The Detroit Lions are one of just four teams still standing as they head to San Francisco to take on the 49ers in the NFC Championship game Sunday at 6:30 p.m. It's the first NFC Championship Game appearance for the Lions since 1991. Here's a look at five storylines to begin the week:
1. INJURY REPORTS
Lions and 49ers fans will have an eye on the practice reports starting Wednesday as both teams are dealing with injuries to key players.
The Lions lost starting right guard Jonah Jackson (knee) and No. 2 tight end Brock Wright (forearm) in Sunday's win over Tampa Bay. Head coach Dan Campbell didn't paint a rosy picture for either player's availability for Sunday's game. The Lions reportedly signed three-time Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz to their practice squad this week to boost their numbers at the position.
The reports out of San Francisco are that 49ers do-everything wide receiver Deebo Samuel is dealing with a shoulder injury suffered in the 49ers' come-from-behind win over the Packers on Saturday. It's an aggravation of a previous injury and he's considered '50-50' to play Sunday.
2. NO. 1 PICK VS. MR. IRRELEVANT
Jared Goff and Brock Purdy couldn't have had more different arrivals into the NFL, but here they are squaring off at quarterback Sunday with a chance to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.
Goff was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Rams. He's a three-time Pro Bowler with a 5-3 career playoff record. Goff threw for 4,575 yards with 30 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 97.9 rating during the regular season. He's thrown for 564 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in Detroit's wins in the Wild Card and Divisional rounds of the playoffs.
Purdy was the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft (No. 262). Mr. Irrelevant. He started as the No. 3 quarterback for the 49ers and by the end of his rookie season was their starter. He's 3-1 in the playoffs in his brief NFL career with his only loss coming in last year's NFC Championship game when he had to leave the game early with an elbow injury that required surgery. He was named to his first Pro Bowl this season after throwing for 4,280 yards with 31 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was 23-of-39 passing for 252 yards with a touchdown in the win over Green Bay last weekend.
Which quarterback can make more game-changing plays and limit mistakes? Both have playoff experience and talent around them at the skill positions.
3. CRASHING THE PARTY
The 49ers have been to three straight NFC Championship Games and four of the last five. They have a veteran-filled roster with a ton of playoff experience. San Francisco was the third oldest team in terms of average age on the roster of all the playoff teams this season. The biggest rookie contributions the 49ers got this season were from kicker Jake Moody and safety Ji'Ayir Brown, who started five games.
The Lions haven't been in this position in 30 years as a franchise. Sure, a few players like Goff and C.J. Gardner-Johnson have Championship Game and Super Bowl experience, but for most of the roster this is uncharted territory. Detroit was the fourth youngest of the playoff teams. They also come in with rookies like running back Jahmyr Gibbs, linebacker Jack Campbell, cornerback Brian Branch and tight end Sam LaPorta playing huge roles for this team.
The more experienced 49ers are the favorites at home, but can this young, confident Lions team take to the road and shock the world?
4. EVOLUTION OF THE ROSTER
Some people might not remember that back in 2021 in Dan Campbell's first game as the Lions' head coach, he faced the 49ers at Ford Field. That was a 49ers roster filled with a lot of the Pro Bowl talent they still employ. Talent like defensive lineman Nick Bosa, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, tight end George Kittle, linebacker Fred Warner, tackle Trent Williams, Samuel, linebacker Dre Greenlaw and defensive lineman Arik Armstead.
For the Lions, Tyrell Williams and Kalif Raymond were Detroit's starters at wide receiver in that Week 1 matchup in 2021. Amon-Ra St. Brown was a rookie and caught just two passes in a 41-33 49ers' win. Tight end T.J. Hockenson and running back D'Andre Swift were Detroit's leading receivers that afternoon.
Detroit's defense had just two starters currently still starting for them three years later – linebacker Alex Anzalone and defensive lineman Alim McNeill.
It just goes to show the job Lions general manager Brad Holmes has done over the last three seasons to build a roster they believe is much more equipped to beat the 49ers in Campbell's 53rd game as opposed to his first.
View photos of the starters for the San Francisco 49ers.
5. WHICH 49ERS TEAM SHOWS UP?
The 49ers started the season with a five-game win streak, had a lull in October with a three-game losing skid, then righted the ship to win six in a row and seven of eight before losing Week 18 to the Rams in a game where they sat most of their starters. They have the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL and the No. 3 scoring defense. When they are on, they are a juggernaut of a football team.
Maybe it was some rust that developed over a couple weeks of rest, but San Francisco needed to muster everything they had to get a come-from-behind victory over Green Bay (24-21) in the Divisional Round. Walking away from that game most thought Green Bay lost the game instead of the 49ers winning it. Green Bay settled for field goals twice at the 49ers' 11-yard line and turned it over another time on downs at the 49ers' 14-yard line on a bad ball spot. Green Bay missed a field goal and dropped two interceptions, one that would have been an easy pick-six.
Credit to San Francisco for making the plays down the stretch to win the game, but which 49ers team shows up to play Detroit on Sunday? The one that was dominant most of the season? Or the one that needed comeback magic to beat the Packers?