The 2023 NFL regular season makes its highly-anticipated arrival when the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs host the Detroit Lions on Thursday. The Chiefs’ latest championship banner will be raised and they’ll then attempt to avoid a hangover. The Lions are media darling favorites to claim the NFC North division title in 2023.
Key matchups will be crucial. We’ve identified three matchups that will help determine Thursday’s outcome.
PATRICK MAHOMES VS. LIONS SECONDARY
The Lions allowed a 30th-ranked 245.8 passing yards per contest last season. An inability to defend the pass during opportune moments capped the Lions’ ceiling. General manager Brad Holmes responded to those struggles by revamping his secondary during the offseason.
The Lions added Cameron Sutton, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and Emmanuel Moseley in unrestricted free agency. They drafted former Alabama safety Brian Branch in the second round. All four additions are expected to play sizable roles in a new-look secondary that has its sights set on being stingier than last year’s unit.
This Lions’ defense couldn’t face a bigger test than the Chiefs’ passing offense. Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes oversaw an explosive offense last season that averaged a No. 1-ranked 297.8 passing yards per outing. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and his secondary are facing a monumental challenge. Expect Mahomes and the Chiefs to throw the football with success.
JAHMYR GIBBS VS. NICK BOLTON
Detroit Lions rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs will be making his official debut. The No. 12 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, Gibbs should be heavily featured throughout Detroit’s offensive game plan right out of the gate.
Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson recently confirmed that he’ll be utilizing Gibbs in some unconventional ways.
“We might use Gibbs in some ways that people don’t quite think we might,” Johnson said.
A dual-threat playmaker, Johnson is almost certainly referring to Gibbs’ pass-catching prowess. Gibbs can catch passes coming out of the backfield as a premier check-down option. He’s also capable of lining up in the slot.
Gibbs is a matchup nightmare for opposing linebackers and safeties. Chiefs superstar linebacker Nick Bolton may be tasked with slowing Gibbs down. Bolton was a quality defender in coverage last season. Opposing quarterbacks saw a passer rating of 96.3 when targeting Bolton, who earned a coverage grade of 73.8 from Pro Football Focus.
AIDAN HUTCHINSON VS. DONOVAN SMITH, JAWAAN TAYLOR
Lions EDGE Aidan Hutchinson performed as advertised in 2022. The rookie standout out of Michigan wrapped up his debut campaign by recording 9.5 sacks, three interceptions, three pass breakups, and two fumble recoveries. Hutchinson was rightfully named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team. The Plymouth, Michigan native is expected to be even better as a sophomore. A double-digit sack season appears to be on the horizon for one of the league’s ascending pass rushers.
The Chiefs went through sweeping changes at the offensive tackle position in the offseason. Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor are the new starters, replacing Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie. Expect the Lions to move Hutchinson all around their defensive formation. He’ll test both Smith and Taylor in search of the weaker link. Kansas City’s new bookends arrive with high expectations. They’ll have their hands full with Hutchinson.