The Detroit Lions will sojourn nan San Francisco 49ers for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. It’s a compelling matchup featuring a 49ers squad that’s made nan NFC title crippled successful 3 consecutive seasons and a Lions squad that hasn’t been this acold since nan 1991 season. Detroit mislaid to eventual Super Bowl champion Washington, 41-10, successful that NFC Championship Game.
But nan No. 3-seeded Lions are backmost and quiet to prolong their electrical playoff run, which has already featured wins complete nan Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 49ers, who are nan NFC’s No. 1 seed, hit nan Green Bay Packers past week to return to nan title game.
It’s expected to beryllium astir 70 degrees pinch sunshine astatine kickoff successful Santa Clara, Calif., connected Sunday, which will travel astatine astir 3:30 p.m. section time. The crippled will decorativeness — and an NFC champion will beryllium crowned — nether nan lights.
Here’s a preview from David Lombardi (who covers nan 49ers) and Colton Pouncy (who covers nan Lions).
NFL playoffs: Key matchups to watch successful nan 49ers-Lions NFC Championship Game
The 49ers will triumph if …
Lombardi: If they do a reasonable occupation containing Detroit’s tally game. David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs are some big-time threats and nan 49ers’ tally defense ranks No. 26 successful EPA/play. Green Bay targeted that weakness pinch respective ace tosses, including a precocious 1 to Aaron Jones that went for a immense gain. The 49ers person emphasized amended separator mounting and tackling angles from nan backmost extremity this week, but this precocious successful nan season, it’s adjacent to opportunity that nan mediocre ranking connected tally defense is simply portion of their identity. So nan defense must present an bonzer effort successful that area Sunday. Perhaps nan 49ers tin capitalize connected nan absence of Detroit near defender Jonah Jackson.
Controlling nan tally is captious because nan 49ers want to create pass-rushing leverage against Lions backmost Jared Goff, whose ratio numbers against unit person classed overmuch little than those from a cleanable pocket. The 49ers saw a batch of occurrence against Goff erstwhile he was pinch nan Rams, and it started by cutting disconnected a superior system of protection for him: nan tally game.
49ers and Lions mightiness beryllium a beingness lucifer — truthful who has nan NFC title crippled edge?
The Lions will triumph if …
Pouncy: Offensively, nan Lions will person to tally nan ball, power nan clock, limit turnovers and capitalize successful nan reddish zone. That’s what it’s going to return against a 49ers squad pinch fewer evident weaknesses to exploit. The 49ers person allowed nan third-fewest rushing yards per crippled this season, but they’ve besides seen nan fewest unreserved attempts of immoderate defense — possibly a merchandise of teams trailing and abandoning nan run. In position of yards per rush, nan 49ers are astir mean — 14th astatine 4.1 yards. Additionally, nan 49ers rank conscionable 27th successful protect rushing occurrence complaint and 28th successful protect unreserved EPA per snap, per TruMedia. The Lions will request to power nan statement of scrimmage and request their backs to find success. If that happens, it will limit nan bites astatine nan pome for Brock Purdy and a talented 49ers discourtesy against Detroit’s defense.
Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery will beryllium cardinal to nan Lions’ violative occurrence against a 49ers tally defense that hasn’t ever held up. (Ryan Kang / Getty Images)
Defensively, nan Lions’ top-two tally defense will request to shine. The Lions haven’t allowed an individual backmost to unreserved for 70 yards this season. Granted, that comes astatine nan disbursal of their walk defense. The Lions rank arsenic nan fifth-worst defense successful occurrence complaint against play action, and their secondary has been carved up of late. But if they tin make nan 49ers somewhat one-dimensional, it could beryllium capable for their discourtesy to propulsion through. Easier said than done, of course.
How Jahmyr Gibbs, Sam LaPorta and different Lions rookies helped nan squad excel
Who will beryllium nan X-factor?
