PHOENIX – Both locally and nationally, expectations for the Detroit Lions heading into the 2023 season are higher than they've been in a long time.
Detroit returns most of the important pieces to a top five offense in the league last year, they've substantially improved the defense in free agency so far, and they have young, talented players either heading into the prime of their careers or going into their second season where the biggest leap in development and production takes place.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell is embracing the higher expectations. He made it clear in talking at the NFC coaches breakfast at the Annual League Meetings on Tuesday that the first NFC North division title since 1993 is the target for Detroit.
"It's about raising expectations, you know?" Campbell said. "We got to be thinking that way, and everything we do has to be with that type of purpose. Our standard has always been about winning, man. You're trying to win every game, but ultimately, I think to take the next step, man, you're shooting for the division.
"You win the division, and you get a home game, then the rest takes care of itself. That's the next part of the process. Every team should want to go to the Super Bowl every year. So, two years ago, of course ... but I think we're positioned much better to swing with the big boys this year. Now I can't tell ya what that means in win totals, but that is the goal, man. We've got to go get this division."
The NFC North division is in transition.
Green Bay has won eight of the last 12 division titles and three of the last four, but it looks like they'll be moving on from quarterback Aaron Rodgers this offseason. Rodgers wants to be traded to the New York Jets. That means Green Bay could have a new opening week starter at quarterback for the first time since 2008, when Rodgers took over for Brett Favre.
Minnesota won the division last season with a 13-4 record, but nine of those victories were comeback wins in games they were trailing in the second half. Minnesota put together an incredible 11-0 record in one-possession games last season, an NFL record. They were the only team in NFL history that won at least 13 games and had a negative point differential. It's also been a rather quiet offseason for the Vikings improving the roster.
Chicago won just three games last season but did have the most cap space in the league and spent big adding veteran pieces. How quickly will so many new faces gel? Chicago traded out of the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft in a deal that netted them a lot of draft capital and veteran wide receiver DJ Moore. The Bears are expected to be improved in 2023, but it's hard to go from a three-win team to a division champ in one offseason, even if it's a really good offseason.
That leaves Detroit as the most popular pick to win the North in 2023, and the franchise is embracing the expectation that their window to win it is now. Campbell said the way they finished last season winning eight of their last 10 games has created a different vibe in the team facility in Allen Park, a different kind of confidence.
View photos from the Annual League Meetings in Phoenix, Ariz.
"I was actually talking to (Taylor) Decker the other day, I just called him to see how he was doing, and we got to talking about some things," Campbell said. "Talking about our ability to win games last year once we got into our rhythm, got into our groove, and it was the belief in what we were doing, the belief in the guys around them, the coaches, teammates, was at an all-time high.
"I think there's a feeling that will be hard to lose. It would be hard to lose that, because there again, once you get the right type of guys, and have been put through the pressure our guys have, and they come from where they've come from, man, you appreciate it a lot more.
"And on top of that, you keep stacking a little bit of talent, you keep upgrading, you keep bringing in reinforcements, and the foundation is here. Then you bring in guys who are like-minded about winning and can play some ball, and can help you in areas, I think it's hard to fail."