For 33 straight seasons, the league has had at least four franchises in the postseason a year after they failed to earn a bid.
The 2022 playoffs included seven teams that didn't make it the year before. The Jacksonville Jaguars led the latest group, winning the AFC South after matching the Lions with an NFL-low three wins in 2021.
Fans in the Motor City haven't been this fired up about the Lions since the previous century when Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders was eluding defenders.
Detroit started building momentum last season when it won eight of the last 10 games — including a win at Green Bay that kept Rodgers out of the playoffs before he left for the Jets — and finished with a winning record for the first time since 2017.
The franchise has been revitalized under the leadership of owner Sheila Ford Hamp, general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell by having some relative success on the field and aggressively addressing needs in free agency and in the draft with potential playmakers on both sides of the ball.
“I’m just happy for the fans and for the city of Detroit because they deserve that,” Holmes said. “They deserve excitement. They deserve hope.”
The Lions, who haven't won a division title since 1993 and have one playoff victory since 1957, are favored to win the NFC North and are widely viewed as a team on the rise after being a league laughingstock for several decades.
“We’re not scared of the expectations,” Holmes said. "The expectations are earned through what we’ve built and what we’ve done up to this point in terms of how we finished the end of the season and through our player acquisition process.
"But now, we've got to just prove them right.”
Detroit had a top-five offense last season and a shaky defense, which should be improved on the back end with experienced defensive backs Cam Sutton and C.J. Gardner-Johnson along with rookie Brian Branch.
Jared Goff is back at quarterback with Amon-Ra St. Brown, a rising star, at receiver and one of the NFL's best offensive lines giving him time to throw and room for veteran David Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs to run.
“It’s fun being here in the city with all this excitement,” Goff said. “With that being said, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win.”
Here's a look at some other teams that may have breakout seasons:
NEW YORK JETS
Rodgers has ratcheted up the hype for a franchise that has the NFL’s longest active playoff drought at 12 consecutive seasons.
The Saints seem to be set up to return to the playoffs for the first time in three years. New Orleans' secondary is strong, making the defense one of the league's best.
The Titans are a relatively safe bet to bounce back because they reached three consecutive postseasons before falling short with a 7-10 record last season.
The franchise with two Super Bowl titles in 14 postseason appearances this century doesn't have to improve much to return to the playoffs after winning nine games last season. Quarterback Kenny Pickett should be more comfortable in Year 2 as a starter while opposing signal-callers probably won't be with T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith rushing from the edge.
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