DETROIT (FOX 2) - For the first time, the Detroit Lions are taking center stage for the start of the NFL season. The challenge, for this week, is that they're playing the reigning Super Bowl Champions on their home turf.
Thursday will be a very early and tough test for the Lions, picked by some to be among the top 3 teams in the NFC – but you can bet Dan Campbell will have his team ready for the challenge.
The Lions had an awful start to the 2022 season - starting 1-6 and seemingly ending any chance of playoff hopes early on. But then they went on a tear - winning 8 of their final 10 games and knocking on the door of the playoffs before ultimately being eliminated on the final Sunday of the season.
That's the past. That's a year ago and now it's time to see what the Lions have changed and improved on for 2023.
Here are four things to know about the game, including new players to watch, and what could be a huge indicator of what to expect for the rest of the season.
The Lions improved their defense
Can the Detroit Lions stop Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and company?
Let's get this one out of the way. This is going to be the hardest question to answer.
The Chiefs had the best offense in 2022, gaining 414 yards per game. The next closest was Buffalo with under 400. The Chiefs also scored 29.2 points per game, nearly a full point more than the Bills. This is why the Chiefs wound up winning the Super Bowl - they move the ball and they score often.
Meanwhile, the Lions' defense was…not great. As a team, they allowed 392.4 yards, four yards more per game than Minnesota, and allowed 25.1 points per game - tied for third worst in the league. That's why GM Brad Holmes made defense a priority this year.
The Lions signed Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley and C.J. Gardner-Johnson to bolster the secondary while adding Brian Branch in the second round of the NFL Draft in April.
The three free agency signings are expected to make an immediate impact and Branch, who was projected by many to be a first-round pick, could provide some much-needed depth.
Don't forget about Aidan Hutchinson on the edge – who finished his phenomenal rookie reason with 9.5 sacks and 15 QB hits - PLUS three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He's a playmaker, for certain. With Hutchinson, Alim McNeill at DT, and James Houston at linebacker made up the start of the core of the Lions' defense.
Campbell said last week that a key to victory is going to be taking the ball away from the Chiefs offense.
We'll find out very early on if Holmes and Campbell have solved last year's woes.
How the Lions will score points
As we just mentioned, the Chiefs had the best offense in the league. But the Lions weren't too shabby either.
The Lions had a top-five offense themselves, scoring 26.6 points per game and averaging 380 yards. That's not that far away from the Chiefs.
Similar to the defense, the Lions retooled the offense as well. The team opted not to re-sign Jamaal Williams and traded away D'Andre Swift - both players accounted for 22 of the team's 54 touchdowns last year. To make up for the production, the Lions signed David Montgomery away from the Bears and drafted Jahmyr Gibbs in the first round.
Plus they still have Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, and they brought back Marvin Jones Jr. Mix in rookie Sam LaPorta at tight end and the Lions have an arsenal of weapons for Jared Goff to find.
Oh - and don't forget about the big guys up front. Penei Sewell, Frank Ragnow, and Taylor Decker are still anchoring the line with Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Jonah Jackson returning as well. It's one of the best offensive lines in football and they won't even have to plan for Chiefs star DT Chris Jones, who sat out all of camp for a better contract.
This offensive line is going to sparkle, giving Goff plenty of time to find a receiver or opening holes for Montgomery and Gibbs.
Ben Johnson, tapped by many to have been a possible head coach last year but opted for another offensive coordinator season, is going to dial up some fun plays for the offense.
What's the history between Detroit and Kansas City?
The Lions and Chiefs don't play often. They've only met a total of 14 times in NFL history with the Chiefs leading the series at 9-5.
The last time the two played was back in 2019 when Mahomes, in his second year, came into Ford Field and beat the Lions 34-30 while on their way to his first Super Bowl.
This is also the first time the Lions have gone to Kansas City in 20 years.
That's a stat that's hard to believe but it's 100% true. In 2015, Kansas City was the "home team" at a game in London, which the Chiefs won. Prior to that, the Lions played host to the Chiefs in 2011 and 2007 - both wins for Detroit.
The last time the Lions were in Kansas City against the Chiefs was way back on Dec. 14, 2003, a 45-17 loss.
Chiefs come in as big favorites
Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs are favored by nearly a touchdown over the Lions. This is a big line, especially when you consider both offenses can score quickly.
Even bigger is the Over/Under, which is at 54.5 points. That means scoring for both teams is likely to be in the upper 20s and mid-30s. We're going to see a lot of touchdowns.
So what should Lions fans expect? A win in Arrowhead would be an incredible statement for the team and fans alike. It would tell the entire NFL that the Lions are officially here. Keeping it close is also respectable as the Lions return home next week against the Seahawks.