After the Detroit Lions defeated the Green Bay Packers in the 2022 season finale and ended with a 9-8 record, the hype train for how the 2023 season will play out has been off the rails. From NFC North division winners to NFC Conference Championship predictions, and even Super Bowl winner tattoos being created, this is the year for the Lions to make their mark. While I don’t plan on getting a Lions Super Bowl 58 tattoo anytime soon, I still believe this team can improve from last season.
The roster has clear upgrades with the additions of safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, cornerback Cam Sutton, and running back David Montgomery in free agency, along with rookie draft picks like running back Jahmyr Gibbs, tight end Sam LaPorta, linebacker Jack Campbell, and safety/cornerback Brian Branch. The coaching staff is still mostly intact as both coordinators Aaron Glenn and Ben Johnson return for another shot at winning the NFC North. This team is better overall and it’s no wonder why many people are starting to see that this team could be dangerous in 2023, and be the first one in Detroit to win a playoff game since 1991.
Unfortunately, the folks making the video game Madden NFL 24 don’t care about what we think. Madden NFL 24 was released last Friday. I got my hands on a copy and I wanted to do something fun with it right out of the gate. Before the 2023 season kicks off, I created a franchise mode version of the Lions with roster cuts and additions that would reflect the team as closely as possible; some players aren’t in the game so they can’t be on the roster, though maybe a future roster update would fix this. I wanted to see what the video game thought of the team and if it bought into the hype that the Lions have gotten all off-season.
To make this as realistic as possible, I put the game on All-Madden difficulty (the toughest in the game) with 15-minute quarters and injuries enabled. It was set to fully simulate instead of having player intervention in games (which is the best for realistic gameplay/stats), and I benched wide receiver Jameson Williams for the first six games by burying him in the depth chart until he was eligible to return to action. I left cornerback Emmanuel Moseley in at the number two spot just because we are unsure if he will miss any regular season time. If so, we don’t know when he would be back so I technically “cheated” there.
Now on to the simulation.
The first half of the season was a rough one for the team. They lost left guard Jonah Jackson and defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike for a month each to injuries early in the season. It was not a surprise to see the Lions lose the first game to the Kansas City Chiefs, but going 3-5 in the first half of the season would certainly raise eyebrows around Detroit and the NFL.
It was a close win over the Seattle Seahawks in the home opener, but the next two losses were embarrassing: a 34-7 drubbing by the Atlanta Falcons and a 28-18 loss to the Packers gave the Lions a 1-3 start to the year. A rebounding win over the Carolina Panthers was helpful but losing to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road is a game the team can’t afford to lose this season.
The return of Jamo against the Baltimore Ravens was helpful as he was the leading receiver in the game and helped the team pull off the win. Losing in a defensive-minded game against the Las Vegas Raiders 14-10 the following week was a disappointing way to head into their week off, though. After digging themselves into this 3-5 hole, the Lions needed to pull off a solid second half of the season like they did in 2022 to be a playoff contender. Could they do it again?
Coming off the bye week, the Lions lost on the road to the Los Angeles Chargers by three but then rebounded with a win over the worst team in the NFL, the Chicago Bears. At 4-6, the Lions needed a winning streak and instead sank into a losing streak. Losing to the Packers once again, falling to the New Orleans Saints on the road, and choking to the Bears were big blows as the Lions fell to 4-9.
Detroit took the loss to the Bears personally as they would rebound with a big win over the Denver Broncos 34-17. Just like last year, the team then took down the NFC North first-place Minnesota Vikings late in the season to make the record 6-9 with a slim chance to make the playoffs. A 28-7 loss to the Cowboys eliminated the Madden simulation Lions from the playoffs, but they finished strong with a sweeping of the Vikings for a final record of 7-10.
The injury bug wasn’t any better in the second half of the season as Sutton was injured and out for the year at Week 10. A few weeks later Gardner-Johnson would miss the rest of the season as well. Near the end of the season, Gibbs and offensive tackle Penei Sewell would miss the final three games. The injury bug didn’t do the team any favors in the simulation, but you can’t point it as the main reason for their below-.500 record.
Losing to the Bears, getting swept by the Packers, and a poor showing against the NFC South (losses to the Buccaneers, Saints, and Falcons) were huge factors in shaping the way the season turned out. If some of those close losses went the other way, the Lions could have won the NFC North.
The Lions ended the simulation going 7-10 and a finish like that would be a bad look for coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes. 2023 appeared to be a stepping stone in the right direction for the franchise, one that would lift them into genuine contender territory in 2024. If the simulation is correct and the team ends up having this record, then I could see fans start to possibly turn on Campbell and Holmes; both of their seats would heat up in 2024 to deliver a better team than what was seen in this simmed 2023.
The NFC North champions were the Vikings with the Packers in second, the Lions third, and the Bears in fourth. It was an interesting year stat-wise as quarterback Jared Goff threw for 3,615 yards with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Montgomery led the ground game with 269 carries for 1,148 yards and 11 touchdowns. Gibbs only had 81 carries for 306 yards and four touchdowns, along with 10 catches for 51 yards—a clear underestimation of Gibbs’ receiving skills.
The leading wide receiver was no surprise with Amon-Ra St. Brown having a 1,222 receiving yard season with 11 touchdowns on 97 catches. Marvin Jones Jr., then Sam LaPorta, and Williams rounded out the top four receivers on the team. The defense was led by defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who had an eight-sack season with 62 total tackles and 16 tackles for loss. Rookie linebacker Jack Campbell won Defensive Rookie of the Year with 109 total tackles, four tackles for loss, three interceptions, a sack, and a forced fumble.
Post-Season and Reaction
The NFL playoffs seemed somewhat realistic as the NFC championship game had the San Francisco 49ers getting upset by the Philadelphia Eagles 20-19. For the AFC title game, the Baltimore Ravens upset the Buffalo Bills winning 20-17. The Ravens would take down the Eagles in the Super Bowl 28-21.
Overall, I was surprised by how the simulation went for the Lions. Losing some of those games to the Bears and Packers was surprising, and I understand the video game doesn’t know how to substitute well, but I can see Gibbs doing more than what the game thinks he will do as he will take some carries away from Montgomery and he will be a bigger threat in the passing game.
While the results weren’t what anybody wanted to see, it was still a fun experiment to see what the simulation would pull up. Madden hasn’t necessarily been the best at predicting how the season plays out: in the last 12 Super Bowl predictions, Madden has gone 5-7 in those simulations. Will the full-season simulation be more accurate, or will it be as inconsistent as the championship game simulations of the past?