The San Francisco 49ers are back in a familiar spot facing a Detroit Lions team new to this stage.
No team has played in the NFC championship game more than the 49ers, who will be making their 19th appearance and third in a row when they host Detroit on Sunday. The Lions are here for the first time in 32 years and have never reached the Super Bowl.
For San Francisco, it’s about unfinished business.
They had no chance in Philadelphia last year when Brock Purdy was knocked out of the game in the first quarter because of an elbow injury and later was forced to return and just hand off because backup Josh Johnson suffered a concussion.
The 49ers (13-5) earned the No. 1 seed but barely beat No. 7 seed Green Bay last week, needing a comeback late in the game.
The Lions (14-5) almost blew a wild-card game against Jared Goff’s former team, the Los Angeles Rams, and pulled away from Tampa Bay in the fourth quarter last week.
Goff won an NFC title game with the Rams and has played well in the postseason.
The 49ers are 7-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
The Lions had the league’s second-ranked passing offense behind Goff and the fifth-ranked rushing attack led by David Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs. The 49ers were 14th against the pass and third against the run, but Aaron Jones and the Packers gashed them for 136 yards and 4.9 per carry.
Goff has plenty of playmakers, including All-Pro wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and rookie tight end Sam LaPorta. St. Brown can cause a lot of trouble in the slot. LaPorta has to face All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner.
Montgomery ran for 1,015 yards and 13 touchdowns. Gibbs had 945 yards rushing and 10 TDs. St. Brown caught 119 passes for 1,515 yards and 10 TDs. LaPorta had 86 catches for 889 yards and 10 scores.
Goff finished with 4,575 yards passing, 30 TDs and 12 interceptions.
Detroit figures to run plenty behind All-Pro right tackle Penei Sewell, a 330-pound man with rare speed and quickness. Gibbs presents problems for defenses because he is elusive.
If the Niners can stop Montgomery and Gibbs or at least contain them, they have a front four to get after Goff. Nick Bosa, Chase Young, Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead are among the best D-line units in the league. Warner anchors the back seven along with linebacker Dre Greenlaw and cornerback Charvarius Ward.
Goff had much better numbers at home than on the road, posting a 107.9 passer rating at Ford Field and 89.4 in visiting stadiums.
Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has been quite busy during the postseason, interviewing for several head coaching vacancies, but he has to be focused on putting together the best game plan to attack one of the most talented defenses in the NFL.
The 49ers had the league’s third-ranked rushing attack behind Christian McCaffrey and fourth-ranked passing offense behind Purdy. The Lions were No. 2 against the run but 27th against the pass and Baker Mayfield threw for 349 yards and three TDs against them last week.
Detroit’s stout run defense won’t scare off coach Kyle Shanahan. McCaffrey is the best in the game and was a unanimous choice for AP All-Pro. He’ll get plenty of chances, especially if Deebo Samuel can’t play because of a shoulder injury.
Even if Samuel sits out, Purdy should get plenty of opportunities against Detroit’s secondary. All-Pro tight end George Kittle and wideouts Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings will have to carry the load with McCaffrey.
Purdy led the NFL with a 113.0 passer rating on 4,280 yards, 31 TDs, 11 picks and a 69.4 percent completion rate. McCaffrey led the NFL with 1,459 yards rushing and had 14 rushing TDs for San Francisco. He also had 564 yards receiving for seven scores.
Kittle had 65 catches for 1,020 yards and six TDs. Aiyuk led the way with 75 receptions for 1,342 yards and seven scores. Samuel had 1,117 yards from scrimmage.
Detroit’s pass rush led by Aidan Hutchinson was ferocious last week. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn devised schemes that had guys getting to Mayfield untouched.
It should be a classic chess match between Shanahan and Glenn.
The Lions replaced kicker Riley Patterson with Michael Badgley late in the season. Badgley made all six of his field-goal attempts and is 20 for 22 on extra points. His longest field goal was 54 yards.
Niners rookie kicker Jake Moody is 22 of 27 on field goals and 63 of 64 on extra points. His longest field goal was 57 yards.
Lions punter Jack Fox had a 41.7-yard net average while San Francisco’s Mitch Wishnowsky had a 42.7-yard net average.
Lions coach Dan Campbell is 2-0 in the playoffs, turning the team around after going 4-19-1 in his first 24 games. He’s an aggressive coach who won’t be afraid to go for it on fourth down or even try a fake punt.
Shanahan is 7-3 in the playoffs and aiming for his second trip to the Super Bowl in five seasons. He was offensive coordinator for Atlanta when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead against Tom Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl 51.
The 49ers have more experience in this game and more pressure to win. The Lions are carrying the weight of a city starved for a Super Bowl appearance.
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