Detroit Lions & The Weight Of Expectations

By Conor O’Connell

The Detroit Lions are in uncharted waters. People actually expect them to be a good team in the upcoming season. Not something you expect from a team associated with long term institutional failure. But it’s true. The 2023 Detroit Lions have higher expectations placed on them than any time in recent memory. Fans are buying in, and so are the media, as it feels like they are becoming the unofficial second team of the NFL landscape.

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Everyone expects that the Lions are ready to take that next step and become a major contender in the NFC. However, have we gone too far? The Lions usually live up to expectations. But that’s because they’re usually expected to disappoint. As the season approaches, how will the Lions handle this hype, and will it affect their performance for the upcoming campaign?

Not only is success expected from fans and media, but sportsbooks also view the Lions as a serious team. They consider them to be the favourites for the NFC North, a division they have not won since 1993, along with giving them an over/under win total of 9.5 – a figure they have not gotten since the 2012 season. The difference between that season and this was that those Lions were a playoff team. They had a young quarterback, Matthew Stafford, expected to join the ranks of the elite after coming off a +5,000 yard, 41 touchdown, passing season. In comparison, the current Lions failed to make the playoffs, and have a roster that not many would consider elite. So why does everyone expect them to have so much success?

A Winnable Division

While the Lions have an exciting team, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone willing to call them Superbowl calibre. They do however benefit from playing in one of the weakest NFC’s in recent time. Were they in the AFC, they’d be considered middling at best, but in the NFC, they have a chance. Only the Eagles, 49ers and Cowboys can say for certain that their roster is better than the Lions, but outside of that, it’s a toss up.

The NFC North itself is one of the most winnable divisions in the NFL as well. Aaron Rodgers has finally left the division, the Bears success hinges on whether Justin Fields can actually play quarterback, while the Vikings are as historically disappointing as the Lions. Albeit, on a more talented level.

Detroit’s management clearly believe this is the year to strike, as the moves they’ve made in the offseason point towards them making a Superbowl push. Free agency and the draft was about filling out the roster as they focused on making the roster better. This was seen by them taking a running back and a linebacker in the first round over more valuable positions available. They even pulled the classic Eagles move of getting a veteran backup in Teddy Bridgewater, who is probably one of the 32 best quarterbacks in the league. That way, if Goff gets injured or disappoints, then it’s not a season crusher. Brad Holmes is going all in.

A Defense On The Rise

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After starting the season 1-6, the Lions ended it by winning 8 of their last ten games, culminating in them ending Aaron Rodgers career in Green Bay as we know it. While the offense was strong throughout, it was their defense who started carrying their own weight after starting the season so poorly. Going into this season, many believe this unit can only get better. Their D-line will include sophomore seasons from Aidan Hutchinson, Josh Paschal and James Houston. Alim McNeill has completely changed his body, Levi Onwuzerike finally seems to be healthy, and Julian Okwara is turning heads in camp. The secondary has brought in some much needed reinforcements, with draft bust Jeff Okudah being replaced by veterans Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Mosely and Chauncey Gardner Johnson. Add those to a returning Tracey Walker, second year Kerby Joseph and the highly vaunted rookie Brian Branch, and finally the secondary shouldn’t be a liability.

However, if their defense is expected to improve this offseason, then why isn’t it possible that the offense may regress? A lot of what made the Lions’ offense successful last year was the play calling of Ben Johnson, and the aggressiveness of Dan Campbell. Jared Goff had a statistically good year, but his TD:INT ratio masks him being one of the leaders in turnover worthy plays (according to PFF). Outside of their o-line, the offense does not scream elite. In fact, it looks fairly average…

Pumping The Brakes

What should be a bigger concern than what people are making out is their wide receiving group. Top 100 debutant, Amon Ra St Brown, is one of the league’s premier slot receivers. But that’s all he is, a slot receiver – and unless you have Cooper Kupp, it’s difficult to build an offense around one. Outside of St Brown, the talent begins to get sparse. Kalif Raymond agreed to a new contract in the summer, but he’s nearly 30 and is yet to surpass 2,000 career receiving yards. Then you’ve got Jameson Williams, the man who should be the Lions version of Justin Jefferson. But there are major doubts as to whether or not he will work out in Detroit…

After an irrelevant rookie season due to injury, Williams has gone on to receive a 6 game ban for gambling, while also having a camp that features injuries and drops. He’s still young, but the Lions would’ve hoped to have seen a lot more from the player they traded up to get in the first round of last year’s draft.

With defenses having plenty of tape to study now, are the Lions able to rely on Ben Johnson’s offensive scheme as much as they did last year? For the Lions’ offense to be elite again they will need their offensive weapons to step up. St Brown will need to take the step towards superstardom. Jameson Williams needs to come back from his suspension and be the receiver they thought they drafted. Sam LaPorta needs to be the Tight End that TJ Hockenson never was, while Jahmyr Gibbs needs to be a weapon in the pass game and not just a standard running back.

While I’m not a fan of Brad Holmes pushing all of his chips in, it will still make for an exciting year, and it’s not a bad idea to go all in now before waiting until the NFC becomes strong again. However, as the Lions currently are, I can’t see them going deep in the playoffs, and the hype train may become derailed sooner, rather than later.

Feature Image Credit: USA Today Sports

Conor O'Connell


Conor is an Irish NFL reporter based in Cardiff, who vents his frustrations at the Detroit Lions through long form writing and silly internet videos. Find him on Twitter @Nice_Bass_Prod or on YouTube at Nice Bass Sports.