Their confidence is admirable and weirdly not misplaced, even if Wednesday seemed like an odd time to share it with the world.
The Detroit Lions are gunning for the Super Bowl this year and … stop with the eye rolls, please … why not them?
The team coming off a 3-13-1 season. The team that mostly eschewed free agency to keep their offensive and defensive nucleus intact. The organization that has not won a playoff game in three decades and whose last championship came three-plus decades before that.
One Lions player after another stepped to the podium Wednesday and casually mentioned the Super Bowl as if it was their birthright.
“I want to win a Super Bowl this year,” running back Jamaal Williams said.
“Obviously, the goal is to win a Super Bowl,” receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown said.
“It’s understood every time that you play in the NFL you’re trying to win and the team that wins the most is the team that’s playing last, so that’s always our goal,” receiver DJ Chark said.
Fans will snicker, reporters did groan, and the NFL can collectively wave its hand and tell its oldest laughingstock of a franchise to politely move along.
But Lions players Wednesday were parroting something they’ve heard since returning for offseason workouts in April, and whether it was head coach Dan Campbell or player leaders who started the squawking it’s refreshingly nice to hear.
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To be clear, I do not think there’s anything more than a remote chance the Lions make Super Bowl LVII next February in Arizona, and I have to squint hard to even see them in the playoffs. They look like a seven-or-so win team to me, and that’s with one of the easiest schedules in the league.
But every athlete should have the kind of confidence the Lions professed Wednesday, especially in mid-May with their team tied atop the standings, and every leader should be able to make his team believe it can reach previously unfathomable heights.
Asked Wednesday if Lions coaches had been dangling the Super Bowl carrot as a goal this offseason, St. Brown said, “I wouldn’t say they’re harping on that too much.”
“Obviously, our goal is to win the division,” he said. “You win the division, you make the playoffs, so that’s our goal right now is to win the division, make the playoffs. But obviously, everyone’s ultimate goal is the Super Bowl, so why shoot for anything lower?”
The Lions have been hitting lower for years.
They’ve finished in last place in the NFC North each of the past four seasons, and have seen their win total cut in half from six to three since 2018.
This year’s Lions should once again be one of the youngest teams in the NFL. They watched the best quarterback in modern franchise history win a Super Bowl in his first year with his new team three months ago, and they’re banking much of their improvement on a pair of rookie draft picks and a first-year offensive coordinator.
Still, there’s something endearing about this year’s Lions, something that has created a real sense of hope for the first time in a long time.
Their roster feels improved since starting last season 0-10-1. They played hard and made a game of most of those losses. And in Campbell, they have a coach who is galvanizing and down-to-earth and easy to root for.
“He does look like a superhero walking around the locker room,” cornerback Amani Oruwariye said.
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Oruwariye puffed out his chest and flexed his shoulders to mimic Campbell’s imposing frame, and while he was having fun with his coach while predicting who would be the star of this season’s “Hard Knocks,” the reality is it may take a superhero to help this moribund franchise clear its name.
That won’t happen in one season, or probably two. And if you’re playing the odds, you’d be wise to bet against it happening at all.
But for the first time in a long time, the Lions have publicly embraced the only meaningful goal in the NFL and given themselves a high bar to clear.
Chark said many a coach has mentioned the word “standard” to him in his two months on the team, how the Lions have a non-negotiable standard for effort and ability to compete.
As Williams said, that standard is about one thing.
“We got great things ahead but it comes with everybody keeping everybody accountable,” he said. “So just, I think that’s the our main thing for us is be accountable, stay responsible and just if you want to win a ring, you got to have the mindset.”