What's next for the Ravens and Lions after crushing conference championship losses?

Among the two losing teams from Sunday, at least the Detroit Lions don't have to worry about Patrick Mahomes for the next decade.

The Baltimore Ravens and everyone else in the AFC has the same problem when it comes to knocking off the Kansas City Chiefs and getting to a Super Bowl. They might all be a bunch of Patrick Ewings in a Michael Jordan world.

The Lions have an easier path back to the NFL's conference championship round, and maybe beyond. But this is the NFL. Nobody is guaranteed to be a contender for long.

We like to believe the Ravens and Lions will bounce right back and have another shot at going to a Super Bowl next season. They have good coaches and talented rosters that led them to fantastic seasons. But it's a longer road back than we like to acknowledge in the moment.

Josh Reynolds of the Detroit Lions is unable to make a catch during a loss to the 49ers. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Josh Reynolds of the Detroit Lions is unable to make a catch during a loss to the 49ers. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

What's next for the Lions?

The Lions' loss in the NFC championship game after having a 24-7 lead against the San Francisco 49ers will hurt forever. You're never getting that chance back.

It's possible the Lions are again one of the best teams in the NFL next season. They're among the youngest teams in the NFL and they probably had the best class from the 2023 draft. They have a lot of salary-cap space too. The Lions have a projected $61.1 million in cap space, according to Spotrac, which is the seventh-most in the NFL. Detroit doesn't have any upcoming free agents it can't afford to lose. The Lions can spend on outside talent, particularly on a secondary that still needs help. Detroit's big bounty of draft picks from the Matthew Stafford trade has run out, but they do have most of their own picks, including the 29th overall pick. They have an extra third-round pick from the Minnesota Vikings, though they don't have a fourth.

However, there is the issue of the Lions' coordinators.

Ben Johnson is considered one of the NFL's best offensive coordinators and led a unit that was top five in yards and points this season. He was at his best in the first half of the NFC championship game, when the Lions were baffling the 49ers' defense and putting up 24 points. That is why he is a hot name in the head-coaching carousel this offseason. Johnson will interview with the Washington Commanders on Tuesday, via Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post.

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Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has also been interviewing for head-coaching jobs. He's a widely respected coordinator. There are only two vacancies left (Commanders and Seattle Seahawks) so maybe the Lions can escape the next couple weeks without losing a valuable coordinator. But don't underrate the impact if they lose one of them. The Philadelphia Eagles took a big hit after last season, when they lost Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon to head-coaching jobs. The Lions would miss either coordinator. It might be very hard to repeat a top-five offense without Johnson in particular.

The Lions can get aggressive in spending and their young players will continue to improve. However, they also play in the same division as the Green Bay Packers, who had the youngest roster in the NFL this season and won a playoff game, and the Chicago Bears, another young team that was hot late last season and have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

While everything looks good for the Lions, there are obstacles for them to get back to the NFC title game. That's a big reason their loss Sunday was so devastating.

What's next for the Ravens?

The Ravens had a loss that was disappointing in different ways. They were the best team in the NFL over the season. They got the Chiefs at home for the AFC title game. Then when it mattered most, they panicked under the pressure and lost.

The Ravens have a solid foundation. John Harbaugh is one of the NFL's best head coaches and Lamar Jackson is about to win his second MVP. The roster is strong. But they also play in the AFC.

There has been a talent shift to the AFC for a while. Most of the top quarterbacks play in this conference, and that pool got deeper with C.J. Stroud's incredible rookie season for the Houston Texans. The Ravens play in the AFC North, which could be the NFL's deepest division with Joe Burrow returning to health for the Cincinnati Bengals.

John Simpson of the Baltimore Ravens reacts after a 17-10 defeat against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
John Simpson of the Baltimore Ravens reacts after a 17-10 defeat against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

There won't be many avenues for the Ravens to make huge roster improvements either. They're 21st in projected cap space at the moment, with $5.7 million according to Spotrac. They'll clear up some space in the offseason but won't be big spenders. Baltimore also has a group of key free agents from the defense — edge defender Jadeveon Clowney, tackle Justin Madubuike, linebacker Patrick Queen and safety Geno Stone — and it will be hard to retain them all. The Ravens have most of their draft picks, with no sixth-round selection but an extra seventh, but don't draft until No. 30 in the first round. The Ravens usually do fine wherever they draft, though.

The Ravens also have a coordinator concern. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has done an excellent job the past two seasons, particularly in scheming a pass rush that led the NFL in sacks this past season. He's coveted by the Commanders and Seahawks. He would be a huge loss. Associate head coach and defensive line coach Anthony Weaver is getting interest from the Commanders, as well. The Ravens do a great job seamlessly replacing assistants who leave, but it's not an easy task.

The biggest challenge for the Ravens and Lions is the same, and it's the gravitational pull of the NFL back to the middle. The Chiefs are exempt but nobody else is. You can have a similar team and it's not the same year after year. Plenty of teams think a playoff loss is a step toward something bigger, but the next step goes backward. A key injury or two (ask the Bengals), the improvement of a division rival (ask the Jaguars), a shift in chemistry or the coaching staff (ask the Eagles) or just a run of bad luck (ask the Bills) can set a team back without much warning.

A long offseason is coming for the Lions and Ravens. The optimism for another deep playoff run will rise before September. But they'll also know that their best opportunity at a Super Bowl might have just passed.