NFC Championship Game: Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers

NFC Championship Game: Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers

In my last post we broke down what had happened in last weekend’s NFL Divisional Round and how we got to the “final four” in the 2023-24 NFL season. I then went on to tell you that the Baltimore Ravens are going to beat (probably handedly) the Kansa City Chiefs. So, who will face the Ravens in Super Bowl LVIII? In a quick recap, the Detroit Lions ripped through the L.A. Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get to the NFC Championship Game this year. The San Francisco 49ers had the first-round bye, and then needed to shake off some rust to get past the seventh-seeded Green Bay Packers. Now the “underdog”, underappreciated, overlooked Lions will go on the road to see if they can keep their three game (should be six game) winning streak alive against the preseason, midseason, and postseason NFC-favorite, 49ers, and earn a trip to the Super Bowl.

The last time that these two teams faced each other was September 12th of 2021. Do you know what that means? Absolutely nothing, outside of the fact that we hardly ever get to see these two teams face each other. These teams are completely different from 2021. In San Fran, there was no Brock Purdy; it was Jimmy Garoppolo behind the center. Christian McCaffrey was still a Carolina Panther, and Brandon Aiyuk didn’t even play in this game.  For the Lions, it was the first year for Jared Goff as their quarterback and for first year Head Coach, Dan Campbell, who didn’t get a win until the 12th game of the season on December 5th! There was no running back duo of David Montgomery nor Jahmyr Gibbs, and Amon-Ra St. Brown was a rookie. The Lions finished 2021 with the second worst record in the NFL at 3-13-1, behind the Jacksonville Jaguars, who finished 3-13. Enter Aiden Hutchinson…

The Lions finished this 2023-24 season at 12-5 and as the Champs of the NFC North. During the regular season they had a relatively easy schedule though, facing teams with an overall record of 139-150 (.481), which is tied for 21st in the NFL. We know that they beat the Rams in the Wild Card Round (24-23), and then beat the Bucs last week (31-23) but let’s look at how they finished the regular season. As I mentioned before, they should be on a six-game winning streak. That started on December 16th when they broke the Denver Broncos 42-17 and then were victorious over the Minnesota Vikings 30-24 on Christmas Eve. On December 30th they lost to the Dallas Cowboys 20-19 because of a now-infamous “non-eligible” penalty, which took a score away from the Lions at the end of the game. After that, Detroit went on to maul Minnesota again 30-20. I think it’s safe to say that the Lions have a talented enough team to blow out inefficient teams but tend to keep it close against tougher playoff teams.

San Francisco also finished the season at 12-5 and were the Champs of not only the NFC West Division, but of the entire NFC. During the regular season, the 49ers had a slightly more difficult schedule, playing teams with an overall record of 147-142 (.509), which was tied for 15th in the league. Last week we saw San Fran go back and forth with the Packers (four lead changes) until they finally sealed the win on a McCaffrey run with 1:07 left on the clock. Going back to their last few games of the regular season, the 49ers squashed the Seattle Seahawks on December 10th by a score of 28-16, then went on to clip the Cardinals 45-29. After that, they got lumps of coal on Christmas Day from the Ravens who routed them 33-19, before crushing the Commanders 27-10. San Fran’s last game of the regular season was a meaningless one against the Rams, where neither team was going to improve or lose ground in the playoff standings, and we saw a lot of the second stringers on the field.

Unfortunately, NONE of these things helps us get any closer to predicting who might come out on top! So, let’s take a look at the offense of each team. San Francisco finished the regular season second in total yards, third in rushing yards, fourth in passing yards and third in points. That’s pretty damn impressive. Surely that will determine something, right? Not so much. On offense, the Lions were almost literally right behind them statistically, finishing third in total yards, fifth in rushing yards, second in passing yards, and fifth in points scored. Both teams have powerful offenses, but how about the defensive units? The 49ers were eighth in yards allowed, third in rushing yards allowed, 14th in passing yards allowed, and third in points allowed. The Lions…oooh, not as good. Detroit was 19th in total yards allowed, second in rushing yards allowed (great!), but 27th in passing yards allowed, and 23rd in points allowed. Maybe THAT’S why the 49ers are picked to win by seven. The Lions aren’t crushing teams the same way the 49ers are, but they are able to score enough win just as many games.

Here’s what the difference maker might be in this game, and I hate the fact that it might come down to this: injuries. We saw it last year in the NFC Championship game when Brock Purdy was injured early in that game, and it’s something that you just don’t want to see happen. The 49ers again might be without one of their better offensive weapons in Wide Receiver Deebo Samuel, who reinjured his should last week against the Packers. However, the Lions have even more injuries of their own. Starting Left Guard, Jonah Jackson is listed as doubtful after having surgery on a meniscus tear, and starting Center, Frank Ragnow, is listed as Questionable after having played with a sprain in his knee and in his ankle during last week’s win over the Bucs. On defense, Detroit might also be without Inside Linebacker, Alex Anzalone, who played through a sprained AC joint in his shoulder and three fractured ribs! If there is one thing that these Lions players have is heart.

I think the most fun story that this game gives us is that fact that we are seeing a first overall draft pick quarterback in Jard Goff vs a quarterback who was selected with the very last pick in the draft (#262) in Brock Purdy. I do love a good underdog story. Unfortunately, for the San Francisco 49ers, their underdog story with Purdy isn’t the one I love the most. I think the fact that Goff was tossed aside by the Rams in favor of Detroit’s former QB after Goff had gotten the Rams to a Super Bowl is insulting (albeit, part of the game). I think that “professional sports casters” who were upset with Dan Campbell being hired as the Lions Head Coach, owe him a giant apology. If you’ve seen the way that he talks to his team, you know that he cares about them. Campbell wears his heart on his sleeve, and he’s a blue collar guy in a blue collar city, who just wants to win one for their fans who have never even experienced their team being in a Super Bowl. THAT’S what I want to see, and I think it’s what most of America wants to see.

Now for my mantra…”Defense Wins Championships”… On paper, the 49ers have had the better defense all season. They give up less yards, less points, less pass completion percentage to opposing QBs, and they get more sacks, and more turnovers (1st in INTs). This CAN’T turn into a shoot-out if the Lions expect to win; they need to keep it close, they need to establish the run game early and often, and they need to contain Christian McCaffrey on the other side. Easier said than done, but I love the heart of this Lions team, and I think that’s what’s going to win it for them. I believe that Campbell and Goff can lead this young pride to its very first Super Bowl. Score predictions: Detroit 27, San Francisco 26. Thanks for the “read”!


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