The Detroit Lions enter the 2022 season with an unfamiliar amount of hype. A combination of a strong finish to last season, a widely praised NFL Draft class, and the Dan Campbell experience highlighted by HBO’s Hard Knocks have led analysts, both locally and nationally, to pay an inordinate amount of attention to the Lions. Many are even predicting a significant jump in progress for Year 2 of this regime.
On one hand, it’s easy to buy into the optimism. Throughout training camp, we’ve already seen noticeable progress in the offense. Newcomer wideout D.J. Chark has been dominating practices, and the offensive line—featuring three first-round picks—has shown the potential of being a top-five unit in this league.
Third-year running back D’Andre Swift has set the bar high for himself and appears to be stepping up to the challenges from Detroit’s fiery coaching staff. You give quarterback Jared Goff pass protection, a potential star running back, and a good stable of receivers, and it’s certainly possible there’s a bit of a return to form to the 2018 Jared Goff who made back-to-back Pro Bowls and took the Rams to the Super Bowl.
On the other hand, the Lions defense could sink the entire ship. The addition of Aidan Hutchinson will undoubtedly help a pass rush that ranked in the bottom five in most statistical categories last season, but Detroit’s other defensive line investments—2021 second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike and 2022 second-round pick Josh Paschal (who’s on reserve/PUP)—are fighting injuries and will take a lot of time to acclimate.
Things are even more questionable in the back seven. Detroit entered training camp without a single clear starter at the linebacker level, and now it appears they’re prepared to start sixth-round rookie Malcolm Rodriguez, who has dazzled throughout the preseason. Detroit chose not to invest in the cornerback position, hoping that the progression of young players improves a defense that ranked 30th in passer rating allowed in 2021. But relying on Jeff Okudah—coming off a torn Achilles—and 2019 fifth-round pick Amani Oruwariye is a huge leap of faith. Detroit is hoping defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn—a former Pro Bowl corner himself—can work magic on this unit.
Still, the arrow appears to be pointing up for this franchise, potentially significantly so. They are a year ahead in their rebuild from the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings—two divisional opponents who moved on from their general managers and head coaches this offseason. And the Green Bay Packers are edging closer towards the end of the Aaron Rodgers era, after the Davante Adams era met its sudden end with a trade to the Las Vegas Raiders. For once, the future of the NFC North appears to be within the Lions’ grasp a year or two down the line.
As for this season, the Lions should also be helped by a light-looking schedule. By 2021 records, the Lions’ 2022 schedule is the fifth-easiest in the league. Also, with all but two games (Thanksgiving and a Saturday early game) in the 1 p.m. ET Sunday slot, Detroit should be able to get into a comfortable weekly rhythm that isn’t afforded to many primetime TV teams. They also have the second-fewest travel miles this year. In short, the schedule-makers did just about every favor they could for the Lions.
So when you boil it all down, this is a Lions team that should be much better on the offensive side of the ball than they were last year. They will still struggle defensively, which should lead to high-scoring games, but some development is expected there, too.
The X-factor for this team remains Dan Campbell. The culture in Detroit is shockingly healthy despite decades of losing and a 3-13-1 season last year. Last year’s Lions team wasn’t defined by all the losing, but rather the incredible fight the team put up every week. If those good vibes continue, the Lions could certainly outperform their level of talent—which likely still ranks in the bottom third of the league.
Our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook have the over/under for Lions regular season wins set at 6.5 for this year. In the end, I have the Lions going 7-10 in 2022, which should truly be considered a success for a Lions team that aggressively tore down the roster just a year ago.