The Detroit Lions' steady climb in three years under head coach Dan Campbell has made them legitimate contenders in this year's playoffs.
While that might be a surprise to some, it isn't to Campbell.
As they close out the 2023-24 regular season against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field Sunday, Campbell thinks the Lions are where they should be.
The Lions were 3-13-1 in 2021 and jumped to 9-8 in his second season. They are 11-5 with one game left and have already clinched the NFC North title -- the Lions' first division title in 30 years.
Campbell was asked at his Wednesday press conference if his team is trending higher than expected.
"I'd say we're trending where you feel like we should be trending," Campbell said. "We were right there last year. We just didn't do quite enough. So you just felt like the point is we got to be better than we were last year. That was always the objective was to be a better team."
They have built a formidable roster under Campbell and GM Brad Holmes.
While the strength of the team is on offense, the once maligned defense has improved markedly in the second half of this season.
As an overall group – offense, defense and special teams – the Lions are in position to be good for seasons to come.
The proof of that is in this year's improvement.
"Play better football," Campbell said. "More competitive football than we did the year prior and try to go win a division.
"I feel like we've improved."
Vikings' playoff hopes:
From Seattle to Minnesota to Atlanta and other locales, teams in the NFC are going into the last week of the regular season with some level of hope of making the playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings are one of those teams.
With a 7-9 won-loss record going into Sunday's game, the Vikings have a slim chance of making the playoffs as a wild card. The Vikings' situation this year is dramatically different than a year ago, when they got to the postseason with a 13-4 record.
"We still do have, albeit a small chance, we still do have a chance at the postseason," Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell said this week. "But I think more importantly for our team, it's getting that bad taste out of our mouth from a performance that we're certainly not proud of."
That was a reference to the Vikings' 33-10 loss to the Packers last week.
View photos of the starters for the Minnesota Vikings.
Defense: The Lions don't need a scouting report to know how dangerous Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson can be. They've experienced it for themselves.
Just two weeks ago Jefferson burned the Lions for 141 yards on six catches in a 30-24 loss to the Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. It was Jefferson's best game since his return from a hamstring injury that caused him to miss seven games.
At full strength when the season started, Jefferson had receiving totals of 150, 159 and 149 yards in the first three games of the season.
Offense: Keep the pressure on from start to finish. It doesn't matter who is playing, starters or backups. Play like the game means something, because it does.
At the very least, you're getting ready for the playoffs. You want to be sharp.
It's harder to make a pick when there's some doubt about what's at stake. In this case take the better team.
Lions are favored by three points.
My pick: Lions 31, Vikings 24.