And so … it begins. The 2023 NFL season’s opening night on Thursday at Arrowhead Stadium showcases two teams that have the playoffs in their sights but could not be approaching the same target from more different agendas.
Lions and Chiefs Kick Off the NFL’s 2023 Season
The Detroit Lions are one of the NFL’s darlings heading into this season: the kickoff special being one of five scheduled prime-time games for Detroit. Not too long ago, TV executives would have gone to great lengths to make sure the Motor City was nowhere near their prime-time schedule. They’d treat the Lions like NFL owners would treat mandatory tax increases — AVOID AT ALL COSTS.
But after a season of surprise and intrigue under Dan Campbell, Detroit has our collective attention.
The good news for Detroit is that we’re all watching. The bad news for Detroit is we’re all going to be watching them at Arrowhead against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The numbers do not look good. The Chiefs have won eight straight season openers, by far the longest streak in the NFL.
If that was the only statistical disadvantage Detroit was facing … fine … but here comes the avalanche of the others: Detroit is 0-4-1 in their last five season openers, and the Chiefs under Mahomes are 4-1 on Thursday nights, 19-7 in prime-time games, and an assured 13-3 under Mahomes in the month of September.
The Chiefs are on a mission to end one of the longest droughts in Super Bowl history. We haven’t had a repeat champion since the Patriots won Super Bowls 38-39. Kansas City has been to three of the last four Super Bowls and won two. This season is their chance to stamp this team as the team of the decade should they win again.
Mahomes is still a few years from 30, Travis Kecle is still in his prime, Andy Reid is still on the sidelines, and they collectively know their legacy can be put to bed with one more win — especially if it comes back-to-back. So what could stop them? Eric Bieniemy is gone now as the offensive coordinator in Washington.
But if the Chiefs can win it all the year AFTER they trade away Tyreek Hill, I’m fairly certain they can replace Bieniemy easier than the Cheetah. The issue for K.C. may be the one player who’s not there: DT Chris Jones. Jones had 15.5 sacks last year and landed No. 12 in PFN’s Top 100.
He’s in a bitter hold-in which, as of this writing, shows no signs of ending. There is no one on the Chiefs’ D who can wreck a game plan like Jones. LBs Willie Gay and Nick Bolton are incredible players, but Jones is the guy every opposing OC targets first when scouting.
Yes, the Chiefs won Super Bowl 57 without a big game from Jones, but they don’t get there without his two-sack performance in the AFC Championship Game against Cincinnati.
The real problem with the lack of negotiations may be with Jones’ agents. A look at their list of clients reads as follows: “Chris Jones and others.” Jones is their one client that could score them a huge payday and potentially recruit other stars to come their way. Sometimes you have to wonder what agenda they’re serving, their interests or Jones’. A lengthy hold-in could put a lengthy dent into Kansas City’s Super Bowl aspirations.
For Detroit, 2023 is about one thing and one thing only: dealing with EXPECTATIONS. Those haven’t existed for a while. But after the way they closed last season, including knocking Green Bay out of the playoffs on the final game of the regular season, people are looking at Detroit differently.
They are no longer a cute story when they win, they are supposed to win. That can bring a different dynamic to the conversation. The biggest problem for Detroit will be on display Thursday night when the defense steps on the field.
Last season, Kansas City was the top scoring offense in the NFL. Detroit’s defense was 28th in points per game, 30th in passing yards allowed per game, and dead last in yards allowed per game AND per play.
These are not things that stack up well against Mahomes and Co. Detroit can’t be “Etroit” again on Thursday night. If the D doesn’t travel to K.C., it could get ugly Thursday. But right now, none of that matters. Two teams will get it all going Thursday with dreams of playing well into February. One has been there before several times over, one is trying to prove they belong in the same elite airspace.
LET’S GET IT ON.