ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith: Detroit Lions my surprise team to challenge Eagles in NFC

Detroit Free Press

There are big expectations for the Detroit Lions this season. They are the NFC North favorite.

But should they be the pick as the surprise team to challenge the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC?

Stephen A. Smith said yes on ESPN’s First Take show Wednesday. (Cue Lions fans’ “oh no” reactions.)

“I will openly admit, it’s just that prisoner of the moment because we saw how they ended last season, how they ruined Green Bay’s aspirations of going to the postseason,” Smith started.

“We saw Jared Goff throw 29 touchdowns, seven interceptions, completed about 65% of his passes, the team believes in him. They’ve got an elevated level of confidence. This is a quarterback that quarterbacked in the Super Bowl a few years back. Their offense was top five last year. … I expect them to do similar things this year offensively.

“Defensively, let’s see what they have with Aidan Hutchinson and those boys, let’s see what they do defensively cause they got a lot to prove, cause they were the 28th-ranked defense last year. I get all of that. But I’m just looking at the upside for the Detroit Lions, I like coach (Dan) Campbell, let’s see what they do.”

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Smith then went into a tirade ripping both his fellow analysts Chris “Mad Dog” Russo and former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson for their surprise team picks.

Russo started the segment by saying the Lions must prove they can sustain these expectations, and though he said he does like them, he isn’t buying in all the way yet.

“The Lions now are expected to do something, they haven’t done anything in 100 years (acutally, it’s only 65 years, Chris), so now all of a sudden they’re supposed to win,” Russo said. “That makes me nervous.”

Russo instead took the Green Bay Packers — host Molly Qerim later accused Russo of being a homer and Packers fan. “You know Aaron Rodgers isn’t there anymore, right? He left,” Qerim interjected.

Russo’s argument: The Packers’ coaching staff sees new starting quarterback Jordan Love practice every day — “we don’t see him,” Russo said — and would not have made the move if they didn’t believe in him. “He could be awful. But they must see something,” Russo said, while mentioning he likes the Packers’ run game, defense and young receivers.

Johnson agreed with Russo, but named the New Orleans Saints as his surprise team. He likes the upgrade at quarterback with Derek Carr, and that the NFC South is a poor division, which would help set the Saints up for a nice seed in the playoffs. Qerim then reprimanded him for being “the ultimate homer,” since veteran receiver Michael Thomas is Johnson’s nephew.

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“Stephen A’s finally showing Detroit love,” Qerim then said happily.

“He hates Goff. Now all of a sudden he thinks Goff’s Bobby Layne,” Russo said laughing at the end of the clip. “He can’t stand the Lions, now he loves them.”

The Lions open the 2023 season Sept. 7 at the Kansas City Chiefs, who clipped the Eagles, 38-35, in February’s Super Bowl.

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