Detroit Lions’ big show opens tonight. Is it hype or hope that’s driving it?

by | Sep 7, 2023 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Tonight, we learn how stupid we are.

Or how smart.

Tonight, hype meets hit. Giddiness meets gridiron.

Tonight, once again, Detroit is Charlie Brown running to the football, staring at Lucy’s fingers, wondering if she yanks it away at the last moment.

Tonight, NFL football begins. And rarely in any of our lifetimes has the expectation for our local team reached such a fever pitch. Experts have the Lions winning their division. Some go as far as one or two playoff wins. Some even put the Detroit Lions in the Super —-.

No. I’m not saying it.

Let’s get through Game 1, OK? Let’s get through the NFL season opener, the loneliest and only-est game on the planet, tonight, in Kansas City, against the Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

Few expect the Lions to win. But some do. Some are actually counting on it. Some say an upset tonight will be the catalyst to a year of long-awaited glory.

And so, on this morning of great expectations, let us paraphrase Lord Tennyson: Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to figure out if they’re nuts.

It can only be Jared!

I’ll tell you this much. The Lions are only going as far as Jared Goff takes them. Period. End of sentence. Which, if you’re going to be more analyst than cheerleader, is the first strange thing about this summer’s hype.

While experts keep lauding the Lions’ grit, attitude and coaching, few go crazy about Goff. ESPN didn’t have him in its top 10 this year. No one gushes about his upside the way they do with Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow or others.

Recently, his own coach, Dan Campbell, said the Lions don’t need Goff “to be a Hall of Fame quarterback” this year.

Well, yeah, they kind of do.

At least if a Super Bowl is their goal.

And isn’t that the goal of all contending teams? Take a look at the quarterbacks that have won it recently. Patrick Mahomes. Tom Brady. Peyton Manning. Even Matthew Stafford, who may not be heading to the Hall of Fame, had that kind of season the year he won it all, with a QB rating of 102.9, about 12 points higher than his career average.

Quarterbacks make or break you. You can win a few games without them being stellar. You won’t win championships.

So it starts and ends with Goff, and what do we really know of him? His first season here, when the Lions won three games, he was hit and miss, often souring good starts with fourth-quarter letdowns. His second season, over the first seven games, he threw 12 touchdowns and six interceptions, and had one game, the 29-0 loss to New England, where his QB rating was 8.4.

But after that, he was on fire. A machine. Efficient, Accurate. Unflappable. Threw 17 touchdowns and one interception. Amazing. The Lions won eight of their last 10, and, even though they missed the playoffs, the fuse was lit. Enthusiasm soared.

But Jared will have to be “Second Half Goff” all season this year. Or all this talk will be a lot of hot air.

“Adversity strikes at any time,” Goff recently told ESPN. “You like to think you’re coming out of it now, but who knows?  You could fall right back into it.”

Leave it to the quarterback himself to say what fans are not.

Are we sure this is for real?

So what are the reasons to be more positive than negative? Several. The Lions have an excellent offensive line and Goff, given time, can pick you apart. His passer rating was fifth in the league last year when NOT being pressured. He’s grown more comfortable with the innovative Ben Johnson as his coordinator. And he knows he’s often likely to get four downs to convert drives, given the way Campbell coaches, which boosts the comfort of any quarterback.

But what about what surrounds him? He’s got one great and reliable target in Amon-Ra St. Brown. After that? It’s not exactly Showtime. He no longer has a T.J. Hockenson. (Quick! Name the Lions starting tight end! If you said “Charlie Sanders” you must put down your pencil.)

Marvin Jones is an older version of the man who left Detroit a few years ago. Khalif Raymond and Josh Reynolds are a lot more heralded in Detroit than elsewhere. And the most promising young receiver, Jameson Williams, is suspended for six games.

The running game, meanwhile, has earned breathless enthusiasm around here, but realistically, newly acquired David Montgomery is a solid 850-yard-per-season back, and nobody knows how rookie Jahmyr Gibbs will fare. Could be great. Could take time. Hype for the rushing attack is inappropriate.

Hope is more fitting.

So it comes back to Goff. No surprise. The teams that win big these days have quarterbacks that make things happen. Goff can do that from the pocket. But he’s not Mahomes, Hurts or Aaron Rodgers out of it.

No longer Mr. Rodgers’ neighborhood

Speaking of Rodgers, how much of the Detroit goosebumps comes from the fact that the long-haired, over-fared leaping gnome is now playing with the Jets? Is he really gone? We’ve gotten so used to finishing behind Green Bay that 2023 feels like walking in on the first day of school and learning the bully has moved to another state.

But we’re not the only ones. Minnesota, which actually won the division last year after going 13-4, sees no Rodgers as a highway to another title. A newspaper in Minneapolis just predicted it. And Yahoo! Sports just picked the Packers to win the NFC North with a 10-7 record, with Rodgers’ replacement, Jordan Love, leading the way.

In other words, if you go to other cities, they like their chances, too. We’re not the only town that gets hyped up.

And then there’s the Detroit defense. And this, folks, will be how you determine how changed the 2023 Lions really are. Goff can be terrific, and the running game can shine, but if the Lions keep having to score 30 points to beat their opponents, it’ll be a long haul. The defense ranked near the bottom in many categories last year. That’s why the Lions brass went out and changed it. Signed a bunch of free agents.

On paper, they look much better.

Paper doesn’t play games.

Hey, it could happen

So there. Now that we’ve let a little air out of the balloon, let’s tie it back up. Let’s see how it flies. There’s nothing wrong with healthy enthusiasm. And there’s reason for that. Almost everyone agrees Campbell and Brad Holmes have improved the team in ways that haven’t been seen in a long time around here.

After Kansas City, the Lions have home games against Seattle, Atlanta and Carolina, and road games at Tampa Bay and Green Bay. All those teams are predicted to do no better and likely worse than Detroit. Win the games they should win, and even with a loss tonight, the Lions could well be 5-1.

But blow a few games, turn the ball over at the wrong time, miss a critical field goal, or suffer injuries at a key position, and the air doesn’t just start leaking from the balloon, it makes a whooshing sound and begins to spiral.

We’ve seen it happen. We’re tired of seeing it happen. Tonight, we start to learn if 2023 will really be a new year, or one in which we’ll wish we’d kept our mouths shut.

Hype? Hope? Or “HELP!”? No going back now. Here comes Lucy, holding the football. Close your eyes. Take a breath. And say to yourself:

What could possibly go wrong?

Don’t answer that.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Follow him @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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