Tonight’s much-anticipated NFL season opener is shaping up to be one for the books. While the majority of analysts are favoring the defending Super Bowl champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, there are more than a few reasons to believe the Detroit Lions could leave Arrowhead Stadium victorious.
Key Chiefs Players MIA
It seems the stars are aligning in favor of the Lions as the Chiefs face the potential absence of two top players, Travis Kelce and Chris Jones. Kelce, one of the greatest tight ends of all time, is grappling with a hyper-extended knee. Even if he pushes through, it’s unlikely he’ll be at his peak performance.
On top of this, the Chiefs’ top disruptor on defense, defensive tackle Chris Jones, is extending his holdout as he awaits a new contract. Jones has been a pillar in the middle of the Chiefs defensive line, finishing with 15.5 sacks in the 2022 season.
“Yeah, I mean he jumps off the tape right away. I mean you feel him out there when you watch their tape from last year,” noted Lions offensive Coordinator Ben Johnson. His absence would drastically change the game.
Lions’ Offensive Line
The absence of Chris Jones provides an opportunity for the Lions’ offensive line to control the line of scrimmage. Often recognized as one of the top units in the NFL, all five starters – Decker, Jackson, Ragnow, Vaitai, and Sewell – are healthy and eager to take the field together.
Lions OC Ben Johnson vouched for the line’s potential: “Yeah, it’s my blankey. It’s (Lions QB) Jared (Goff)’s blankey… they’re one of the top units in the League.”
The absence of Chris Jones offers the Lions the potential to dominate the Chiefs’ front seven, setting up a fertile ground for running backs David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs to flourish and facilitate Jared Goff’s play-action pass game.
Defensive Evolution Fueling Offense
The Detroit Lions’ defense has seen significant improvements this season, and it’s making a big difference, especially for the offense. Practicing against this enhanced defense has allowed the offensive unit to refine their skills and better prepare for real-game scenarios.
Jared Goff, the Lions’ quarterback, has noted how the challenges posed by their own defense during training camp have sharpened the offense’s edge.
This strengthened defense has inadvertently spurred growth in the offensive unit, as noted by QB coach Mark Brunell. “The ball has to be on time, and it has to be accurate — this training camp. If it wasn’t, then it wasn’t going to be a completed pass. They were always around the ball,” Brunell pointed out.
The strengthened defense, with additions like CJ Gardner-Johnson, Cam Sutton and Brian Branch, hasn’t just made a mark for itself but has also sculpted the offense into a more resilient and efficient unit.
Spotlight on Aidan Hutchinson
In his second season, Aidan Hutchinson is showing signs of becoming the next defensive superstar in the NFL. After a transformative offseason where he focused on his diet and training regimen, he’s coming back faster, stronger, and more determined, ready to prove himself as a potential Defensive Player of the Year finalist.
Head coach Dan Campbell noted the evident growth in Hutchinson’s skill set:
I feel like he’s got more in his toolbox and he was already a confident player, but you can just see has a ton of confidence. You see these tools coming out that have elevated his game, so he’s got a counter move, he’s got a spin, he’s got a bull. He’s violent shedding the run game. He sets an edge. He’s a big man. He’s got a high motor. He’s taken it up a notch. That’s what you want to see.
Hutchinson’s relentless effort and upgraded techniques are expected to pose a serious challenge to Chiefs’ tackles, RT Jawaan Taylor and LT Donovan Smith. As the team gears up to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, Hutchinson’s pressure and containment will be critical in keeping the star QB in check.
With all these elements falling into place for the Lions, it’s hard not to be optimistic about their chances. As such, my bold prediction is:
Detroit Lions 31, Kansas City Chiefs 20
As the Lions step onto the Arrowhead turf tonight, they’re not just fighting against the Chiefs; they’re fighting against expectations. Yet, with the current momentum, there’s every reason to believe that the underdogs might just have their day.
How to Watch the Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs:
- Date: Thursday, September 7
- Kickoff Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
- Location: Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, MO)
- TV Channel: NBC
- Streaming: Peacock
Interesting Game Facts
- The 2023 NFL Kickoff Game between the Lions and Chiefs marks the first time the Lions have played in the contest since its inception in 2002. Detroit is 48-42-3 (.532) all-time in Week 1 games.
- Thursday’s game marks the second time the Lions have opened a season against the defending Super Bowl champions, with their only other occurrence coming in 1967 against the Green Bay Packers, who were coming off a victory in Super Bowl I.
- The last time Lions QB Jared Goff and Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes faced off was on Nov. 19, 2018 in one of the most exciting regular season games in NFL history. Goff and the Rams beat Mahomes by three points (54-51) in the third-highest scoring game of all- time. It marked the first NFL game that both teams amassed 50 points.
For more from our Detroit Lions beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21
Tweet: @WoodwoodSports or comment on your favorite social media platform!
Original Photo Credit: © Bob Donnan – USA TODAY Sports