Detroit Lions are gonna lose a ton, but here’s how they can still have a great season

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions are gonna lose a bunch of games this year.

No shocker there, right?

Six wins seems like a stretch. Five closer to reality, even with an extra game on the schedule.

Climbing from the dark hole that was the Bob Quinn-Matt Patricia debacle, this organization has settled into a long-term rebuilding mode; there are no quick fixes when you inherit one of the worst defenses in NFL history.

So the new front office did the logical thing and blew up everything, getting rid of half the team and trading away the face of the franchise. If that sounds like “Groundhog Day” to people in Detroit — we endure the same day over and over — it’s because all our professional sports teams are basically in the same place. We have become experts in the rebuilding process.

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But this can still be an interesting season for the Lions, and a productive, successful one — perhaps not in immediate wins but in the long-term picture — if these 10 things happen:

1. Youth building blocks hit

Ideally, during this season, you will watch the Lions and think: “Yeah, they don’t have many game-breakers, and they keep losing, but look at Penei Sewell, Jeff Okudah, T.J. Hockenson and that offensive line — you can see some foundation pieces here. You can see them getting better every week.”

Sewell struggled in pass protection in the preseason, which might have alarmed some fans but it shouldn’t be that surprising. He took a year off in college, and changed sides of the line upon arriving in Detroit.

Okudah struggled last season at corner, which became less concerning after it was revealed he had a groin issue that required surgery.

But if Sewell shows improvement at tackle, and if Okudah can bounce back and look more like his status as a No. 3 overall pick and if Hockenson gets more targets at tight end and becomes an even bigger threat, it will be a great sign of progress and hope.

2. The offensive line stays healthy and jells

The Lions have the makings of a strong offensive line but it needs time to grow together.

Think of some of the best offensive lines in history. They became great because the players stayed together for years. Washington was built around the Hogs and won three Super Bowls in nine years. The Cowboys had an offensive line in the 1990s that produced 30 Pro Bowls and three Super Bowl wins.

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When it comes to great offensive lines, the guys stay together for years, becoming a true unit.

Now, I’m not saying this Lions line is going to go down in history, not even close. But it’s clearly the strength of this team. Still, it needs time to jell together, which means these guys have to stay healthy and just get a ton of reps together.

At the end of the year, if we can look at the offensive line and say, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” then it will be an outstanding year.

3. The Rams lose and lose and lose

I realize many want Matthew Stafford to have a great season for the Rams — the folks in Detroit are sentimental like that when superstars leave and finally get a chance to win (I see you, Justin Verlander) — but it would be far better for the Lions if the Rams fell apart and had a stunning disappointing season.

Because the Lions hold the Rams’ 2022 first-round draft pick.

Can you imagine the Lions holding two top-10 picks next spring? Or two top-five picks? OK, not likely. But this is a column about best-case scenarios and that would be ideal.

I’m not rooting for Stafford to get hurt, which seems like the most likely reason this would happen. But if the Rams suddenly fell apart, for whatever reason — like, say, if Stafford were to get lost on a deserted island for a few months and then found in January, yeah, that would work — it would be great for the Lions.

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4. Dan Campbell shows that he can manage a game

Campbell is an interesting character. His news conferences are fantastic. And he is changing the culture of this organization.

But for this to be a successful season, he will need to show he can do more than give great quotes. Ideally, he will show he can make a difference during a game. Not just him, but his assistants.

5. The Lions get a clear answer on QB Jared Goff

Is he the right guy for this team going forward? Is he a foundation piece or a transitional quarterback, just holding the job until the Lions try to find their next franchise quarterback? That’s exactly what the Lions need to figure out over the next 17 games.

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The Rams didn’t think he was the answer and traded for Stafford.

By the end of this season, the Lions need to have a clear plan at quarterback, determining if Goff is the long-term answer or if they should use their 2022 first-round pick (or a package of picks) to take a quarterback.

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6. The Lions prove they can run the ball

This entire team is built on running the ball. The Lions have pumped a ton of resources into their offense line and have talent at running back in D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. If Swift can stay healthy, and if they can run the ball, it will set up play-action passes, which will only help Goff.

7. The Lions look better defensively

Hey, stop laughing. I realize they can’t look much worse, right?

Getting rid of Patricia and his defense was addition through subtraction. Last year, the Lions looked like they were playing defense while standing in quick sand and sinking into confusion.

But that should change under defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.

It has to, right? Otherwise, ugh. We’ve been down that road.

Getting more turnovers — and, here’s a crazy thought, some pressure on the quarterback — would be a massive upgrade.

8. Ideally, Trinity Benson is legit

He doesn’t have to be great. The Lions didn’t trade that much for him. They gave up a fifth- and seventh-round pick in 2022 and got a sixth-round pick in 2023 back. But it would give me even more confidence in GM Brad Holmes and this scouting department if Benson pans out.

Holmes struck out on wide receiver Breshad Perriman, giving him a free-agent deal and then cutting him.

No GM is perfect, so I’m not gonna bash him for that. Overall, I like what he’s done.

But after missing on Perriman, Holmes was forced to trade for Benson, in essence, giving up two draft picks to cover a $2 million mistake.

And I would have even more confidence in Holmes if Benson looks legit.

9. The Lions young secondary grows before our eyes

Yes, this group is incredibly young. And they are bound to make mistakes. But if Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye and A.J. Parker mesh together and develop, it will be a huge step for this organization.

10. Show improvement but lose

I’m not saying they should tank. In my mind, that is the act of losing games they should win, hoping to get a higher draft pick. Besides, they don’t need to tank, because they will do enough losing without trying.

But if they play an interesting brand of football while showing improvement across the board, and Campbell proves he can manage a game and has this team on the right track while still ending up with a top three draft pick, that would be a productive, successful season in a year that is certain to be filled with double-digit losses.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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