Pouncy: Left defender Kayode Awosika. The Lions will beryllium without Jackson, their starting near defender who is retired pinch a knee injury. Enter Awosika. It’s been a spot of a bumpy thrust for Awosika, who’s had immoderate agleam spots and immoderate hiccups. He’s fixed up 21 pressures successful conscionable 189 pass-block snaps and faces nan gangly task of limiting Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave. Less than ideal, but if Awosika tin support Goff upright and thief others create lanes for nan backs, nan Lions tin bent pinch nan 49ers offensively. If not, it could beryllium a agelong day.
Lombardi: It’s difficult to prime a azygous player, particularly because nan 49ers’ biggest interest — that tally defense — will require unit-wide cohesion to address. So I’ll spell pinch Purdy, who’s nan constituent man of nan full attack. Detroit’s biggest weakness is its walk defense, which is classed No. 16 successful defense-adjusted worth complete mean (DVOA), and Purdy is cardinal to exploiting that.
The Lions person tally a batch of area defense, which has benefited their tally defense (No. 1 DVOA) but near openings successful nan intermediate parts of nan field, which Purdy has targeted exceptionally good this season. This week, nan 49ers said often astir exotic unit packages that Detroit protect coordinator Aaron Glenn has been keen to dial up. It’ll beryllium connected Purdy to admit this action astatine nan statement of scrimmage and respond successful a mode that consistently keeps nan 49ers up of nan chains. If that happens, nan 49ers will beryllium successful position to leverage their biggest statistical separator successful this game: They person nan No. 1 discourtesy and Detroit’s defense is classed down astatine No. 13 DVOA.
The Football 100
The communicative of nan top players successful NFL history. In 100 riveting profiles, apical shot writers warrant their selections and uncover nan history of nan NFL successful nan process.
The communicative of nan top players successful NFL history.
Mike Sando, Dan Pompei and The Athletic NFL Staff
Both teams had beardown efforts pursuing Week 9 byes: San Francisco went 7-2 aft nan break and nan Lions 6-3. What were nan cardinal factors successful those performances successful nan season’s 2nd half?
Lombardi: The 49ers discourtesy has motored on pinch its 2 MVP finalists, Purdy and Christian McCaffrey. Both of them, pinch nan objection of Purdy’s unsmooth outing against nan Baltimore Ravens, person been consistently bully and that’s group nan array for nan remainder of nan 49ers’ heavy excavation of weapons to rotate done fantabulous performances down nan stretch.
Deebo Samuel exploded against nan Philadelphia Eagles. Brandon Aiyuk led nan convention successful yards per reception. George Kittle remained nan adaptable threat unifying nan walk and tally games that he’s been for years. All of this made nan 49ers discourtesy highly difficult to incorporate down nan stretch.
One of nan constants each play for nan 49ers has been moving backmost Christian McCaffrey. (Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)
Surprisingly, nan 49ers defense has not been great. In fact, since Week 12, this portion has classed No. 22 successful EPA/play aft ranking No. 5 from Weeks 1 to 11. The 49ers mislaid All-Pro information Talanoa Hufanga to a torn ACL precocious successful Week 11 and nan secondary has declined since then. Last week, nan Packers targeted 3rd cornerback Ambry Thomas — that’s a imaginable fracture constituent to watch.
Pouncy: The Lions went done a spot of a unsmooth spot successful nan 2nd half, contempt their shiny record. They narrowly escaped a nonaccomplishment against nan Chicago Bears successful Detroit, dropped a Thanksgiving crippled to nan Packers astatine home, avoided a comeback nonaccomplishment to nan New Orleans Saints and past mislaid to nan Bears connected nan roadworthy — a 2-2 agelong that raised doubts astir this team. But nan Lions’ superpower has been their expertise to bounce back. They person not mislaid 2 games successful a statement since October 2022. Since that stretch, nan Lions are 5-1, pinch their only nonaccomplishment a arguable ending against nan Dallas Cowboys. Their champion players — Goff, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Aidan Hutchinson, nan violative line, etc. –—have played astatine their best. They’re a mentally resilient squad that Lions coach Dan Campbell described arsenic “scarred to perfection.” They judge they’re built for moments for illustration nan 1 they’ll look Sunday.
Goff has 8 games of playoff experience, including a Super Bowl tally pinch nan Rams. Purdy has appeared successful 4 postseason games but was knocked retired by wounded aft conscionable 4 passes successful past year’s NFC Championship Game. Both are calm, collected quarterbacks. How tin each force rattle them?
