Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook and Pro Bowl pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith.
The Bears would be the final competitor to consider. While they had a solid offseason where they traded for Probowl Wide Receiver D.J. Moore and signed an entirely new linebacker core, they are still mainly in the rebuilding phase. It is difficult to imagine them bouncing back from their 3–14 finish last season, especially with former Ohio State QB Justin Fields at the helm, who may have posted impressive rushing stats but was subpar as a passer. They may be a threat in the NFC North in the near future, but it’s unlikely that 2023 will be their season.
Statistical Backing for the Lions’ Ascent
To make a case for the Lions’ overall playoff prospects, let’s delve into some statistics that demonstrate why they should be better than the rest of their division:
Improving Defense: In 2022, the Lions finished with a PFF total defensive grade of 60.4. That put them at 28th overall, but these numbers showed a positive incline towards the end of the season.
Offensive Potential: Offensively, Detroit was elite in 2022, with quarterback Jared Goff returning to pro bowl form behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. 2022 may have been uncharacteristically good for the QB, but he doesn’t have to do it alone anymore. The addition of skilled rookies such as Alabama RB Jahmyr Gibbs and Iowa TE Sam LaPorta should provide a boost to their offensive production, so that even if Goff regresses, he’ll have multiple other options on the field to rely on.
A Favorable Schedule: The Lions’ 2023 schedule appears manageable outside of the NFC North as well, with a fair share of winnable games such as those against Las Vegas, Denver, Atlanta, Carolina, and New Orleans, all of whom finished with sub-.500 records last year. Strong performances in divisional matchups and against teams with similar records could be the key to their playoff push.
The Lions’ Playoff Blueprint
While the Lions’ ultimate goal is to compete at the highest level and win it all, a playoff appearance would be a significant step in the right direction, as they haven’t won in the postseason since 1993. This even culminated in season tickets selling out for the Lions, a feat that hasn’t been done since they moved into Ford Field in 2002, which was nearly before I was born.
The road to the playoffs begins with capitalizing on the NFC North’s weaknesses. A more competitive defense, continued growth on offense, and shrewd management will be crucial for the Lions to make the most of their 2023 campaign. However, even with a record precisely the same as last year’s, they may be able to sneak their way into the playoffs.