The Detroit Lions waxed the Jacksonville Jaguars 40-14, a demonstration that the Lions could be a team to watch for in 2023. Detroit is still in the hunt this year and have a critical game against the Vikings next week. If they lose, they can no longer win the division, but still might be able to pull out a 9-8 record to finish the season and sneak into the playoffs.
The Detroit Lions Are Dangerous Now and Will Be Going Forward
The Lions have won four of their last five games, with their one loss coming to AFC favorites the Buffalo Bills — a loss that only happened as a result of a late-game field goal in the final 23 seconds of the game. Detroit can use this stretch of high-level play and turn it into a postseason appearance.
More importantly, the 2023 Lions look like they can be dangerous.
The foundations the Lions have laid down have been well known for some time. Ever since head coach Dan Campbell arrived, it was clear that they would invest in the offensive and defensive lines. And invest they did.
Along with players from previous regimes, there are four first-round picks, two second-round picks, three third-round picks, and two fourth-round picks along both lines.
They also paid for players like Halapoulivaati Vaitai in free agency, ensuring that they would have starters and depth along the trenches. Not every investment has worked out, but most have. Players like Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, and Penei Sewell are critical to the future of the team and are a big part of the reason the running game has exploded in Detroit.
Lions Win Over Jaguars Proves the Offense Can Explode
But against the Jaguars, it wasn’t the running game that secured the win. Jared Goff passed for 340 yards and two touchdowns on 41 attempts, passing for 8.29 yards per attempt without throwing a pick.
While he did have some highlight plays, most of that came from underneath passing and solid yards after the catch. Goff threw an average of 6.0 yards down the field, ranking 24th of 28 quarterbacks in average depth of target. But it worked, in part because of who the Lions have catching the ball.
The Lions’ biggest investment in the receiving corps barely made an appearance. After an injury during the College Football Playoff, first-round pick Jameson Williams wasn’t expected to play most of the season and was only recently activated off of injured reserve. In this game, he ran two routes for one target and no receptions.
Instead, they leaned on Amon-Ra St. Brown, who generated 114 yards and a touchdown on 12 targets. DJ Chark played a big role in his revenge game against his former team, putting up 98 yards. Much of it came on a big 41-yarder that set up St. Brown’s touchdown.
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) December 4, 2022
Big plays have been common for the Lions this year, but they’ve typically come on the ground by way of D’Andre Swift. Seeing explosive plays from the air should give fans confidence in their receiving corps even before Williams fully returns from injury.
And Swift still found a way to make his mark, despite only taking 14 carries. He ended up with 111 yards from scrimmage, with 62 as a rusher and 49 as a receiver.
Despite trading away T.J. Hockenson to the Vikings, it’s hard to find a more complete offensive roster than Detroit’s. The offensive line is excellent, the receiving corps is emerging as a major threat, and the RB stable is dynamic.
The Lions have one of the best punters in the NFL in Jack Fox. He didn’t see the field against Jacksonville, except to hold for Michael Badgley’s kicks. Every Lions possession, except the final one to kneel out the game, ended in a score.
Should the Lions find a means of adding a quarterback in 2023 — whether that’s through the draft, a trade, or free agency — they could be one of the most potent offenses in the league. Already, the Lions know what a talented offense can look like, even without stability at quarterback. They rank eighth in points per drive and have seen the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets find ways to put points on the board.
The Lions’ Defense Has Great Pieces
Detroit has a remarkable defensive line to lean on but can also count on defensive backs Kerby Joseph, DeShon Elliott, and Jeff Okudah, and should be looking forward to Charles Harris, Julian Okwara, Levi Onwuzurike and Tracy Walker returning from injury. If sixth-round rookie James Houston keeps on putting together high-level play — he just recorded his third sack of the season — then he might be a big part of that story, too.
Detroit has struggled to find linebackers, but they can be excited about Malcolm Rodriguez and might get something out of Chris Board. Adding another player there could make the defense nearly as complete as the offense.
That defense showed up big despite missing some key players. They forced a turnover in the first minute of the game that gave the Lions good enough field position to start off the game with a touchdown lead.
Trevor Lawrence, who had been putting together an impressive stretch of play, was held to just 179 passing yards on 31 passing attempts, finishing the day with just 5.32 net passing yards per dropback and a passer rating of 82.6.
Travis Etienne Jr., a big-play machine, did not have a single play longer than 13 yards and was limited to 4.2 yards per carry and just 12 receiving yards.
Detroit Has a Path to the Playoffs
The Lions last made the playoffs in 2016 and last won a playoff game in 1991. Seeing them turn their ship around would be a breath of fresh air, especially if the NFC North changes sooner rather than later because of the Aaron Rodgers’ situation in Green Bay.
That’s not to say the Lions shouldn’t find ways to get into the postseason this year. Two of the three Wild Cards currently projected to make the playoffs have seven wins, and the Lions have the tiebreaker over one of them, the New York Giants.
That may not matter as the Giants’ tie against the Commanders gives them a half-win in the standings, which is more important than a tiebreaker like head-to-head record, but it does give the Lions a kernel of hope.
Left on the schedule are three divisional matchups: the Vikings in Week 14, with a Bears matchup in Week 17, and the Packers in Week 18. Detroit will also face the New York Jets in Week 15 and the Carolina Panthers in Week 16.
The final three weeks of the year present very winnable games, and if the Lions can steal one away from the Vikings or Jets, then they can set themselves up for an unlikely playoff run.