Yes, they are. For the first time since 1993, in the Barry Sanders era, the 2023-1024 Detroit Lions are heading to the playoffs thanks to their Christmas Eve win over their division rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. And with the 49ers’ stunning Christmas-day loss to the Ravens, with QB Brock Purdy throwing four interceptions, the Lions are now in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC. The other two teams at the top are the Philadelphia Eagles and the aforementioned San Francisco 49ers.
Unfortunately for the Lions and Eagles, the 49ers own the tiebreakers, having beaten both teams head-up this year. But with a first-round bye in the newly revamped seventeen-game NFL season, the pressure is on the 49ers to continue to win. Because if they don’t, and the Lions win out, not only may they get a first-round bye, but the road to the Super Bowl might go through Detroit.
The Lions Tore through the Off Season
Entering the offseason, the Lions were riding high after successfully preventing the Green Bay Packers from reaching the playoffs. This accomplishment provided tangible evidence that Detroit had the potential to make significant progress and move beyond the rebuilding phase that began in 2021. General manager Brad Holmes had ample salary cap space, allowing him to approach this offseason differently from his first two years with the team. However, it remained to be seen whether Holmes would prioritize a high-impact signing in free agency that aligned with his team-building philosophy.
Right at the start of the league’s legal tampering period, they swiftly finalized a deal with cornerback Cameron Sutton, who previously played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. This strategic move involved a substantial three-year contract worth $33 million, with an impressive $22.5 million guaranteed.
A day later, Holmes made another strategic move by securing the services of San Francisco 49ers’ free agent cornerback Emmanuel Moseley on a one-year, $6 million prove-it contract. Known for his proficiency in tackling and coverage, he played a significant role as an outside corner for San Francisco.
The acquisition of C.J. Gardner-Johnson by the Lions came as a surprise to the NFL community and solidified Detroit’s status as an appealing destination for high-profile players. Gardner-Johnson, widely recognized as one of the most versatile defensive backs in the league, reportedly rejected a three-year, $24 million offer from the Philadelphia Eagles, the defending NFC Champions.
Instead, Gardner-Johnson opted to play for Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. Their bond has developed over a decade, especially with their time together in the New Orleans Saints organization. Aaron Glenn himself is a former standout at cornerback for the New York Jets.
The Lions Are Peaking at the Right Time
After a brief period of ball insecurity with Jared Goff standing out, the Lions have quickly regained their mojo, including defeating the Dallas Cowboys, who are in the battle for playoff position in their own right. In perhaps a potential playoff preview being touted throughout Michigan sportsbooks, Cowboys Head Coach Mike McCarthy understands very well that the Lions are peeking at the right time.
Having served as the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, a division rival of the Detroit Lions, for 12 seasons from 2006 to 2018, Mike McCarthy possesses an unparalleled understanding of the Lions. Currently coaching the Dallas Cowboys, McCarthy boasts an impressive record of 21-7 against the Lions. Despite his teams’ dominance over them, McCarthy has always maintained a deep respect for the Lions organization and the city of Detroit.
If the Lions somehow snag the number one seed in the NFC, and assuming the Cowboys win their Wild Card matchup in the assumption that the Eagles win the NFC East, Mike McCarthy might very well find himself in battle with the Lions, who are looking to claw and tear their way into Super Bowl LVIII.