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Tuesday open thread: How far away are the Lions from Super Bowl contention?

The Detroit Lions are trending in a really positive direction, but how close are they to reaching the top?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Super Bowl week, and there are 30 franchises spending the next six days envious of the position the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs are in. These are two franchises that are not that far removed from their last Super Bowl wins, and they each look to be in a position where they could be right back there again next year.

For the next week—and likely the eight months that follow—there will be far too many people looking at these two teams as the “blueprint” to winning or competing for a championship. Of course, these aren’t bad franchises to follow or emulate, but it’s both easier said than done, and it ignores all the other teams that build Super Bowl-contending rosters but fell just short.

Regardless, the Detroit Lions are trending in the right direction and will carry some heavy expectations going into 2023. While many believe the Lions could’ve made a bit of a postseason run had they snuck into the tournament, it’s pretty clear they’re still at least one tier away from being a true title contender.

So today’s Question of the Day is:

How far away are the Lions from Super Bowl contention?

My answer: The easiest thing to say is that they’re an elite quarterback away. And, sure, if the Lions had a tier-one guy like Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen or Joe Burrow, they probably win one or two or three more games in the 2022 season and make the playoffs. But at the same time, Jared Goff helped produce the fifth-highest-scoring offense in the league. The Chiefs (29.2 PPG) and Eagles (28.1 PPG) were the two best offenses in the league, but the Lions weren’t that far behind (26.6 PPG).

The bigger difference between the Lions and teams like the Eagles and Chiefs (and 49ers and Bengals) is that Detroit is not competitive enough on defense. The Eagles defense ranks eighth in points allowed and sixth in DVOA. The Chiefs are 16th in points allowed and 17th in DVOA. Detroit, on the other hand, was 29th in points allowed and 28th in DVOA.

Having an elite quarterback can get you far. The Packers have won the NFC North nearly every year Aaron Rodgers has started. But when we’re talking best of the best, you need to at least be competitive on the defensive side of the ball. And there’s a reason Rodgers has only made a single Super Bowl in his career.

So where do the Lions need to improve on defense to make that jump? Well, towards the end of the year, they did make a jump, specifically when it comes to pass rush. Take this nugget from Justin Rogers’ excellent piece on James Houston and the defense’s resemblance to the iconic Silver Rush era.

The team’s 39 sacks marked a 30% increase from the previous season and the Lions ranked in the top 10 in pressure rate.

An increased pass rush can help mask a lot of other problems on defense, and that’s exactly what happened from Week 9 and beyond. Over that time, the Lions produced the sixth-most sacks in the NFL (28), and here’s where they ranked in key defensive stats over that time:

  • 11th in points allowed per game (20.2)
  • 17th in defensive DVOA
  • 10th in passer rating allowed (84.3)
  • 32nd in rushing yards per attempt allowed (5.3)

If the Lions pick up from where they left off on defense, would this roster be good enough to compete for a Super Bowl? Probably not, but they were a lot closer at the end of last year than some people may think.

Those run numbers stand out as a huge negative, but you also have to remember they faced the top rushing offense twice over that period (Bears) and had the one disaster game against the Panthers that skewed the numbers there.

In all, the Lions still need another playmaker or two on defense, whether it be to help disrupt the middle of the line or provide more aerial support in the secondary—ideally both. If they can shore those things up in the offseason—and they have plenty of offseason resources to do so—I don’t think it’s ridiculous to believe this team could make some serious noise in 2023.

Your turn.

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