NFC Championship Game -- It won't be easy for the Niners... will it?

  • In Charles Jay
  • Sun, Jan 28th, 2024 1:32:05 pm
  • By Charles Jay - Exclusive to OSGA

The San Franciaco 49ers host the Detroit Lions for the NFC Championship on Sunday night in Santa Clara.

It has been a magical run indeed for the Detroit Lions as they try to earn a trip to the first Super Bowl in franchise history. There have been no championships in the Motor City since 1957, but BetOnline customers know this is their best shot since then, as they have the fiery leadership of coach Dan Campbell and quarterback play from Jared Goff that is better than most people ever expected.

Now, after beating the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Lions have to step up to face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, and they have to leave town to do it. Kickoff is at 6:30 PM ET on Sunday at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.

The Niners, as we know, are very formidable, capturing the #1 seed in the NFC. And they are up near the top of the heap in most offensive AND defensive categories. With weapons all over the field, will this be a routine task for them?

Some may think so. But this Lions team has been a hell of a pointspread play with the animated Campbell as their coach, compiling a 36-17 mark against the points in three seasons. That is the best record over a three-year span for any head coach since the 1970 merger. Undoubtedly this team can't be counted out.

The big question mark for the Niners involves the availability of wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who sufered a shoulder injury last week and has only recently gotten the go-ahead to play. We don't know if this is a bluff or not, but head coach Kyle Shanahan says that Samuel will not only line up out wide, but might return kickoffs as well. The team lost three mid-season games when Samuel was out, and had a life and death struggle with the Green Bay Packers last weekend with him on the bench, edging the Pack by a 24-21 count.

In the odds on this NFC Championship Game, as they are posted at BetOnline, the Niners are the favorites at home:

San Francisco 49ers -7.5
Detroit Lions +7.5

Over 52.5 Points -111
Under 52.5 Points -109

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Samuel's presence has a residual effect on the entire San Francisco offense, which doesn't necessarily have all the depth in the world at the wide receiver spot. But when you look at these frontline skill players, there are All-Pros all around - George Kittle at tight end, Brandon Aiyuk at the other wide receiver, and Christian McCaffrey as the ultimate two-way running back, leading the NFL in rushing while at the same time piling up 564 yards and seven touchdoens catching the ball. All told, the Niners have four players between 60-75 receptions.

That's a lot of balance for quarterback Brock Purdy to look at. Purdy led the league in yards per attempt, although you did see a meltdown of sorts against Baltimore, and last week against Green Bay he had 25.6% bad throws, which ain't good.

But you have to wonder whether this Detroit defense is designed to create meltdowns on the part of opposing quarterbacks. The Lions have actually done a good job statistically against opposition ground attacks, holding them to 3.8 yards per carry. But the effect is that it funnels opponents to the air, where the Lions are vulnerable.

Let's use some perspective here. San Francisco has averaged 8.7 yards per pass play, which is tops in the NFL. Detroit has allowed 7.3 yards per pass, and only two teams are worse than that. In consecutive weeks, the Lions gave up monsters receiving games to Justin Jefferson (141 yards, then 192), CeeDee Lamb (227), Puka Nacua (181) and Mike Evans (147). So they are wide open for either Samuel or Aiyuk.

The Niners run their offense very efficiently; it's as simple as that. They have scored at least 28 points on ten occasions. They are 48.7% successful on third down. They are #1 in the NFL in converting red zone trips into touchdowns (67.7%). With their edge in the defensive side, they have to get the slight nod from us. If they can get effective pressure on Goff, they could breeze here, because Goff has a ratio of six touchdowns to nine INT's when pressured.

But our bigger play is the OVER, because the Lions not only have some firepower with the 1-2 backfield of David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (116 catches) and Sam LaPorta, who like Kittle is an All-Pro tight end from Iowa, but they are second best (to the Niners) scoring TD's on those red zone trips.

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