Over the past five years, the Kansas City Chiefs have been a dominant force in the NFL. They have claimed two Super Bowl victories and consistently reached the conference title game or better each season. Furthermore, they are on the quest to secure their eighth consecutive AFC West title.
Contrastingly, the Detroit Lions haven’t experienced such a period of dominance since the late 1950s. Their most recent division win was back in 1993 when they were part of the NFC Central. So, why are the Lions suddenly in the spotlight, facing the defending Super Bowl champions on Thursday night? The answer lies in their impressive performance towards the end of the 2022 season, a streak that has given the NFL hope for the long-struggling franchise.
This matchup is a significant gamble for the NFL. The Chiefs, led by Andy Reid and boasting a 40-9 record at Arrowhead Stadium with star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, present a formidable challenge. Even though the Chiefs might be without two key players in the opening game, this is arguably the Lions’ most high-profile matchup since their last postseason appearance – a wild-card loss to the Seahawks in January 2017.
Several key questions surround this game: How will Dan Campbell’s team handle the intense spotlight? Can the Lions’ revamped defense slow down the explosive Mahomes and his team? Or will the Chiefs replicate their 2020 kickoff game performance, where they scored 31 consecutive points in a lopsided victory against the Texans?
Here are four key aspects to watch when the Lions face off against the Chiefs on Thursday night:
- Travis Kelce’s Uncertain Status: Travis Kelce, the Chiefs’ All-Pro tight end, suffered a knee bone bruise during a midweek practice, putting his availability for Thursday’s game in question. Kelce has been a stalwart for the Chiefs and hasn’t missed a game due to injury since his rookie season in 2013. While the Chiefs have other offensive weapons, Kelce’s absence would simplify the Lions’ defensive strategy and offer more coverage flexibility to their coordinator, Aaron Glenn.
- Lions’ Defensive Improvement: The Lions’ defense must demonstrate significant improvement. Despite a strong finish to the 2022 season (8-2), their defense ranked in the bottom five of several key statistical categories. Offseason acquisitions have bolstered all levels of their defense, particularly the secondary. The Lions will need a solid pass rush, especially against Mahomes, who will have to work behind two new offensive tackles. Whether Kelce plays or not, the Lions’ secondary is sure to be tested.
- Chris Jones’ Holdout: Chris Jones, a critical defensive player for the Chiefs, has been absent from training camp and preseason due to contract disputes. His absence significantly impacts the Chiefs’ defense, as they perform significantly better with him on the field. Without Jones, the Chiefs’ pass rush and overall defensive performance suffer. The Lions’ offensive line, ranked third-best in sack percentage allowed last year, could exploit this situation if Jones remains absent.
- Impact of Gibbs and LaPorta: The Lions, known for their explosive offense in the previous season, sought to add more weapons alongside Amon-Ra St. Brown. In the 2023 NFL Draft, they acquired running back Jahmyr Gibbs and tight end Sam LaPorta in the first and second rounds, respectively.
These two athletic and versatile pass-catching options may play significant roles, especially with wide receiver Jameson Williams suspended for the first six games of the season. Gibbs and LaPorta have the potential to make early impacts in the Lions’ passing game, but the question remains about how quickly they can adapt and earn the trust of quarterback Jared Goff.
In summary, the Lions vs. Chiefs matchup promises to be a thrilling encounter, filled with uncertainties surrounding key players’ availability and the potential for rookie talent to shine. Football enthusiasts eagerly await this marquee game to see how it unfolds.