In the NFL’s continued commitment to doing anything it can to remain in the conversation—despite its season ending three months ago—the schedule release for the upcoming season has morphed into a social media phenomenon. Twitter leaks, social media teams orchestrating elaborate announcements, and way-too-premature predictions provide for a reminder that the NFL season is just... four months away.
But with the Detroit Lions schedule in hand, it’s time to make good on those way-too-premature predictions by ranking their schedule from 1 to 17 in terms of difficulty. With 17 being the easiest and 1 being the most difficult challenge awaiting the Lions this upcoming season, let’s see how things are shaping up for one of the most anticipated seasons in decades for Detroit.
17 - Chicago Bears, Week 11
Detroit will have had Jameson Williams back in the fold from suspension, and this game comes a couple weeks after the team’s bye week. It’s definitely a favorable spot to play a divisional opponent, and with it being the team’s first chance to play a divisional opponent outside of the Packers, it will be a good tune up for the second half of the schedule.
16 - @ Chicago Bears, Week 14
It’s still the Bears, and who knows how much they’ll still be playing for at this point in the season, but I view this one as the more difficult of their two matchups because it’s Chicago in December, and the Bears will be gunning for the Lions after getting smacked by them a few weeks ago.
15 - Atlanta Falcons, Week 3
While the Falcons have done an admirable job of stockpiling offensive weapons in Kyle Pitts, Drake London, and Bijan Robinson, the Lions defense gets an early-season opportunity to tee off on Desmond Ridder, Atlanta’s second-year quarterback in what is essentially his rookie season.
14 - @ New Orleans Saints, Week 13
If the Saints are competitive and playing for a divisional crown amongst a group of other teams hoping to do more than tread water this season in the NFC South, this game could be more challenging than it appears here in May. But you won’t find me putting my eggs in the Derek Carr basket anytime soon, so this feels like a game where Detroit should take another step forward towards a playoff spot. Plus, Detroit will be extra-rested after their Thanksgiving Day game the previous week.
13 - Minnesota Vikings, Week 18
Sure would be nice for the Lions to have taken care of business by this point in the season, rendering this game as more of a formality than anything else. And even though the team will be taking things slow with the rehab and development of Hendon Hooker, it sure would be an interesting proposition to see what Detroit has in the rookie from Tennessee in a spot like this.
12 - Las Vegas Raiders, Week 8
It’s exciting to have the Lions back on “Monday Night Football” and a matchup with the Raiders before Detroit hits their break in the 2023 schedule would be a chance for the team to give their fans something to hold onto over the Bye week.
Vegas seems to be in an odd spot, bringing in Jimmy Garoppolo to reunite with Josh McDaniels in hopes this will set their course straight. Something gives me the feeling it might not be enough to keep McDaniels afloat through the year.
11 - @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Week 6
Detroit’s last game without Jameson Williams will be on the road against a Buccaneers team that’s in limbo. Are they really trying to be contenders in the NFC South despite their depth chart at quarterback? Some of their moves in the offseason would suggest that they still see themselves making a push for the playoffs through the division.
Any road game is tough, though, so this isn’t the kind of game you want to overlook and mark in the win column because they seem like a lesser opponent. See: @ Panthers, Week 16 (2022).
10 - @ Minnesota Vikings, Week 16
The Vikings lost some big name players like Dalvin Tomlinson and Eric Kendricks on defense in free agency, and this was a pretty bad team on defense last year by a lot of measurements and metrics—27th in defensive DVOA (26th against the pass, 19th against the run). They’re going to need their offense to keep them in games, but I don’t think they have what it takes to keep up with Detroit this season.
9 - Denver Broncos, Week 15
If anyone could take the reigns and turn things around in Denver, it’s Sean Payton, right? It’s always better to play the Broncos at home rather than travel to Denver and play in that mile-high air, but even with them coming to Ford Field, the thought of a rejuvenated Russell Wilson with plenty of weapons and a top-10 defense (10th in defensive DVOA) from a year ago could be quite the challenge for Detroit.
8 - Green Bay Packers, Week 12
Detroit’s schedule will especially test them from the jump, so this game on Thanksgiving will be an important one for the Lions to add to the win column. By now, the Packers may have started to figure things out with Jordan Love under center, and if their ground game can remain healthy, this will be the typical tough test from a divisional opponent.
7 - Carolina Panthers, Week 5
Blame most of this on last year’s disaster of a game in Week 16, blame some of it on me liking what the Panthers did this offseason to kick off their rebuild. The Lions do get Bryce Young just a month into his rookie season, but this feels like it has all the makings of a sneaky, early test at home for Detroit.
6 - @ Los Angeles Chargers, Week 10
If you’re selling your stock in the Los Angeles Chargers, get me your Venmo or Cash App or whatever because I’m interested in buying all of it. Joe Lombardi has returned to his rightful place under Sean Payton in Denver, Kellen Moore is now paired with Justin Herbert in Los Angeles, and I’m only expecting big things from that tandem.
The Lions do get the benefit of coming out of their bye week to face the Chargers, but a talented team and an elite quarterback are going to be a test no matter the circumstances.
5 - @ Green Bay Packers, Week 4
It doesn’t matter that it’s not Aaron Rodgers. It doesn’t matter that the Lions are preseason favorites in the division. It just doesn’t matter. It’s Packers-Lions in Lambeau, and with this game happening so early in the season, it’s going to be a defining game for both teams just a month into the 2023 season. Add the short rest and quick four-day turnaround to the equation and you have all the makings of what could be a typical offering from “Thursday Night Football” in the NFL: chaos.
4 - Seattle Seahawks, Week 2
Last year’s defeat at the
hands legs of the Seattle Seahawks was one of the tougher losses to swallow during the first half of last year’s season. Along with the Panthers, I’ve really liked what the Seahawks have done so far this offseason, especially their draft class led by first-round picks Devon Witherspoon and Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
Detroit does get the benefit of some extra rest by starting their season early on Thursday in Week 1, otherwise this game would have ranked a spot higher on this list.
3 - @ Baltimore Ravens, Week 7
Detroit’s road schedule seemed challenging before we knew the order of games, but after seeing the actual schedule itself take shape, it looks like it’s going to be even more difficult. At least they’ll have Jameson Williams back by this game.
The Lions head to Baltimore to face a Ravens team with aspirations to reclaim the AFC North, and Detroit does so after a grueling six weeks that includes a short turnaround in Week 4 and a date with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 6 to make this contest against Baltimore the second half of a back-to-back.
2 - @ Dallas Cowboys, Week 17
Another one of Detroit’s four primetime games this year, the Lions heading to Jerry’s World for a Saturday night showdown against the Dallas Cowboys could have serious playoff implications—and that’s exactly why it’s scheduled as such.
Given that it’s also sandwiched in between what will be two matchups against the division rival Minnesota Vikings, this seems like it could be Detroit’s toughest test if it wasn’t for another game on their schedule...
1 - @ Kansas City Chiefs, Week 1
Traveling to Arrowhead for the season opener on “Thursday Night Football” is skipping the water wings and the shallow end of the pool completely. You’re over 30 feet in the air and readying yourself for an olympic dive against the defending World Champions and the league’s best quarterback in Patrick Mahomes.
There’s no shying away from the challenge of taking that next step if you’re a team like Detroit; if you wanna be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man. There’s no better stage or opportunity than the entire football world watching you play against the premier team in the National Football League and seeing if you have what it takes to hang with the elite teams.