By Jeff O'Brien

Dan Campbell is taking over a team that isn’t supposed to win much this year and is leading a franchise as synonymous with losing as any in the NFL over the last several decades.

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell talks to Detroit Lions quarterback David Blough (10) on the sidelines after a play during the first half of an NFL preseason football game between the Detroit Lions and the Indianapolis Colts in Detroit, Michigan USA, on Friday, August 27, 2021. (Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Campbell era in Detroit begins Sunday at home against the San Francisco 49ers.

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Detroit has been projected to win just five games this season with its new coach.

Since the Lions won the NFL title in 1957, their only playoff victory was nearly 30 years ago, and they endured the league’s first 0-16 season in 2008. Over the last three years, Detroit dropped 33 games.

“Obviously, there has been a lack of success around here for a long time,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “We hope to change that.”

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – AUGUST 13: Jared Goff #16 of the Detroit Lions looks on against the Buffalo Bills during the third quarter of the preseason game at Ford Field on August 13, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

The Lions overhauled the front office, coaching staff, and roster, yet that hasn’t led to high hopes for them outside the organization. Campbell, though, plans to prove people wrong and his players do, too.

“That is our DNA,” Campbell said. “I don’t think it’s any secret that nobody expects us to do much.”

Rookie general manager Brad Holmes rebuilt the roster with youth, starting the season with just four players 30 or older.

“Got a little young swagger to us, not only the players but the coaches,” Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow said. “You realize the expectations may be low.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – NOVEMBER 10: Frank Ragnow #77 of the Detroit Lions walks off the field after losing to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on November 10, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

“Detroit vs. Everybody.”


The Niners won just six games last season — a year after reaching the Super Bowl — as injuries sent some of their best players to the sideline.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo missed 10 games due to ankle ailments. Tight end George Kittle was out for half of the season after hurting his shoulder. Defensive end Nick Bosa had a season-ending knee injury in Week 2.

When San Francisco traded three first-round picks to draft Trey Lance No. 3 overall, that left Garoppolo’s long-term future with the franchise in doubt. Coach Kyle Shanahan is adamant that Garoppolo will remain the starter as Lance, who has a finger injury, eases into the NFL in situations that set him up for success.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA – AUGUST 14: Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sidelines against the Kansas City Chiefs during the fouth quarter at Levi’s Stadium on August 14, 2021 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

“Jimmy has had as sharp of an offseason as he’s had since I’ve been around him,” Shanahan said.

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Bosa, the 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year, seems to be stronger than before he went down early last year.

“Very few people come back from major injury and are better than they were when they left,” San Francisco left tackle Trent Williams said. “I played Nick before he left and I played when he got back and he’s better.”


Iowa will be well represented with two of the top tight ends in the league: Kittle and Detroit’s T.J. Hockenson.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – JANUARY 03: T. J. Hockenson #88 of the Detroit Lions watches the action from the sidelines during the fourth quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field on January 03, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. Minnesota defeated Detroit 37-35. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The Niners discovered a gem in the 2017 draft, selecting Kittle in the fifth round and seeing him become an All-Pro two years later. It took Kittle just 47 games to reach 3,000 yards receiving, a pace that trailed only Hall of Famers Mike Ditka and Kellen Winslow Sr. among tight ends in league history.

The Lions invested more initially in Hockenson, drafting him with the No. 8 overall pick in 2019, and he has panned out. He led all NFC tight ends with 723 yards receiving last season, had 67 receptions and six touchdowns to earn Pro Bowl honors.


Both teams have rookie defensive coordinators who are former NFL players and set to make calls for the first time in a game.

After Robert Saleh left to lead the New York Jets, the Niners promoted 37-year-old linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans.

When Campbell was putting together an NFL coaching staff for the first time last winter, he gave Aaron Glenn a shot to be a coordinator after working together in New Orleans.

DETROIT, MICHIGAN – AUGUST 13: Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn looks on against the Buffalo Bills during the fourth quarter of the preseason game at Ford Field on August 13, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

The Lions had one of the worst defenses in league history last year and they’re opening up the season against a dynamic and balanced offense that features plenty of pre-snap movement to provide distractions.

“Our guys are looking forward to this challenge and I am,” Glenn said. “I am fired up.”


Garoppolo is 22-8 in the regular season since being acquired from New England, and he helped San Francisco win the 2019 NFC championship. The Niners are 7-27 with other quarterbacks under Shanahan since 2017.

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