Conventional wisdom suggests maybe it’s best to get the first shot at the defending champs, to run into them early before the complete calibration of systems around MVP Patrick Mahomes.
Not these Kansas City Chiefs.
Undefeated in Week 1 since drafting Mahomes, head coach Andy Reid breaks camp with his troops prepared to hit the ground running. Reid is 9-1 in Week 1 since taking over in Kansas City. The Chiefs scored 44 in the opening week win over the Arizona Cardinals in 2022, and have scored at least 33 points in every opener since 2017.
Entering the arena on Thursday as the visitors, the Detroit Lions are widely expected to be in the hunt in the NFC this season following narrowly missing the playoffs in 2022. The Lions made it clear they want to be in the position the Chiefs are in, at the top of the NFL heap glaring down on challengers.
“The guys know all that. They understand that; that’s how they work,” Reid said. “They’re not going to change that part, that comes with the territory, and you’ve got to make sure you’re ready.”
Mahomes arrived to training camp with a clenched jaw, challenging teammates to fight to overcome complacency. He’s one player Reid won’t doubt is ready on Thursday. And Mahomes thrives in regular-season openers. He has five three-plus-TD games in five starts with 18 touchdowns and zero interceptions cumulatively in Week 1.
Kansas City rules the AFC West and has hosted five consecutive AFC Championship games, but even the most recent Lombardi Trophy shouldn’t be on the mind of players Thursday night, according to All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce.
“As sick as it sounds, I’m over last year. I’m ready to keep things moving forward,” Kelce said of the Super Bowl banner-raising ceremony pregame. “You know, I think it will be cool for the fans, for the Hunt Family to be able to put another banner up, and that’ll be a moment for them. For me right now, I’m focused on beating the Detroit Lions, not really focused on any of the other stuff that goes on for the first game of the year.”
Fast starts are not exactly the forte of the recent-vintage Lions.
The Lions lost a heartbreaker to eventual NFC champion Philadelphia in Week 1 last season, 38-35, and Detroit staggered to a 1-6 start before finding its footing and finishing 9-8. They didn’t win their first game in 2021 until December.
With Aaron Rodgers out of the NFC North and no clear heavyweight, the Lions are a popular pick to step to the forefront.
“Make him go backwards and never turn around where he can throw back that way. That would be about the best way to sum it up,” Campbell said. “Yeah, look, this guy is — he’s tough. That’s the easy answer to all this. He is a highly competitive, highly instinctive aware player and it all — he is the engine in this offense, everything runs through him, he makes it go.”
Detroit itself is buying into Campbell’s team, selling out season tickets to Ford Field for the first time in the history of the stadium and maintaining optimism quarterback Jared Goff and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson can keep their rhythm from the second half of last season.
“It’s fun being here in a city with all this excitement,” Goff said. “That being said, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win. I think we all know that. I know that. I’ve been on winning teams. I’ve been on losing teams. People will continue to be excited if we continue to win. Winning fixes everything, as they say.”
Goff had 29 TD passes last season but the Lions lost most of their proven point producers from 2022. Running back Jamaal Williams scored 17 touchdowns and rushed for 1,066 yards. D’Andre Swift had five rushing touchdowns and three receiving TDs and was the second-leading receiver on the team (48 receptions) to Amon-Ra St. Brown (106 receptions, 1,161 yards).
Campbell wants his team’s success to come down to a polished and powerful offensive line and a defensive line built around 2022 No. 2 pick Aidan Hutchinson. He led the team with 9.5 sacks as a rookie.
General manager Brad Holmes selected running back Jahmyr Gibbs in the first round of the 2023 draft, bolstered the depth on the defensive line and found playmakers at positions of need in the offseason.
“We feel even more confident that we’ll be able to compete with the big dogs,” Holmes said. “There’s not a better test than that first opener. I mean, they’re the champs.”
Reid’s next win will be his 270th in the NFL, which would tie Cowboys legend Tom Landry for fourth all-time in victories as an NFL head coach.
—Field Level Media
Field Level Media