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NFC Championship Preview

Can the Lions spoil the party in San Francisco?

For one team, this week’s NFC Championship will be their third in the last four seasons. For the other, this game comes two weeks after the organization’s first playoff win in thirty years. Clearly, recent history has been a lot kinder to San Francisco than it has to Detroit, but at this point, none of that matters anymore. Dan Campbell has most of the country cheering for his team in this one, but will that be enough to storm into the Bay and take down the conference’s top seed as seven-point underdogs? We’ll have to wait and see. 

The Lions

For the Lions to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl, they’ll have to play their best game of the season in the NFC Championship, specifically on defence. I expect Ben Johnson and the offence to still be able to move the ball on Sunday, but if Detroit’s defensive unit cannot find a way to stop the very dynamic attack of San Francisco, the team will not win the game. Even with Deebo Samuel possibly missing in action, Detroit’s defence will have to contend with the likes of Christian McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle in the pass game. It’s an area that they haven’t exactly excelled in this season and, because of this, getting to Brock Purdy will be extremely important. Purdy wasn’t great for most of last week’s game against Green Bay, and if he has another performance like that, Detroit’s upset chances certainly improve. 

As we said above, the offensive outlook for the Lions is a little more positive, as usual. Jared Goff has looked extremely calm and ready for the moment all postseason and this team is succeeding because of it. Rookies Sam LaPorta and Jahmyr Gibbs haven’t blinked in the pressure of the playoffs, and Amon-Ra St. Brown just keeps doing his thing. Last week, Aaron Jones looked fantastic against the 49ers in the run game, and I expect Detroit to try to do the same in the NFC Championship. Their two-headed attack of Gibbs and David Montgomery has combined for over 180 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns over the past two games, and they’ll need both guys to be going strong on Sunday. If Detroit can’t keep San Francisco honest with a good rushing attack, Jared Goff won’t have a lot of easy looks in this one. 

The 49ers

With maybe the NFL’s best overall roster, the San Francisco 49ers are right where most people thought they’d be this weekend – hosting the NFC Championship. They had to survive a scare against the Packers to get here, but good teams find ways to win, and they did exactly that. They’re among the best in the league on both sides of the ball, and if they play their game, they should come out of this weekend with a W. While Detroit will be looking to silence the crowd and take advantage of mistakes, the 49ers should be focused on not making those errors and giving the Lions any unexpected opportunities.  

On offence, if Brock Purdy is getting the ball out on time, San Francisco should be putting points up. Then there’s the ground game and Christian McCaffrey, who ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns last week against Green Bay. Detroit hasn’t allowed a big day from a running back in the playoffs yet, but the yards-per-carry from the opposing RB1 in their games has been 4.7 and 6.1. If CMC gets rolling early, he could be in for a VERY big afternoon. All in all, San Francisco’s offence at its best matches up very well with Detroit’s defence. If they don’t make mistakes, they’ll give their own defence many opportunities to pull away. 

For THAT unit, it’s all about keeping things in check. You’d have to expect the Lions to have some success with the ball this weekend, but if the 49ers can get a few punts and be tough in the red zone, that may be enough to move past the NFC Championship. This game may come down to which defence can slow down the other team’s offence and if it does, I like San Francisco’s chances. 

NFC Championship Pick

I’d love to see the Lions get one more win for the city of Detroit and all their fans, but I think this task is a little too tall. San Francisco’s close shave last week may have only further motivated them to figure things out this week, and we know the home field advantage will be a serious one. I may take the Lions to cover the seven-point spread and keep things close, but if we’re just picking winners, I’d have to go with the 49ers. Both sides of the ball are just too good, and unless Detroit can capitalize on mistakes and play a very clean game themselves, I think we’ll see that in this year’s NFC Championship. 

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