The Detroit Lions may not have that long to go until they are serious contenders within their own division, even as some folks believe the team continues to be a few years away.
Detroit has quietly built up their roster for 2022, and that combined with the team’s schedule could leave the Lions as a dark-horse contender to win the NFC North. That’s something which several folks are beginning to wake up to at this point of the offseason.
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Speaking on The Ringer’s episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast, analyst Warren Sharp explained that the Lions are an intriguing team as far as a surprise contender for the NFC North. The reasoning? The team’s schedule could give them an advantage, and they could be waiting to capitalize on the stumbles of others.
“I think one team that’s interesting, although this would be a major long-shot and basically you’re needing something to fall apart with the Packers’ early schedule here, and that could be potentially the Detroit Lions coming out of nowhere,” Sharp said. “We know that I really like their rest advantage, they also have the fifth-easiest schedule based upon who they play this season. I think with the Lions you want to swing big with these guys. Either you don’t want to back them or you want to back them to have a really turnaround season.”
Another big reason Sharp is confident in the Lions? Quarterback Jared Goff, who might be able to surprise some folks with his play, especially given a boosted offensive line for the future.
“With reasonable enough coaching and just level play, his stats are fine. They added a lot of pieces around him and one of the most important things for a quarterback, especially one we don’t love, is a good offensive line, good protection. That’s one of the things they really have there,” Sharp said of Goff.
Detroit, of course, hasn’t won a division title in close to 30 years, with their most recent title in 1994. As a result of this, it’s hard to be someone who is optimistic for the team breaking through. Even though that is the case, there could be good reasons to believe in Detroit being a team to watch in the end.
How Packers’ Lack of Offensive Depth Could Help Detroit
As Simmons explained, the Lions could have an advantage toward winning the division in that the Packers have a small margin of error. The team traded wideout Davante Adams and might be thin at the position in terms of elite players. That sets up a situation where there could be on pressure for others to stay healthy, and if the team suffers an injury, it turns into a calamity that hurts the team’s divisional chances greatly.
“It’s like, what if Aaron Jones pulls a hammy Week 2? What other weapon (do they have) that I trust?,” Simmons said.
Sharp agreed, and pointed out a scenario in which the Packers might struggle on offense.
“Without Davante Adams, the key is like, Aaron Rodgers had so many benefits as he’s passing the ball. Defenses have to over-play Davante. Now that you remove Davonte and you’ve got a young, less experienced wide receiver there that they drafted in the second-round who’s going to be asked to perform really well for them,” he said. “If those wide receivers don’t get on the same page with Aaron Rodgers early in the season or during the offseason, we know these quarterbacks don’t like to play a lot during the offseason, how long will it take them to jell? What happens if the team doesn’t get off to a great stretch?”
Sharp admits that it is difficult to bet against the Packers, but that scenario he describes could surely be something that rears its head during the season. If and when it does, the Lions could be waiting in the wings to take quick advantage.
Why Lions Could Contend in NFC North
Despite a 3-13-1 record in 2021, the Lions weren’t that far away from contending, considering the team lost tons of close games on absurd late field goals and by other strange coincidences. If that luck evens out just a bit, the Lions should be able to double their win total to six or seven games in 2022, making them one of the most improved teams in the league. Detroit was hardly outclassed by their division rivals last year as well. The Lions went 2-4 against the NFC North, scoring second-half upset wins at the expense of the Vikings and Packers. Detroit’s four losses in the division were by a grand total of 32 points, and featured a pair of two-point defeats to both the Bears and Vikings. Detroit also held the halftime lead in Green Bay during Week 2 in primetime, but could not finish.
While it’s not something one would predict, if the Lions can flip some of those games and find a way to win a few others, they may have a winning record against their rivals and become a true dark horse contender for the division. That’s especially true if their competition fades a bit and finds struggles themselves.
Should that happen to Green Bay, everyone’s top divisional dog, the Lions could be a team that surges forward and takes advantage. Folks can certainly dream of that outcome at this point of the offseason.
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