The Detroit Lions and the Jacksonville Jaguars are closing in on playoff berths at the same time, for the first time in the 21st Century.
Left: Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images, Right: Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Predators in the Playoffs: Lions & Jaguars Could End 23-Year Famine


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Week 16 is in the books and, as we head into January, a minor Christmas miracle is in the works that everyone needs to acknowledge: Both the Jaguars and the Lions are still squarely in the middle of the NFL playoff hunt. That's right -- despite both teams starting the season with dismal 2-6 records, the Jags and Lions have rallied into playoff contention as we turn the calendar to 2023. 

A Surprising Turn of Events in the NFL

Head coach Doug Pederson of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Trevor Lawrence #16 look on during the second half of the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field

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After a dominant prime time victory over the Jets, combined with a horrendous loss by the Titans, the Jacksonville Jaguars are sitting atop the AFC South with just two games left. Meanwhile, Detroit failed to keep its three-game winning streak going after falling to Carolina on Christmas Eve. But with a 7-8 record and two divisional games left, the Lions remain in the playoff hunt and could be looking at a massive showdown against Green Bay to finish the season. Detroit's current playoff odds are estimated to be about 23 percent. It's rare that these much-maligned franchises find themselves competing for playoff spots so late in the year. The Jaguars have only made the playoffs in seven of their 28 seasons and just once in the past 14 seasons.

The Lions' franchise resume? is even worse, with only 12 playoff trips in 63 seasons and without a single Super Bowl appearance. With over 700 losses, Detroit has the second most of any NFL franchise, and the second-worst winning percentage in the league since 2000.

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In fact, you have to go back over 23 years, to the 1999 season, to find a time when both the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars were in the playoffs at the same time. For Detroit, this was the season after legendary running back Barry Sanders opted to retire and when a young Charlie Batch led the Lions to an 8-8 record and a first-round playoff exit. The 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars finished the regular season 14-2 and with the league's best record before losing in the AFC Championship game.

Neither franchise was able to carry their success in 1999 over into the 2000s; instead, they both fell into obscurity. So the question now for these current teams is what has changed and will they be able to sustain and build on their current success.

Dan Campbell: Savior of the Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions head football coach Dan Campbell speaks with the media before the Detroit Lions Training Camp

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Let's start with Detroit. One of the biggest changes for the Lions has been the culture created by head coach Dan Campbell. Campbell's high-energy, high-emotion, high-motor and no-excuses philosophy seems to have finally hit its stride in the middle of his second year. While the Lions' defense is far from perfect -- leading the league in points allowed -- they have turned a corner in the second half of the season, allowing only two opponents to score more than 23 points since Week 9. A huge reason for the turnaround has also been the play of quarterback Jared Goff, who has 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions since Week 10. Goff, who reached a Super Bowl with the Rams, has been a pleasant surprise since joining Detroit as part of the trade of Matthew Stafford.

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The future appears bright for Detroit, which still owns the Rams' first-round pick in 2023, along with a ton of young players to accompany a coaching staff that seems to have won over the locker room. These factors, combined with what could be a decline for perennial NFC North powerhouse Green Bay, give many reasons to rejoice if you are a Lions fan. Everything is set up for Detroit to keep trending upward.

Jacksonville's Rebuild Finally Seeing Results

Tre Herndon #37 of the Jacksonville Jaguars celebrates after recovering a fumble during an NFL football game between the New York Jets and the Jacksonville Jaguars at MetLife Stadium

Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

When we move over to Jacksonville, we see some strong similarities top Detroit. The Jags have also bounced back this season behind the improved play of their quarterback. Trevor Lawrence seems to finally be playing the way fans expected when Jacksonville took him with their  No. 1 overall pick. Lawrence has 14 touchdown passes and just one interception in his last seven games.

The Jaguars are also starting to feel the impact and culture change of their new head coach, Doug Pederson. Pederson, who won a Super Bowl with the Eagles, has finally seemed to clean the stink off the Jacksonville organization left by former coach Urban Meyer, and we are seeing some glints in his offense that made Carson Wentz an MVP candidate back in Philadelphia.

The Jags have had top 10 picks in 10 of the last 11 drafts, and finally some of that talent seems to be manifesting into production for Jacksonville. Travon Walker seems like a difference-maker on the defensive line for years to come, while running back Travis Etienne is developing into a dynamic playmaker who can help take the pressure off Lawrence and the passing attack.

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Jaguars GM Trent Baalke also deserves a lot of credit after making a series of offseason moves that seem to be a great fit for Pederson's run-pass option offense. The Jaguars' top three leading receivers, each with more than 700 yards, were all free-agent additions. Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram have helped lift the Jaguars to a top 10 passing attack.

With the AFC South looking fairly dismal -- as the Texans are in the midst of a multi-year rebuild and the Colts and Titans appear to be declining -- the Jaguars' future prospects are strong. It's not impossible for the Colts to get their running game together in 2023 and for the Titans to build an offense that can play at a higher level as Malik Willis gets more games under his belt, but Jacksonville is in a good spot. Regardless of the way this season finishes, the Jaguars are shaping up to be the team to beat in the AFC South for the next several seasons.

History Has It's Eyes on Detroit and Jacksonville

Trevor Lawrence #16 of the Jacksonville Jaguars greets Aidan Hutchinson #97 of the Detroit Lions on the field after the game at Ford Field

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

So while at the Week 8 mark I could never have envisioned myself writing this, prospects are high for both of these franchises. Early in the year, it seemed as if both teams were the same ol' Jaguars and the same ol' Lions, but now they are giving fans something they haven't had in forever: hope. Whether this season ends with playoff berths or not, that hope for future seasons isn't going to go away anytime soon.

It's the hope that the Jaguars and Lions are only at the tip of their iceberg of potential, and that they have nothing but years of contention and even playoff victories in front of them. But I want to offer a word of caution to fans in Detroit and Jacksonville: The recipe for a broken heart always starts with a spoonful of hope -- and if anyone can mess this thing up, it's those same ol' Lions and Jaguars.

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