When the 2023 NFL season began, the San Francisco 49ers were supposed to be NFC front-runners. And the Detroit Lions were supposed to be challengers — truly competitive for the first time in years. Both things ultimately came to fruition, and now, with one round of playoff football left until Super Bowl LVIII, it all comes down to these two: Detroit and San Francisco, in a fight for the whole conference.
Neither club was invincible throughout the regular season, with the 49ers enduring a three-game losing streak in October and the Lions dropping two games to rival underdogs in the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers around the holidays. But both have proven more resilient than the rest, finishing with some of this year’s best offensive units and gutting out some close playoff victories.
So who has the edge in their upcoming NFC title contest? And how can you tune in? Here’s everything you need to know:
How to watch
- When: Sunday, Jan. 28 | 6:30 p.m. ET
- Location: Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, California)
- TV: Fox | Stream: fubo
- Follow: CBS Sports App
- Odds: 49ers -7, O/U 51 (via SportsLine consensus odds)
Keys to the game
- Will Deebo Samuel be healthy? The 49ers star is questionable with a shoulder injury, but even if he’s active, will he be at full speed for San Francisco? It might be the most important question of the entire matchup for San Francisco, which is 18-1 when he, Brock Purdy and Christian McCaffrey have played full games together but 2-4 otherwise. The wideout’s presence gives coach Kyle Shanahan a second multipurpose weapon alongside McCaffrey, maximizing his scheme.
- Which team can apply more pressure? The 49ers have the superior defense almost across the board, entering as the NFL’s No. 8-ranked unit with an especially stifling run “D” and a knack for timely takeaways. But Lions quarterback Jared Goff has been sharp, typically only thrown off his game by steady pressure up front. Both sides rank in the top 10 for natural pressure (without the blitz), but San Francisco didn’t sack Packers QB Jordan Love even once in the divisional round.
- Who can start faster? Both the 49ers and Lions are built to play with a lead, not the other way around. Both clubs like to establish the run game and play-action passing, emphasizing control of the ball and clock, while leaning on unaided pressure to get after opposing QBs. Both Goff and Purdy are best at playing point guard rather than superhero. So which one can get into an early groove and be first to the scoreboard? It could go a long way in determining what figures to be a physical affair.
The Lions may as well be America’s team — the last of this year’s remaining Super Bowl contenders without a Lombardi Trophy. And there’s no denying they’ve lived up to their preseason hype, delivering on gradually forged expectations of a return to relevance. Goff is playing some of the toughest, most efficient ball of his career while shepherding a balanced attack under coach Dan Campbell and coordinator Ben Johnson, with youngsters Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta more than capable of penetrating a San Francisco “D” that couldn’t always contain the Packers’ youth earlier this postseason.
Purdy, meanwhile, was unusually erratic without a healthy Samuel in the lineup against Green Bay, only settling down for a final touchdown drive to avoid a major upset. That said, he’s still got the benefit of a superior supporting cast, not only on offense, where McCaffrey’s been a legitimate MVP-level workhorse, but on the other side, where imposing starters like Fred Warner and Charvarius Ward have picked up whatever slack is necessary. This one should go to the wire, with Campbell’s tenacity seeping into the Lions’ efforts as road underdogs, but in the end, it’s tough not to side with the all-star lineup. Pick: 49ers 27, Lions 23
If you want a more analytical approach to your NFL picks, then I highly suggest that you check out the SportsLine Projection Model, which has been on fire this year. Check it out if you want to know which side to bet for every game in the divisional round.