(Image via msnbc.com)
Volunteer Writer: Aidan Danforth
The Detroit Lions had high expectations heading into the 2023 season, and they’ve blown them out of the water with a 5-1 record, which is currently tied for the best record in the NFL.
To answer this question, we have to do a deep dive into their offense, defense, and overall structure to see if this Lions team can indeed be the kings of the NFC jungle.
Many NFL fans were excited for the Lions heading into the 2023 season, mainly due to their uniquely run offense.
Under third-year head coach Dan Campbell, this offense went from one of the worst units in the league to one of the most explosive and high-scoring units in the league. His quipped energy and structure have led to success for players like Quarterback Jared Goff and Amon-Ra St. Brown, who have become one of the league’s best QB-WR duos.
Even when Amon-Ra was off the field, the Lions’ offense was still able to perform well thanks to an RB duo of David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs, along with rookie tight end Sam Laporta and second-year star Jameson Williams always being threats to take a check down to the house.
So, with an offense filled with talent, including an elite offensive line, how do they compare to other elite NFC teams?
Both the 49ers and Eagles have above-average QBs, an elite running game, and game-changing weapons. Are the Lions at the same level as those terms regarding offense with their current talent?
Well, they do have a QB playing at an above-average level and an elite rushing and receiving game. There are even arguments that the Lions’ playmakers are at the same level, maybe even higher than that of the 49ers and Eagles.
Unlike the Lions’ offense, the Lions’ defense wasn’t considered an elite unit heading into this season. But based on the first six weeks of the season, it’s safe to say heads were turned in this bend-don’t-break defensive structure.
Currently, the Lions have the 6th best defense in the NFL per Sportsnaut.com, and it’s thanks to second-year pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson, who is starting to earn the same respect as other elite pass rushers like T.J Watt and Micah Parsons. Other players, including linebacker Jack Campbell, Jerry Jacobs, and Cameron Sutton, are starting to earn respect from offenses and keeping offensive coordinators awake at night trying to captivate a game plan to beat these defensive threats.
The 49ers and Eagles have always been known for their defensive firepower, as the former is the third-ranked defense in the NFL while the latter has the ninth-ranked defense, courtesy of Sportsnaut.com.
As a result, this statistic shows that the Lions have an equal or better defense than a few of the top NFC teams. So, with an elite offense and a surprising rise in the defense, can the Lions now be considered on par with the other elite NFC teams? Before that is determined, there is still one more factor to examine.
Although having an elite offense and defense is good, the Lions’ schedule must be examined to determine their elite status.
The Lions have played six games this season against the Chiefs, Seahawks, Falcons, Packers, Panthers, and Buccaneers. The Lions’ lone loss was to the Seattle Seahawks, with wins against the rest. A 5-1 record is impressive to start the season, but how do these other teams pane out in terms of their record?
The Super Bowl defending Kansas City Chiefs is the first team that stands out. The Lions beat the Chiefs back in week one, 21-20. Beating a Super Bowl champion to start is impressive, but the Chiefs were without star tight end Travis Kelce and Defensive tackle Chris Jones. Those two players are vital to the Chiefs’ success, so the Lions would have likely lost if it wasn’t for those injuries.
The rest of their wins came from teams that were average or bad.
The Panthers and Packers both have under 500 records, and the Falcons and Buccaneers are average. Their lone loss was to the Seattle Seahawks, where the Lions lost 37 to 31 in a close shootout that went into overtime. The Lions’ schedule gets interesting from here with some tough opponents such as the Ravens and Cowboys, so those games may determine how the Lions can stack up to playoff teams.
But what about those other 5-1 NFC teams? What teams have they beaten to get to their record?
The 49ers have beaten some okay and bad teams to start their season but have also beaten the Cowboys, who have one of the best defenses in the NFL. And the 49ers didn’t just beat the Cowboys; they destroyed them 42-10.
The Eagles are also 5-1, but many of those games have been within one score. Mediocre teams like the Commanders and Patriots were close to beating the Eagles. The Eagles still were able to win those games and dominate against teams like the Buccaneers, but the team has shown signs of weakness, and they were finally shown when the team lost to the Jets.
The phrase “Any given Sunday” is often used to describe some NFL games because no matter how good or bad an NFL team is, any team has a chance to win their game, no matter the circumstances. The Detroit Lions have an elite offense, a rising defense, and a schedule with good games they’ve won. So, with that in mind, can we now call the Lions an elite team?
This question may have to wait for an answer come playoff time.
Outside of Detroit, the NFC North isn’t a competitive division, so there is a high chance the Lions win that division and make the playoffs. The playoffs are where the real test begins with a team like the Lions.
The playoffs are where the Lions will face the best teams in their conference, and winning a playoff game could show them as a legitimate threat to the NFL.
Even keeping a close game against an elite team like the 49ers or Eagles may present them as an elite and competitive team that could come back the next year and beat the top NFC contenders.
Six weeks into the NFL season, it’s easy to jump onto the bandwagon for those rising teams, and the Lions seem to be making an actual argument for being one of the elite NFC teams.
Although determining that will take more time, will the Lions prove that they are an elite team that can compete for a Super Bowl title, or are they still missing something that can get them to elite status?