Detroit Lions Look to Graduate from School of Hard Knocks in 2022

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Aidan Hutchinson #97 of the Detroit Lions celebrates a tackle while playing the Atlanta Falcons. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images/AFP

The Detroit Lions made sure head coach Dan Campbell’s first season reminded him of what football in Detroit usually looks like. The team has only one playoff win since 1958, and the 2021 Lions were 0-8 going into the bye week before finishing 3-13-1.

The NFL Playoffs were never even in the plans as Detroit became the first team in NFL history to be at least a 3-point underdog in 17 games in one season.

But the Lions have reloaded with another high draft pick, have earned some positive headlines as the team is currently on HBO’s Hard Knocks, and expectations are for the team to play better in Campbell’s second season.

Many of the top-rated sportsbooks have the Lions with an over/under of 6.5 wins. The Lions have not won seven games since finishing 9-7 in the 2017 season.

The Notable Changes for 2022

Detroit is the only NFC team coming off a losing season that did not change its:

  • Head coach
  • Starting quarterback

Dan Campbell and Jared Goff enter their second season together with the hope that Goff will show some improvements like he did in 2017 in his second season with the Rams. Better health can also help as the Lions were 0-3 when backup Tim Boyle started last year.

Detroit Can Build Around Aidan Hutchinson

This was a bad year to need a quarterback in the draft as Kenny Pickett, selected 20th overall by Pittsburgh, was the only quarterback taken in the first 73 picks. The league did not respect this class, so it is no surprise that the Lions will roll on with Goff at quarterback.

But in holding the No. 2 pick, the Lions may have caught a break when Jacksonville opted for project Travon Walker with the top pick. The Lions selected Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, who was dominant as a senior with 14 sacks, a single-season team record.

Fast Learner

Hutchinson looked good in his preseason debut last week, quickly notching a tackle for loss. The Lions have not had a consistent pass-rushing threat since Ezekiel Ansah peaked years ago. The pick will be worth it if Hutchinson can come anywhere close to providing the value of a:

  • Myles Garrett
  • J.J. Watt
  • Nick Bosa

Right now, it is hard to argue the pick should have been anyone else for Detroit.

Ben Johnson Is the New Offensive Coordinator

The Lions are retaining most of Campbell’s staff from last year, but the key change is at offensive coordinator where Ben Johnson replaces the departed Anthony Lynn.

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Johnson has been with the Lions since 2019 and was coaching the tight ends for Campbell before taking a bigger role in the passing game during the season as Lynn’s responsibilities decreased.

For what it’s worth, the Lions never scored 20 points in Weeks 2-12 before hitting at least 29 points in four of their final six games. Goff was injured during the Pittsburgh game and the team’s play-calling suggested they were dealing with a limited quarterback.

But in his last five games, Goff had 11 touchdowns to two interceptions with a 107.1 passer rating. Detroit can compete with that level of quarterback play.

Goff’s Revamped Receiving Corps

There were reasons to not trust Jared Goff to deliver in 2021 that went beyond his own flaws. There was the loss of Sean McVay as his head coach, which we saw is important as Matthew Stafford enjoyed the most successful season of his career as soon as he joined the Rams.

There also was not a Cooper Kupp or even Robert Woods to throw to in Detroit, though bringing in former teammate Josh Reynolds helped Goff a little late in the season.

But the fact remains that the 2021 Lions lost three wide receivers:

  • Kenny Golladay
  • Marvin Jones
  • Danny Amendola

The options to replace them did not look great. However, Detroit got a surprisingly strong season from fourth-round rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown. He caught 90 balls for 912 yards and five touchdowns to lead the team in receiving. He was also a reliable, high-percentage target with a catch rate of 75.6%.

Bigger things will be expected from St. Brown in 2022, though a starting duo of him and Kalif Raymond was not going to be enough to take the offense to a new tier. The Lions had to make a few more moves.

D.J. Chark Adds Size and Experience

A former second-round pick by the Jaguars in 2018, D.J. Chark broke out in 2019 with 1,008 yards. Chark’s 2021 was cut short to four games after he fractured his ankle. The Lions signed him to a one-year deal worth $10 million.

He is a big target at 6’4” and could be the deep threat in this offense with St. Brown working the underneath routes.

Chark could play a big role in the team’s 2022 after what happened to their eventual replacement at No. 1 receiver.

Jameson Williams: Good News, Bad News

The good news is the Lions used the No. 12 pick in the draft to take Alabama wide receiver, Jameson Williams. He is coming off a fantastic season with 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns. Williams could be the next in line from a great lineage of Alabama receivers joining the NFL.

