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Notes: Why the Detroit Lions are a unique offseason darling

The Athletic Football Show’s hosts think so.

2023 NFL Pro Bowl Games Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

About a week ago, The Athletic Football Show with Mike Tice and Robert Mays got a question about preseason hype from caller Patrick in Houston: Are the Lions this year’s offseason darling or are they actually good? Robert Mays (the host on the left side of the video clips) pointed out two things. First, he thought carrying over late-season success (or failure) by a team/quarterback over as a predictor to the next season as the basis for expectations can be a mistake. The players on the roster or surrounding the quarterback may not be the same the following season, the rest of the league and competition may not be the same, and so on: “it is not always the case, that’s not how development and trajectory works. It’s not always linear like that.” As soon as he started on that point, co-host Nate Tice’s head immediately went to nodding along.

The second item, though, pulled in the other direction. Mays felt “a lot of that preseason hype is typically derived from star power and skill position players.” After a murmured “mm hmm” from Tice, Mays exclaims “the Lions’ hype is derived from the opposite of that!” to Tice’s amusement. “They don’t have any star power or skill position players! That’s not why people are excited about them!”

To that, Tice added that preseason hype can go wrong when folks “only focus on what could go right as opposed to what could go wrong. What are the weaknesses that could go wrong?” His reality check for the 2023 squad matched what oddsmakers in Vegas thought (over/under at 9.5 wins): “even a successful year for the Lions this year might include seven losses.” Most of our readers were not far from that with predictions centering around six losses, but increased expectations are definitely a thing heading into next season. Even our own fearless leadership team of Jeremy and Erik and Packers fans thought the Lions should win the division.

Going back to why this time is different with the Lions in 2023, Mays brought up offensive playcalling incompatibilities with three preseason hype flops in recent memory: Nathaniel Hackett with the Broncos, the Freddie Kitchens experience with the Browns, and old favorite Joe Lombardi running the high octane Chargers offense into the ground. On the other hand, according to Mays, “that’s an aspect of the Lions that you feel best about. . . Again, they’re just a very different version than were used to seeing with these teams who get a lot of publicity and a lot of excitement heading into a season.”

Granted, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. Both hosts saw risks with the offensive skill positions (pass catchers in particular) and defensive unit overhauls. Tice wondered about front-seven defensive depth, both of them didn’t have a good read on how the secondary would be in 2023 since all of the cornerbacks are different, and so on. Both hosts reiterated how much they thought the Lions were a different animal than the usual preseason darling, though, with uncommon strengths like huge buy-in from players and coaches and an incredible offensive line as the foundation of the offense. Is this time going to be different? We sure hope so, but now let’s move on to the rest of your Weekend notes:

  • This week’s episode of Tim Twentyman’s podcast Twentyman in the Huddle was all about the offensive line. Assistant offensive line coach Steve Oliver and veteran lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai were guests on the show. You can watch the entire episode on the team’s official YouTube channel.

  • In case anybody wanted the data, Jared Goff is not a scrambler (but you all knew that already):

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.