Expectations for Detroit Lions might be highest in decades going into next season

Lions finish season 9-8 after beating Packers on Sunday Night Football

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN - JANUARY 08: Jamaal Williams #30 of the Detroit Lions celebrates with teammates after a touchdown during the third quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on January 08, 2023 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) (Stacy Revere, 2023 Getty Images)

DETROIT – The realistic expectations for the Detroit Lions heading into next season might be the highest they’ve been in decades.

The Lions put a stamp on their second-half resurgence by going on the road Sunday night and eliminating the Green Bay Packers from playoff contention in front of a national audience. Even though they missed out on the postseason themselves, the Lions finished above .500 for the first time since 2017, and that’s progress.

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Fans in Detroit are going into the offseason feeling optimistic. Their team became the preseason darling of the NFL during Hard Knocks and ultimately delivered despite a 1-6 start. While winning eight of their final 10 games, the Lions took down three playoff teams and three other contenders -- this wasn’t some scheduling fluke.

READ: Packers LB apologizes for shoving Lions trainer during injury stoppage

Roster makeup

Offense

Perhaps the most complex decision facing the Lions this offseason is what to do at quarterback. Though he has always been considered a stopgap between Matthew Stafford and whoever the team drafts this April, Jared Goff made his case to keep the job this season.

Goff completed 65.1% of his passes for an average of 7.6 yards per attempt while finishing with 4,438 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, and seven interceptions.

Over the final nine games of the season, Goff threw 15 touchdown passes without an interception while maintaining his completion rate and yards per attempt. He’s immobile and nowhere near as consistent as the top quarterbacks in the league, but Goff proved capable of getting the job done.

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 20: Jared Goff #16 of the Detroit Lions throws a downfield pass during a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 20, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Lions 35-17. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) (2021 Wesley Hitt)

Detroit is strong on the exterior offensive line with Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell and even better inside with Frank Ragnow and Jonah Jackson. Filling that second guard spot could become an offseason priority, but this is one of the better lines in the league.

A fully healthy Jameson Williams should give the Lions a strong receiving duo alongside Amon-Ra St. Brown. Kalif Raymond isn’t a bad secondary option, and bringing back D.J. Chark would round out the unit.

The T.J. Hockenson trade to Minnesota created a hole at tight end that the Lions might need to fill, but James Mitchell, Brock Wright, and Shane Zylstra proved adequate.

Jamaal Williams will be a priority to re-sign after breaking Barry Sanders’ franchise touchdown record and rushing for over 1,000 yards. More importantly, he’s a leader in the locker room and the heart and soul of this team.

Defense

Most of the team’s draft resources will likely go into the defensive side of the ball. The Lions are getting better up front with Aidan Hutchinson, James Houston, and Alim McNeil, but they might need to bring back Isaiah Buggs and John Cominsky or spent an early draft pick on a lineman.

Aidan Hutchinson #97 of the Detroit Lions sacks Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers during the first quarter at Lambeau Field on January 08, 2023 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.\ (2023 Getty Images)

Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs are solid cornerbacks, but the secondary needs some reinforcements this offseason.

Detroit also needs a couple of linebackers. Other than rookie Malcolm Rodriguez, the middle of the defense is a weakness.

Draft picks

Given how successful Brad Holmes was in the draft last season, Lions fans have to be excited about the arsenal of picks at his disposal in 2023.

Holmes nabbed two defensive difference-makers in the sixth round last year in Rodriguez and Houston, while connecting on Hutchinson and Kerby Joseph in the early rounds. Jameson Williams and Josh Pascal showed flashes and should contribute much more if they can get through the offseason healthy.

Here are all the picks Holmes currently owns in 2023:

  • No. 6 overall (Rams pick from Stafford trade)
  • No. 18 overall
  • No. 48 overall
  • Vikings’ second-round pick (from Hockenson trade)
  • No. 81 overall
  • No. 149 overall
  • No. 169 overall (Broncos pick from Trinity Benson trade)
  • No. 180 overall

The Lions have fewer glaring holes this offseason, so these draft picks should be made with the mindset of polishing off a playoff-caliber roster. Holmes has earned some credibility as a drafter -- can he strike gold again?

NFC North

Detroit has never won the NFC North since the league went to eight divisions. Not once.

Next year, many fans will expect that to change, especially since the Lions won five of six games against their division rivals this season (and the only loss came after blowing a late 10-point lead).

The Bears are the worst team in the NFL. The Packers got swept by Detroit and face an uncertain future regarding Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings were thoroughly outplayed by the Lions in both matchups.

Minnesota is a great example of what the Lions could accomplish next season: It doesn’t take an elite team to compete in this conference.

The Vikings are widely regarded as a pretender, yet somehow they managed to win 13 games. The NFC is weak, and the Lions will be dangerous if they play a full season like they played the final 10 weeks of 2022.

What should we expect?

Look, clearly these were not the “Same Old Lions.” Those Lions never would have gone into Green Bay and won, or even beat the Vikings, Giants, Jaguars, and Jets to get into that position.

But long-suffering fans will want to see some proof next season, and I think that’s fair. Decades of pain and embarrassment don’t vanish after one exciting season that didn’t even result in a playoff berth.

How’s this for an early expectation: Next year, the Lions need to win the NFC North or earn a wildcard spot and advance in the playoffs.

Fans shouldn’t settle for a repeat of the 2011, 2014, or 2016 seasons, when the Lions made quick one-and-done playoff appearances and then faded back into irrelevance. Dan Campbell’s team made legitimate strides this year, and it’s time to take the next step.

The Lions finished strong and have bragging rights over two division rivals for the first time in a long time, so it should be an enjoyable offseason. But when next September rolls around, fans won’t be buzzing about how fun it was to watch Hard Knocks -- they’ll be expecting a true contender.

For the first time in decades, that doesn’t seem unreasonable.


About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.