2024 NFC Championship Pick & Preview

 

By Chip Bayless (click Howie for more Chip)

 

 

 

Detroit Lions @ San Francisco 49ers

After watching Lions fans cry their eyes out like they just secured generational wealth each of the past two weeks over their much-deserved first two playoff wins in decades, its understandable that almost everyone except for 49ers fans is rooting for the Lions in this one.

Regardless of what team you’re a fan of, what’s going on in Detroit is one of the most beautiful sports exorcisms we will ever see in our lifetimes in terms of a historically-laughable franchise finally breaking its playoff drought.



Key Lions stats

  • Lions ranked 2nd in pass yards off play action in 2023
  • Lions had the 2nd-most total plays on offense in 2023 (per Pro Football Reference)
  • Lions had the 4th-most rushes for 20+ yards (per NFL.com)
  • Bucs defense ranked 7th in % of opposing drives ending in a turnover (per Pro Football Reference)
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown was among the top-4 WRs in: receiving yards, receptions, YAC, receptions for 1st downs (per ESPN) and scrimmage yards per touch (per Pro Football Reference) in 2023

Key 49ers stats

  • 49ers had the 4th-highest third down conversion % in the regular season
  • 49ers ranked 2nd in YPG in 2023
  • 49ers allowed the 3rd-fewest rush YPG during the regular season (per ESPN)
  • 49ers defense had the 3rd-most QB hits in 2023
  • 49ers had the fewest passing attempts during the regular season but still finished (per NFL.com):
    • 6th in passing yards
    • 2nd in passing TDs
    • 1st in passes for 20+ yards and tied for 1st in passes for 40+ yards
    • 1st in passer rating
    • 3rd in completion %
    • 1st in YPA

On the opposing side, Brock Purdy put up what many sports analysts would argue are MVP-caliber numbers during the regular season and has shown phenomenal anticipation, awareness, and vision for a young, nearly-undrafted quarterback.

Although, the headline for this team can’t be written without the 49ers’ do-it-all running back, who himself has made a rare RB MVP case with his regular season performance which included over 2,000 total scrimmage yards.

Deebo Samuel is also the best swiss-army knife the NFL has to offer, and there’s a reason #19 lines up in the backfield despite the fact that he is listed at receiver, as evidenced by the fact that Samuel led all players in YAC per reception during the regular season.

Even without Trent Williams, who is the best left tackle in the league as both a pass protector and a run blocker (only allowed 1 sack all season), the 49ers’ offensive line has maintained their stellar standard of play throughout the final stretch of the season, and Shanahan’s creative run schemes constantly impress every week.

While CMC has run like LT reincarnated in 2023, it helps that his offensive line is maybe the most athletic and dominant in the league (as evidenced by the fact that the 49ers ranked 5th in rushing yards before contact during the regular season, per Pro Football Reference).

Brandon Aiyuk has also massively improved his route-running, blocking, and consistency and has become a top-20 talent at the WR position. Plus, George Kittle is an undisputed top-5 TE in terms of his sheer talent level, and he’s the most complete TE in the league in terms of his blocking, hands, speed, and sheer determination after the catch.



Finally, the 49ers have a smothering defense that almost never makes mistakes as they missed the 2nd-fewest tackles in the regular season (per Pro Football Reference), and Nick Bosa’s talent level matches right up with Aiden Hutchinson, if not a notch higher.

This game should be close for the reasons outlined above, but ultimately the Lions’ superior offensive line, defense, and play-calling will likely wear down the 49ers and end with wide shot of Deebo Samuel sulking on the bench as time expires while the Lions and Jahymr Gibbs run all over a San Fran defense that struggled against the Packers.

On the defensive side, Lions LBs absolutely fly from sideline to sideline, and Aiden Hutchinson and the rest of the Lions’ pass rushers combined with a talented and well-coached defensive backfield often proves a deadly combination for opposing teams.

This postseason, Hutchinson has 12 QB pressures (no other defender has 9), 10 pass-rush wins (no other defender has 7), and three sacks (nobody else has more than two).

After all, the Lions do have David Montgomery (5th in rush % over expected, per Next Gen Stats), Jahmyr Gibbs (11th in rush yards over expected per attempt, per Next Gen Stats), Amon-Ra St. Brown (8th among all WRs in catch %, per Next Gen Stats), and the speedster who is Jameson Williams (8th among all WRs in ADOT in 2023, per Pro Football Reference) to plug into their efficient offense with their elite offensive line.

Amon-Ra St. Brown especially is someone you can’t take your eyes on in this one, as it seems like you he always busts through the second level for a long gain once he gets a little space. His burst off the line of scrimmage, ability to beat press coverage, and his agility are as elite as they come at the receiver position.

St. Brown’s creative ability to set up defenders and use pursuit angles against them is unique, and his catch radius is massive, especially for a WR his size.

His overall playing style should give the 49ers fits throughout the NFC Championship too considering San Francisco also has to account for the Lions’ dominant offensive line and pair of top-10 RBs, both of which have the explosiveness and strength to dance around, plow through, and throw defenders aside  while blazing down the sideline at any time (worth noting the Lions led the NFL in rushing TDs in 2023, per NFL.com).

Jahmyr Gibbs has performed like the 1st-round draft pick that he is, and the Lions don’t win their Divisional game without his game-breaking speed and tackle-breaking skills.

Jahmyr Gibbs ranked (among 2023 RBs) during the regular season:




As of this writing (per Shefty), Deebo Samuel is considered 50/50 for this game, and is “likely to be compromised if he is out there”.

Samuel is a massive piece of the 49ers offense and all of their metrics are significantly better when he is on the field versus when he is not.

Given Deebo’s injury, Purdy’s misfires last week and the fact that the 49ers just didn’t look good last week and barely squeaked by the youngest team in the NFL, I think the Lions win this in a one score game in a similar fashion to their win over the Bucs last week.

Prediction: Lions Win

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