For the first time in years, the Detroit Lions come into an NFL season with sky-high expectations, and that's only added more pressure on head coach Dan Campbell.
After a 9-8 season that end just short of Detroit's first postseason appearance since 2016, the Lions and the team's fans have their sights set on an NFC North title in 2023. While that pressure might be too much for some, Campbell has made it clear that he's not worried about the added weight at all.
"No, I don't feel weight," Campebll said during a press conference at training camp. "I feel wind underneath my freakin' wings man. That's what I feel."
However, for a head coach that has received so much love and support from players and fans alike, the pressure is on for Campbell to finally produce a legitimate contender in 2023. The Lions have gone just 12-21-1 in two seasons under Dan Campbell, and with so much riding on this 2023 season, anything short of a winning season could spell disaster for his long-term future in Detroit.
Dan Campbell's Path to Detroit
Before coaching ever became a possibility for Campbell, the current Lions head coach was an 11-year NFL veteran tight end out of Texas A&M. He was taken in the third round of the 1999 NFL Draft by the New York Giants with additional stints with the Cowboys, Lions, and Saints before retiring following the 2009 season.
Campbell picked up coaching immediately after the end of his playing career, joining the Miami Dolphins as a coaching intern in 2010. He then spent several seasons as the team's tight end coach before being thrust into the spotlight as an interim head coach in the 2015 season following the firing of Joe Philbin. Despite taking over for a disappointing team with very little to play for, Campbell helped the Dolphins go 5-7 over 12 games as the interim HC.
Despite Campbell exceeding expectations as an interim head coach, it would take him six more seasons before he got another opportunity to run a coaching staff. He spent the next five seasons from 2016 to 2020 operating as an assistant head coach for the New Orleans Saints under Sean Payton, learning what it takes to run an NFL franchise.
"I owe Sean [Payton] probably more than anybody in this profession," Campbell said back in 2021. "He gave me an opportunity as a player and as a coach, and nobody's believed in me more than Sean Payton, who knew exactly what I was and what I could do," Campbell said at the time. "So I'll never be able to thank him enough. I've learned more football under him in my time as a player, but now as a coach, being under him five years, about how you see the game, how you use your staff, how you hire your staff, situational football. When to go for it, when to not, when's it time to be aggressive, when's the time to back off. But a majority of the lessons that I have are from him, and so I'll forever be grateful for that."
After spending time learning the ins and outs of coaching from someone as established as Payton, Campbell got his first real shot at becoming an NFL head coach after accepting the role with the Detroit Lions in 2021. While the Lions have yet to have much success, the pressure is on for the 2023 season.
Sky-High Expectations for Campbell and the Lions
It has been years since the Lions have been relevant, but with the departure of Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers, Campbell is hoping that his team can finally establish itself as the dominant force in the NFC North.
According to DraftKings, the Lions are currently the odds-on favorite to win the division at +140, with the Minnesota Vikings behind them at +290. Those are incredible odds for a team that has never won the NFC North, with their last division title coming in the old NFC Central all the way back in 1993.
But there are reasons to be optimistic in Detroit. Jared Goff, who was once considered just a stop-gap quarterback for the Lions, is coming off one of the best years of his career after throwing for 4,438 yards, 29 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions. Meanwhile, general manager Brad Holmes has replaced the backfield of Jamaal Williams and D'Andre Swift with an even more exciting tandem in former Bears running back David Montgomery and a dynamic rookie out of Alabama in Jahmyr Gibbs.
Defensively, the Lions bolstered their secondary with the offseason acquisitions of C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Emmanuel Moseley, along with a versatile safety in second-round pick Brian Branch. Aidan Hutchinson returns as the team's premier pass-rusher, while fellow second-year rusher James Houston was one of the NFL's biggest surprises last season.
With so much talent on both sides, there are no more excuses for Campbell and his coaching staff. If they're unable to get the job done in 2023, fans may no longer be as supportive as they've been during the head coach's first two seasons in Detroit.
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