The Detroit Lions have been synonymous with mediocrity for the past two decades. Since 2000, the team has had 11 different head coaches and has only made the playoffs three times, losing all three matchups. In addition, the Lions have had less than five-win seasons eight times, including going 0-16 in 2008. Only the Cleveland Browns have a worse record.
The 2021 season was no different, as Detroit finished with a 3-13-1 record. However, the team’s energy was different, as the arrival of Dan Campbell brought new life to the organization. The Lions lost five games by a touchdown or less last season.
Going from selecting in the Top 10 in the NFL Draft for four straight years to making the playoffs is a tall task but very doable. The Lions last made the postseason in 2016 but have only made it three times since 2000. In addition, Detroit only has one playoff win in the Super Bowl era, which was in 1991.
With Detroit heading in the right direction and putting together a team ready to make a run at the playoffs, the Lions’ odds seem to be slowly but constantly moving to their favor. The roster is young but hungry, and with Campbell’s strong leadership, the Lions could become a playoff team already in 2022.
Detroit Has Built a Playoff Team
The Lions Have An Exciting Roster
Detroit acquired Jared Goff from the Los Angeles Rams that sent Matthew Stafford to LA. Statistically, Goff had the worst year of his career as a full-time starter. Excluding his rookie season, which he played seven games, Goff had career-lows in yards (3,245), touchdowns (19), and yards per game (231.8). However, he had a career-high completion percentage (67.2%) and an improved quarterback rating of 91.5.
It wasn’t all Goff’s fault, as he took a career-high 35 sacks in 14 games. In addition, the offense around him wasn’t the best, as his No. 1 receiver was a rookie and the running game was in the lower half of the NFL, even with D’Andre Swift running the ball. Nevertheless, Goff is still the same quarterback that went to two Pro Bowls and helped lead the Rams to a Super Bowl.
To the running game, the Lions have an exciting young running back in Swift. He’s entering his third year in the NFL and could be one of the top backs in the league if given the opportunity.
Swift split his carries with Jamaal Williams (151 to 153) and had 617 yards and five touchdowns. Also heavily used in the passing game, he was second on the team in receptions (62) and had 452 yards and two touchdowns. Though Williams started more games, Swift out-snapped him on offense (560 to 317).
The best thing to come out of the 2021 season was the emergence of rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. The fourth-round draft pick had a slow start, pulling in 39 balls for 352 yards in his first 11 games.
However, in the season’s final six games, St. Brown had 51 catches for 560 yards and five touchdowns, including back-to-back 100-plus yard games to close out the year.
St. Brown led all rookie wide receivers in the month of December, which led to him being named Offensive Rookie of the Month. At just 22 years old, his late-season rise has cemented him as the Lions’ No. 1 receiver moving forward.
Lining up opposite St. Brown this season will be D.J. Chark. Signing a one-year deal in the offseason, Chark comes to Detroit after four years in Jacksonville. He had 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns in his second season in the NFL, followed by 706 yards and five touchdowns the following year. However, a fractured ankle cut his season short after four games last year.
Chark is a talented receiver and is a threat in the red zone coming in at 6-foot-4. He’s also a deep ball threat, as five of his 15 career touchdowns have come from 30-plus yards.
At tight end, the Lions have a reliable one in T.J. Hockenson. He finished last season with 61 catches for 583 yards and four touchdowns. It was a down year for Hockenson, but he missed the season’s final five games due to injury.
The defense struggled last season, ranking towards the bottom in the NFL in most statistical categories. However, key players missed most of last season, including Romeo Okwara and Jeff Okudah. They aren’t expected to be a top 5 defense in 2022, but they could be just good enough to give the offense the help needed.
Detroit made a splash in the 2022 NFL Draft, first drafting Aiden Hutchinson at No. 2 and then Jameson Williams at No. 12. Both players are slated to make a big impact at their positions and should be starting right away.
Path to the Postseason
Making the playoffs isn’t easy, especially for a team coming off a three-win season. However, it’s achievable, especially in a weak NFC.
The teams expected to make the playoffs no problem are the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Los Angeles Rams. Those four teams will likely run it back and win their respective divisions. The Philadelphia Eagles have gotten better, so slot them in for one of the Wild Cards.
There are some question marks surrounding the other teams. The rest of the NFC East is unreliable and could easily be fighting for a top 5 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. The teams that will most likely compete for the playoffs are the Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, and San Francisco 49ers.
Quarterback controversy in the NFC West could be the downfall of the Cardinals and 49ers, as Kyler Murray’s relationship with the team has soured, and who knows if Trey Lance can lead the 49ers back to the postseason. Kirk Cousins is a good quarterback, but he’s not the answer in Minnesota. Jameis Winston could return as not the same player following his injury.
Detroit has a young and exciting roster ready to turn the franchise around. The culture is changing in the building, and that will translate into on-field success. The Lions will be a dark horse team to make the playoffs.