It’s easy to be skeptical of the Detroit Lions.
Years of hope heading into the regular season are often dashed by the time the team makes it to the annual Thanksgiving Day game.
The Lions are currently 8-3 and sit at the top of the NFC North as they head to New Orleans to face the Saints this Sunday. The last time Detroit won its division was 30 years ago — when it was still named the NFC Central. This season is not unprecedented, but it’s not a regular occurrence.
Just how far can this Lions team go?
Lions beat writer for The Athletic Colton Pouncey thinks this year is different.
“Certainly they [Lions] can make a run. They have enough pieces,” Pouncey says.
In the Super Bowl era, only the 1991 Lions went on a run. They finished the regular season at 12-4 and won a home playoff game — their lone postseason win since the 1950s.
The Lions have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL, so many of those pieces are young and inexperienced. Running back Jahmyr Gibbs, tight end Sam LaPorta, and defensive back Brian Branch are all rookies.
“Certainly they [Lions] can make a run. They have enough pieces.” – Colton Pouncey, The Athletic
“These guys are all contributing — they’re all starting,” Pouncey says. “They’re all playing meaningful snaps on a playoff team that has Super Bowl aspirations, so certainly hard to argue with the production [they’ve] gotten out of that group.”
Another piece is second-year wide receiver Jameson Williams — who has shown flashes of his potential — but things haven’t fully clicked for the 12th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Williams was limited in his rookie season while rehabbing a knee injury, then missed the first four games this season serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s anti-gambling policy. The speedy receiver caught a pivotal touchdown in the Lions comeback win over the Bears on Nov. 19. Pouncey says Williams’ emergence will make a top-5 offense even better.
“When you have a guy with that kind of speed, what he can do for others is he can open up the middle of the field when the safety or corner follow him downfield,” Pouncey explains. “Then all of a sudden you have an open [wide receiver] Amon-Ra St. Brown, an open Sam LaPorta, an open Jahmyr Gibbs.”
Lions General Manager Brad Holmes took some heat for not bolstering his defensive line or secondary before the Oct. 31 trade deadline. The team are the clear favorites to run away with the division and are currently in third place in the NFC. The Lions may also lose offensive coordinator Ben Johnson in the offseason to a head coaching position elsewhere.
“This could be a year where they have everything in place that they could have added a piece or two,” Pouncey says. “Maybe an edge rusher, maybe another cornerback just to kind of give yourself the best possible chance when you’re in a year like this. Because you never know when you’re going to have another season like this.”
With a young core of players, the Lions’ front office is banking on having several more years like this, while Lions fans are still getting used to having one year like this.