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5 reasons the Detroit Lions could struggle to get to Super Bowl in 2024

The Detroit Lions missed out on a big opportunity to make the Super Bowl this year. In 2024, that route becomes even harder.

NFL: NFC Championship-Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After the Detroit Lions’ devastating loss to the San Francisco 49ers, coach Dan Campbell had a chilling message for his players.

“I told those guys, this may have been our only shot,” Campbell said. “Do I think that? No. Do I believe that? No. However, I know how hard it is to get here. I’m well aware. It’s going to be twice as hard to get back to this point next year than it was last year. That’s the reality.”

While that seems like an extra twist of the knife after a tough loss, it also comes with a fair amount of truth. That’s why former NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew called that statement “one of the realist things I’ve ever heard a coach say.”

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to believe the Lions will be back—starting with the return of both coordinators—and I will cover those in a future article. But, for now, let’s examine some of the reasons Campbell is right to say what he did. Here are five reasons the Lions could struggle to get this far in 2024.

First place schedule

It’s far too early to know if the Lions’ schedule will truly be among the toughest in the NFL, but the price you pay for winning your division is that you’ll have to play against other teams that won their division. So here’s a look at the opponents the Lions have to face in comparison to the teams their NFC North counterparts will have to face.

  • Cowboys
  • Buccaneer
  • Bills

Meanwhile, the Packers are facing Eagles, Saints, and Dolphins. The Vikings are facing the Giants, Falcons, and Jets. The Bears are facing the Commanders, Panthers, and Patriots.

While that’s only three games of a 17-game schedule, that could make or break an NFC North title considering how tightly contested it could be.

The NFC North is getting better

The Packers finished 2023 by going 6-2 down the stretch. The Bears went 5-3 in their final eight games. The Vikings may have struggled down the stretch, but their defense was much better than expected, and their offense should rebound if they bring back a healthy Kirk Cousins.

And then when you look at offseason resources, all three NFC North foes are set up pretty well.

This composite measure of draft resources and cap room show that the Bears (second in NFL) and Packers (sixth) are in excellent position to add more talent this offseason, while the Lions (19th) and Vikings (12th) are closer to average. The Bears have two top-10 draft picks, while the Packers have a pair of second-round picks and third-round picks.

The Lions aren’t in a bad situation with cap room or draft capital—four picks in the top 100. In fact, they’re comfortable in both positions, but it just pales in comparison to the rest of the division.

The Lions may not be as healthy in 2024

It may feel weird to say the Lions were ridiculously healthy in 2023, but it’s true. While they lost guys like Emmanuel Moseley, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and James Houston for long periods of time, the fact of the matter is their best players were almost never injured. Take a look:

  • Jared Goff: Played all 17 games
  • Penei Sewell: Played all 17 games
  • Sam LaPorta: Played all 17 games
  • Graham Glasgow: Played all 17 games
  • Cam Sutton: Played all 17 games
  • Aidan Hutchinson: Played all 17 games
  • Jack Campbell: Played all 17 games
  • Benito Jones: Played all 17 games
  • Josh Reynolds: Played all 17 games
  • Alex Anzalone: Played 16 games
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown: Played 16 games
  • Derrick Barnes: Played 16 games
  • Kerby Joseph: Played 15 games
  • Taylor Decker: Played 15 games
  • Frank Ragnow: Played 15 games
  • Jahmyr Gibbs: Played 15 games
  • Brian Branch: Played 15 games
  • David Montgomery: Played 14 games
  • Alim McNeill: Played 13 games

That’s 19 starting-level players who missed four or fewer games all season. The Lions will be lucky to have a list that long in 2024.

It’s just hard to get back

Here’s a look at the amount of teams in each year’s conference championship games who were able to get back the next season:

2022: 2 (Chiefs, 49ers)
2021: 3 (Chiefs, Bengals, 49ers)
2020: 1 (Chiefs)
2019: 2 (Chiefs, Packers)
2018: 1 (Chiefs)
2017: 1 (Patriots)
2016: 1 (Patriots)
2015: 1 (Patriots)
2014: 1 (Patriots)
2013: 2 (Patriots, Seahawks)

In short, unless you are in the midst of a rare dynasty like the Chiefs and the Patriots—who just so happen to have the greatest quarterbacks of their respective generations—there’s just not a lot of history on your side for a conference championship return. We’re talking just five other teams in the past 10 years. Though, admittedly, there’s been more in recent years.

Lots of roster turnover ahead

While the Lions appear to be returning most of their coaching roster, there will be some pretty significant changes on the roster. Detroit currently has 32 free agents, including 20 unrestricted free agents. Last year, those numbers were 28 and 18, respectively.

And while the Lions have plenty of resources to re-sign, add other players, and draft talent, those resources could also be devoted to core pieces that are in line for contract extensions. Jared Goff, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Penei Sewell (fifth-year option pending), Alim McNeill, Derrick Barnes, and Ifeatu Melifonwu are all entering the final year of their contract and could be due for a raise.

Simply put, Lions general manager Brad Holmes will see his job get significantly harder going forward. He’s out of draft capital from the Matthew Stafford trade, he won’t have the benefit of top-10 picks anymore, his young draft picks will suddenly carry heavier contracts, and he’ll likely have a hefty quarterback contract on the books soon. All of that will make balancing a roster with a lot of turnover much more difficult.

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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.