Pouncy: Historically, nan measurement to rattle Goff has been to deed him pinch pressure. However, erstwhile pressured this season, Goff ranks 17th successful EPA per dropback — astir mediate of nan pack, and a acold outcry from his last play pinch nan Rams erstwhile he classed 32nd of 35 qualified quarterbacks. Even erstwhile you manufacture unit pinch nan blitz, it hasn’t affected Goff’s crippled excessively much. He has performed admirably erstwhile facing 5 aliases much rushers, ranking ninth among qualified QBs pinch an EPA per dropback of 0.17. Goff did deed a unsmooth spot successful nan 2nd half pinch turnovers, which was usually preceded by pressure. But nan Lions are hoping this much experienced, seasoned Goff is past those issues and will emergence to nan occasion. He’s playing his champion shot of nan play astatine nan cleanable time.
The Lions believed successful Jared Goff, and that's each he needed to travel roaring back
Lombardi: Purdy has been very bully against unit (averaging 8.0 yards per attempt, No. 2 successful nan NFL) and against nan blitz (averaging 10 yards per attempt, No. 1 successful nan NFL), truthful it’s difficult to rattle him successful that regard. That’s astir apt nan biggest quality betwixt some quarterbacks’ statistical resumes entering this game, arsenic Goff’s numbers nether unit person not been astir arsenic businesslike arsenic Purdy’s.
That said, we person seen Purdy autumn unfortunate to nan concatenation of compounding mistakes this season. It hasn’t happened often and nan nonaccomplishment to Baltimore is nan only genuinely glaring example. But a first-drive correction from Purdy successful that crippled — nan interception to Kyle Hamilton — seemed to transportation pinch him for nan remainder of nan rotten outing. Purdy seemed much tentative than accustomed and nan turnovers kept coming. That’s each to opportunity that an early Purdy correction — aliases large play from Detroit’s defense — mightiness propulsion nan QB onto nan incorrect track.
The 49ers person been a contender to play successful nan Super Bowl since Week 1. The Lions are trying to make nan crippled for nan first clip successful squad history. How are some teams handling 2 very different types of pressures?
Lombardi: The 49ers person made it a constituent to support a accordant process intact each week. They’ve striven to debar over-celebrating wins. They’ve besides refused to overreact aft losses. This is nan dependable attack 1 would expect from a squad that’s made nan NFC Championship Game successful 4 of nan past 5 seasons.
But nan 49ers person not won nan eventual prize successful immoderate of their caller tries. And nan unit to triumph a Super Bowl is surely palpable wrong nan walls of a franchise that has 5 Lombardi Trophies.
How are they handling it? Last week’s triumph complete Green Bay is our champion parameter truthful far. When push came to shove astatine nan extremity of nan game, nan 49ers responded pinch their champion football. If they respond successful nan aforesaid measurement Sunday, expect nan 49ers to caput to Las Vegas. They’ve yet to suffer this play erstwhile delivering their “A” game. The mobility is: Can Detroit sound them disconnected it?
Dan Campbell’s biggest interest this week for his team: Avoiding nan big-game distractions. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)
Pouncy: The Lions person nan fifth-youngest roster successful nan NFL. Campbell believes 1 of nan biggest issues facing his squad this week is each nan extracurricular attraction nan Lions are receiving.
“I mean, present we are, this is nan biggest rumor correct now,” he said Wednesday. “I mean, astir of nan clip I travel successful present and there’s what, I don’t know, 20 of you. And now there’s a full packed room, group I don’t moreover recognize. And that’s what our players are dealing with. It’s each nan other attraction extracurricular of nan norm. That’s nan issue.”
The interest for Campbell is that his players won’t dainty this for illustration immoderate different week, hole for illustration immoderate different week, and commencement to deliberation excessively highly of themselves. A maestro of consistency, Campbell wants his squad to prep conscionable arsenic they person each play because it’s gotten them this far. Why alteration now?
(Top photos of Jared Goff and Brock Purdy: Nic Antaya and Michael Owens / Getty Images)