For the first time in their 22 years at Ford Field, the Detroit Lions’ season tickets sold out.
The downtown stadium, where 13 non-Lions teams have suffered 10+ losses, could be the most compelling destination in the NFC North this year. They are the favorites to win the division. While such expectations could be a heavy burden, this team is not used to the extra pressure.
“I feel like there’s something that drives me,” said head coach Dan Campbell.
The last time they won a division title, it had a different name. They finished first in the NFL Central in 1993, making their three-decade pennant drought — and home playoff bye — the second-longest in the NFL behind the Cleveland Browns.
Jared Goff must remain the quarterback who prevented turnovers at the end of last season, just one in the last 10 games. The Lions ended their first positive season since 2017 9-8.
Running back Jahmyr Gibbs, the 12th pick in the draft, needs to show he can run productively and catch the ball.
Aidan Hutchinson, second pick overall last year, needs to be a hitter at every shot after a promising first season to bolster a defense that gave up the most yards in the NFL last season.
But perhaps the most important thing in Detroit’s attempt to live up to the enormous expectations is to ignore them. Campbell, who is entering his third year with the Lions, has warned his players of the dangers of jumping on the “fanfare train” that snakes through the league each summer and inevitably catches a team or two off guard .
Goff, who played in a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams, prefers to take praise in moderation.
“We have a very good team, but we haven’t done anything yet,” he said. “We still have a long way to go to make our mark.”
The Minnesota Vikings won the division last season, 13-4, with a strong offense led by wide receiver Justin Jefferson mostly intact.
Even the Vikings accept that so many people are expecting a great year for the Lions.
“I see. They ended the season very well,” said head coach Kevin O’Connell. “I have a lot of respect for the work done by Dan and his staff.”
IN GOOD HANDS?
Goff has had his best year since leading the Rams to the NFC Championship in 2018, with a very good duel between Amon and Ra St. Brown forming from the second half of the 2021 season. St. Brown ranked 11th in the NFL in 2022 with 1,161 yards caught, but there are no other variations.
CHANGES IN MINNESOTA
The Vikings are about to enter quarterback Kirk Cousins’ final year of contract. There is no clear successor, and there are fears for the future of an offensive centered around Jefferson. If anything, the performance of their defense will be crucial if they aim to win a second consecutive title for the first time since 2009.
YOUTH IN GREEN BAY
After trading Aaron Rodgers to the Jets and handing the quarterback job to Jordan Love, their first-round pick in the 2020 draft, the Green Bay Packers are down to three players over the age of 30: left tackle David Bakhtiari, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and Rusher Preston Smith.
JUST IN TIME
The first year under coach Matt Eberflus was an ordeal for the Chicago Bears, who were eliminated 3:14. But Justin Fields still has the potential to be a dangerous quarterback in two ways. In his last seven games, he had 719 rushing yards and five touchdowns. The presence of receivers DJ Moore and Darnell Mooney should give Fields more confidence – and productivity.