NFC Championship Preview

Written by: William Petersen

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The NFC’s two best teams will finally meet on Sunday in Santa Clara, California to determine who will be representing the conference in Las Vegas in two weeks. The San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions will clash in a game that many thought San Francisco would be in all season while the Lions are making their first conference championship appearance in thirty years. The Niners had a much closer divisional game than they would have liked against the seven seeded Green Bay Packers, winning 24-21 after an Anders Carlson missed field goal at the end of the game. Brock Purdy led a 12 play 59 yard drive with under five minutes to give the Niners the go-ahead touchdown and force Jordan Love to make an ill-advised throw that would be intercepted by Dre Greenlaw to seal the Packers fate. The Detroit Lions have been the Cinderella team of the season as they continue to make history this postseason after ending their franchise's long drought of making it to a conference championship game after edging out Baker Mayfield and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23. Jared Goff has been the motor that has propelled this offense all season, with the help of their two-headed monster in the ground game with Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomerey, to accompany a young receiving core that can break off a big play at any moment. Detroit has embodied the grit mentality that has been tough to outlast, especially with Goff having a career year in all categories. This should be a shootout of a game that kicks off at 6:30 PM ET following the AFC Championship which kicks off at 3 PM ET.

Dan Campbell has the city of Detroit believing this could finally be the year that the Lions make their first ever Super Bowl appearance. In order to make this historic feat, the Lions will need to exploit a major flaw in a well rounded 49ers defense. San Francisco during the regular season gave up on average close to 90 yards to opponents per game but have recently struggled to contain the outside run after giving up 136 yards to Aaron Jones and the Packers in their divisional matchup. The Lions have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL with Montgomery as their main ground and pound back while Gibbs is the perfect change of pace back that can rip off a twenty yard plus run whenever he touches the rock. If the Lions are going to find success in a tough road environment, they will need to establish their ground game early and often in order to tire out a tenacious Niners front five, curating a conducive environment for Jared Goff to make the necessary throws. The Lions wide receivers in Amon-Ra St. Brown, 119 receptions for 1,515 yards and 10 touchdowns, has a solid matchup against a Niners secondary for a team that averages 11.3 yards after catch. If St. Brown and company can find ways to get into open space, they could have a field day and find themselves covering a seven point spread or maybe even win outright. Winning outright will be a major possibility especially if Aiden Hutchinson can continue to get to opposing quarterbacks after averaging eight sacks over his last four games. Dan Campbell and his Lions squad will have to play all three phases nearly perfect as they face a Niners squad that will now have a healthy Deebo Samuel, who could be the games biggest X-factor come Sunday night.

49ers fans can breathe a huge sigh of relief after Deebo Samuel was taken off the injured list on Friday afternoon after being viewed as questionable all week with a shoulder injury that sidelined him for two games before the playoffs. In 15 regular games this season, Samuel amassed 60 receptions for 892 yards, 7 TDs, and 37 rushes for 225 yards and 5 TDs. Deebo, along with Christian McCaffrey are the workhorses of the Niners offense that thrives, like the Lions, in yards after catch averaging 13.6. This massive YAC production comes from Deebo opening up the field either from the wideout position or in the back field as well as WR2 Brandon Aiyuk’s breakout season, averaging 17.9 yards per catch on top of hauling in 75 receptions for 1,342 yards for 7 TDs. Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan loves to get his skill players into space and with a Lions secondary that averages around 8 yards per catch, this receiving core could have a big day if Purdy is able to keep a clean jersey. The Niners have been one of the top three teams all season but I am interested to see how Brock Purdy will respond after having a pretty mediocre divisional game against the seven seed Green Bay Packers. Purdy has been in the MVP discussion all year, but I think this stellar second season as the San Fran starter is going to come to an end on Sunday if Purdy continues to make questionable throws into coverage and if he will need to go off-schedule due to a tenacious Lions pass rush. Purdy is only in his second season and should not be knocked too hard but I believe this Niners team has carried him all season and will need to do so again on Sunday, especially if he throws an early interception.

Prediction: Lions +7