The bad news is Williams tore his ACL in January’s National Championship Game and the Lions may not see his impact until the 2023 season. He has already been ruled out for Week 1 against the Eagles, and anything in September is likely too optimistic as an ACL usually takes at least nine months of recovery.

Could Williams see the field this season in Detroit? It is possible, but his development is going to be slower than usual after taking this whole offseason to recover from a serious injury.

Could the Lions Have Done More on Defense?

In 2021, the Lions set a modern record with 41 attempts on fourth down, the most in NFL history. But before we credit Campbell too much for a willingness to roll the dice, 31 of those attempts came with the Lions trailing, which is not ideal.

While there is some optimism for the offense in 2022, the defense still looks like a unit that will hold the team back from being the kind of physical, attacking team that Campbell wants.

The pick of Aidan Hutchinson was great, but the Lions could have done more than add a couple of former Ravens (linebacker Chris Board and safety DeShon Elliott) and corner Mike Hughes (Chiefs).

Boom or Bust

This secondary has only seen 10 games in two years from corner Jeff Okudah, the No. 3 pick in the 2020 draft. Is he ever going to develop, or will that pick go down as another bust from the old regime?

Speaking of busts from the old regime, the Lions have brought back linebacker Jarrad Davis, the 21st pick in the 2017 draft, after one season with the Jets. That is not an exciting move.

Unless Hutchinson is the Defensive Rookie of the Year or Okudah is the most improved player in the league, it is hard to see this Detroit defense climbing out of the bottom quarter of the league this year.


After blowing four late leads against a tough schedule in 2021, there is a lot to like for Detroit improving against a softer schedule in Campbell’s second year. This could be one of the easiest NFL picks to hit the over 6.5 wins simply because of the advantages the schedule brings.

The Lions are more than capable of getting three wins in the division. Beyond that, Detroit hosts the:

  • Commanders
  • Seahawks
  • Dolphins
  • Jaguars

They also travel to the:

  • Giants
  • Jets
  • Panthers

Obviously, the roster is still flawed, so they will lose some of those winnable games. But asking this team to fight and get at least seven wins feels like a safe bet to make.

Remember, three long field goals going against the Lions last year was the difference in 6-11 and 3-13-1. This roster is better and unlike a lot of bad teams in the NFL, they seem to believe in what their head coach is selling.

NFL Pick: Lions Over 6.5 Season Wins (-160) at Bovada (visit our Bovada Review)

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On the Last Season of “The Lions”: The Menu Was Light on Kneecaps

While Detroit started last season 0-10-1, this team was nowhere near the historically bad territory. In fact, the Lions were one of the most competitive losing teams in 2021, and Detroit’s 11-6 ATS record was only bettered by three teams. You could see in the first game of the season that the Lions were going to fight for Dan Campbell.

Despite trailing San Francisco 41-17 with six minutes left, the Lions came up 24 yards and a two-point conversion short from taking the 49ers to overtime in a 41-33 loss. Detroit led 17-14 into the third quarter in Green Bay in Week 2 before losing 35-17.

Detroit took a 17-16 lead on Baltimore in the final minute before a missed delay of game penalty and NFL-record 66-yard field goal by Justin Tucker bounced in to give the Ravens a 19-17 win.

More Field Goals

In Week 5, Detroit took another late lead with 37 seconds left against the Vikings before losing to a 54-yard field goal at the buzzer, a rare clutch kick for Minnesota.

Matthew Stafford’s revenge game saw his superior Rams trailing 19-17 in the fourth quarter before scoring the final 11 points in a 28-19 win.

The Lions could have won in Pittsburgh on a 48-yard field goal in overtime, but it was missed by Ryan Santoso, and the game ended in a 16-16 tie to give Detroit its first non-loss of the season.

Competing Roster

Not many teams with this roster would push both NFC Championship Game opponents:

  • the Ravens with Lamar Jackson
  • the top-seeded Packers in Green Bay

Two losses and a tie easily could have been three wins if those long field goals all went for Detroit instead of against the Lions.

But with this tough schedule, the team was inevitably outmatched. In December, the team had some bright moments with Jared Goff leading his best game-winning drive to beat the Vikings on the final play, and Goff was again excellent in a 30-12 rout of the Cardinals in Week 15.

Detroit finished with a home win over Green Bay in Week 18 after the Packers rested some starters with nothing to play for.

It was not a good season by any means, but it felt better than the hopelessness that came with former coach Matt Patricia wasting the final years of Matthew Stafford’s time in Detroit. These are the lovable, losing Lions you can root for again.