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Lions GM Brad Holmes: Confidence 'very high' we can win NFC North

Detroit finished 2022 on a heater, fueling expectations greater than the Lions have seen in many, many years.

It's just about time to start delivering on them.

General manager Brad Holmes met with reporters Friday, six days before the Lions kick off their highly anticipated 2023 campaign with a road date against the defending Super Bowl champion Kanas City Chiefs (Sept. 7 at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC). Detroit won't be expected to win by most, but that doesn't tell the tale of where the Lions are aiming this season.

"It's not so much about the start, we all want to start fast, and you don't want to be in a 1-6 hole again, but we're just taking it step by step, phase by phase really, and that's just how we roll," Holmes said.

Holmes spoke of Detroit being an "aligned" organization, from player evaluation to locker room leadership, a goal for most that the GM believes the Lions have realized. But a valid response exists here: What have you even done?

Detroit started, as Holmes noted above, 1-6 last season, then finished by winning eight of their final 10 games, narrowly missing the playoffs. The impact of coach Dan Campbell -- which fans witnessed intimately in Hard Knocks -- was finally visible in Detroit's games.

But for a presser taking place less than a week before the start of the regular season, there was a bit of a congratulatory tone that didn't quite fit the timeline.

Detroit is -- finally -- a popular preseason pick to win the NFC North, which the Lions haven't accomplished since 1993 back when they were in the NFC Central. Thirty years is a long time to wait for anything. It's fair to be excited.

"Very high," Holmes said when asked for his level of confidence his Lions can win the division. "I do think that we've, let's call it took our medicine in the past few years, me and Dan talk about it all the time, we've coached the Senior Bowl, we've had to do Hard Knocks, we've done all that, we've gone through a lot of darkness to get to this point. But that's where the grit comes into place, in terms of just not really wavering, just putting your head down and not getting discouraged, and so we kinda just put the focus on building the best roster that we can and just getting the best football players.

"It's not just collecting talented guys, it starts with football players first, and what's a football player? Smart, passionate, instinctive, relentless, tough, gritty, it starts there. We have football players with talent, and we just steadily collected that over time, but we were very strategic and selective in that process. A lot of talented football players that we did not draft, a lot of talented football players that we did not sign in free agency, talented football players we didn't put a claim in for, so it kinda got us to this point, but we feel [nods]."

However, football isn't a sport that is won on hype. It's incredibly difficult to sustain success from year to year, and as the Lions learned last year, it's just about as hard to find it throughout a single season.

Carrying over the positive momentum won't be easy. But Holmes is confident the Lions are only going to continue their ascension, and acknowledged the football world's collective shift toward backing them is a sign of the work they've completed to get here.

"Yeah, it does feel good, and like what I've always said, I'm just happy for the fans and the city of Detroit, because they deserve that, they deserve that excitement, they deserve hope, so that's really good," Holmes said. "For us, let's call it the hype train, if you want to call it what it's been called, it was a little surprising to me this past offseason just because we didn't make the playoffs. Love how we ended the season, but I didn't think it would be to this magnitude."

The title of offseason champion doesn't often produce tangible results, though. Just ask how it went for the 2011 Eagles, or the 2019 Browns.

Despite carrying an incredibly positive tone, Holmes acknowledged reading their press clippings won't benefit the Lions. Improving their defense -- which tied for 28th last season -- and taking some of the responsibility off the shoulders of Jared Goff and the rest of the offense will be much more helpful than planning a parade.

"Regardless of whatever positive news is coming out, we'll keep the same mindset. We'll always be the hunters, and we're not succumbing to targets on our back," Holmes said. "We'll always be hunting and aiming for the target, so it doesn't really change our mission.

"I think Dan's done an outstanding job with the team in terms of letting them know what the expectations are, and we're not scared of the expectations, 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 just got to prove them right."

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