2023 NFC North Preview: Detroit Lions

By Tayyib Abu

For the first time in a long time, the NFC North feels much more competitive and open. Four-time MVP and NFC North king Aaron Rodgers is now in New York. His departure leaves a void in the division, and the contenders are eager to make their mark. Here is a preview of the Black and Blue division ahead of the 2023 season.

Detroit Lions

2022 Record: 9-8

Notable Acquisitions: Cam Sutton, CJ Gardner-Johnson, Jahmyr Gibbs, Brian Branch

For the first time in the NFC North era, the Detroit Lions enter a season as the bookies’ favorites to win the division. It is a seismic turnaround from where the Lions were three years ago. 

That is a testament to GM Brad Holmes, head coach Dan Campbell, and everyone else within the Lions’ organization. 

A ferocious 8-2 finish last season saw the Lions roar into playoff contention. And the Lions will be eager to build upon that. Continuity is the name of the game for the Lions in 2023. Offensive Coordinator Ben Johnson is back for a third year with quarterback Jared Goff. Offensive line stalwarts Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, and Penei Sewell are still in Detroit, and the relentless Amon Ra St. Brown provides the grit in the wideout room. After playing at a top-five level in 2022, the Lions have the critical cogs to drive this offense again. 

Defensively, the Lions restocked the defensive backfield. Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, CJ Gardner Johnson, and rookie Brian Branch joined the Honolulu Blue this offseason. 

Add those acquisitions to the burgeoning talent of Aidan Hutchinson, James Houston, and Kerby Joseph, and Detroit’s defense should take a step forward. 

The Lions were one of the youngest NFL teams in 2022. Outside of Jared Goff and Gardner-Johnson, many Lions players do not possess much big-game experience. This season, the spotlight will shine bright on Detroit. For the first time since Ford Field opened in 2002, every season ticket is sold. The Lions are no longer lovable losers; they are the fancied favorites. Can these Detroit Lions ride a Honolulu Blue wave for 17 weeks?

Image Credit: Lions Wire - USA Today

Key Player: C.J Gardner-Johnson

Pest. Nuisance. Loudmouth. Those are all the labels that CJ Gardner-Johnson wears with notoriety. The former Philadelphia Eagle signed for the Lions in free agency, and he has energized and added an attitude to the Lions’ secondary. Detroit’s pass defense was abysmal in 2022, and Gardner-Johnson’s arrival should spark some improvement. A versatile defensive back, Gardner-Johnson is adept at playing as a safety or nickel back. He has even played some outside cornerback when he was a New Orleans Saint. 

Gardner-Johnson’s versatility and aggression mesh brilliantly with Aaron Glenn’s defense. Glenn has known Gardner-Johnson since the latter was in high school. The duo also worked together in New Orleans. Glenn has already labeled Gardner-Johnson as a spark plug, an energizer. The Super Bowl runner-up knows Detroit’s Cover 1 defense inside-out, and his attitude has already rubbed off on others. If the Lions are to take a step forward on defense, the ‘pest’ holds the key.

Biggest Strength: Offensive Line

Detroit’s starting offensive line is a powerhouse and is arguably a top-five unit in the NFL. From left to right, Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, and Frank Ragnow are all former Pro Bowl players. Halapoulivaati Vaitai is a former Super Bowl winner with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Penei Sewell is a young phenom. Detroit’s offensive line ranked in the top three in pressure percentage surrendered last season. They are the engine that powers Detroit’s run game and passing game.

Image Credit: Chicago Sun Times

Biggest Weakness: Tight End

The Lions’ tight end room is unproven at the NFL level. Sophomore James Mitchell spent most of 2022 recovering from injury. Brock Wright is not a complete tight end, and Iowa man Sam LaPorta is a rookie. Rookie tight ends often find the transition to the NFL difficult. LaPorta has quickly struck up chemistry with Goff, but the finer details of tight end play are still a question mark. Can LaPorta block in the running game? Show discipline when he chips blocks and leaks out into passing routes? Those are some of the critical areas where he will be tested.

The Outlook: It Is Prove It Time

The Lions possess the right mix of continuity, chemistry, and youth to mount a division title challenge. The blend of experienced, savvy coaches and a young, energetic team has got Detroit believing. The Lions now need to prove that the hope has some substance behind it.

Feature Image Credit: Pride of Detroit



Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1