The Detroit Lions will be on HBO’s Hard Knocks this preseason. Starting on August 9th, we’ll get an inside look at Lions head coach Dan Campbell’s old school, “kneecap biting” football culture. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to it. Now, let’s take a look at the Lions:
Opening Win Total: 6
Current Win Total: 6.5
Schedule Difficulty: Easy to Medium
The Lions were in the middle-of-the-pack in broad offensive categories like net passing yardage (18th) and rushing yardage (19th) in 2021, per Sports Info Solutions. Detroit was more towards the back-of-the-pack in neutral situations, indicating that a significant amount of the Lions offensive production came while they were trailing. That’s not exactly surprising for a team that finished with a 3-13-1 record.
There are multiple reasons to be optimistic about the Lions offense this season. Detroit will enter the year with a top-10 type of offensive line. This is especially important for a pure pocket passer like Jared Goff. In addition to stable pass protection, the Lions have a well-rounded, much improved skill group. That starts with dynamic running back D’Andre Swift who has rock-solid Jamaal Williams serving as a secondary runner. Former No. 8 overall pick T.J. Hockenson is already a top ten tight end with the potential to breach the top five at the position.
After breaking out at the end of last season, second-year wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown will be joined by newly acquired burner D.J. Chark. Once No. 12 overall pick Jameson Williams returns from injury, the Lions will have the ability to line up a dangerous player at every position on offense. As a whole the Lions wide receiver group is exponentially better now than they were entering last season.
Our Mike Tannenbaum has classified Lions quarterback Jared Goff as a tier 6 signal caller. That frames Jared Goff as a player you can win with if he’s in the right situation. Goff’s support this season isn’t quite what he had at his peak with the Rams, but it’s much closer now than it was heading into opening day last year. Ultimately, the Lions will go as far as Goff can take them. The best version of Jared Goff can make it work with this offense.
In 2021 the Lions surrendered the 11th most passing yards and the fifth most rushing yards, per Sports Info Solutions. The Lions also ranked 31st in pressures and 30th in sacks while giving up the second most points in football last season. While some of those figures were driven skyward by a handful of blowout losses, the Lions were a bottom tier defense last season.
Cornerback Amani Oruwariye was a pleasant surprise for the Lions last year, intercepting 6 passes. Otherwise, the Lions defense was able to put together a few scrappy performances, despite lacking any headlining talent.
Detroit drafted Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson with the No. 2 overall pick.; he adds a potential blue chipper to their otherwise underwhelming pass rush. The Lions will also get former No. 3 overall pick Jeff Okudah back from an opening day Achilles rupture that cost him the entire 2021 campaign.
If Hutchinson and Okudah can play up to their draft slots, the Lions pass defense could take a significant step forward this season. At minimum, the Lions need Hutchinson and Okudah to develop into the foundational pieces of this defense moving forward.
Detroit starts off with a reasonably manageable schedule to start the season: vs Philadelphia, vs Washington, at Minnesota, vs Seattle, and at New England before entering their Week 6 bye. A 2-3 or better record is very possible for the Lions through this stretch.
Through the rest of the year the Lions get six games against similarly projected teams with two games against rival Chicago, trips to the Giants, Jets, and Panthers while hosting the Jaguars. If you’re thinking about betting the over on Detroit’s win total, you’re betting on the Lions to go at least 3-3 against this group.
The rest of the Lions schedule comes against playoff-caliber teams. They have two matchups against rival Green Bay, a trip to Dallas, home games against the Vikings and Dolphins with a Thanksgiving Day tilt against the Buffalo Bills. It’s worth noting that Detroit finishes the season in Green Bay. If the Packers have their playoff seeding set, there’s some chance that the Lions face reserves in the final week.
As odd as it is to say, the Lions were an overachieving 3-13-1 team last year that went 2-5-1 in one score games. Right off the bat there is obvious margin for Detroit to improve in close contests this year, especially considering that they’ve gotten better on both sides of the ball this offseason.
Early last year the Lions gave the 49ers and Rams competitive games; the Rams game in particular was one of the most aggressively called games I’ve ever seen. Lamar Jackson’s Ravens needed a record-breaking 66-yard field goal to beat Detroit in Week 3.
Detroit went a respectable 3-3 to finish the season. They defeated quality teams in the Vikings, Cardinals, and Packers (without Aaron Rodgers in the second half) during that span. Two of those final three losses came with Tim Boyle at quarterback, including a narrow defeat in Atlanta.
Ultimately, the 2021 Lions went into opening day with a brand-new head coach, while sending Matthew Stafford to the eventual champion Rams. Detroit was in the first year of a new rebuild last season. Despite those conditions, the Lions gave several playoff caliber teams competitive games, while outright beating some of them late in the year. The Lions played their best football at the end of last season. This indicates that they were already trending up before adding significant talent this offseason.
The value is gone on the over, as the line has already moved from 6 to 6.5. Since the Lions are the Hard Knocks team this year, it won’t be a surprise if Detroit’s win total makes it up to 7 before opening day. With that said, I lean towards the current over here if I had to choose.