Sunday’s NFC Championship Game matchup between the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers should be interesting… for me especially. I am a lifelong Detroit Lions fan and, yes, it has been a great few weeks. However, I am a lifelong Lions fan who owns a 49ers Deebo Samuel jersey. The irony is not lost on me that Samuel’s health is one of the key storylines this weekend.
Deebo Samuel is a superstar, and one of many household-names on San Francisco’s offence. Their quarterback, Brock Purdy, has All-Pro weapons out of the backfield in Christian MccCaffrey and Kyle Juszczyk, also with All-Pro pass catchers in Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle. All of these guys, and veteran Offensive Tackle, Trent Williams were PWFA All-Pros in 2023. The Lions’ defence will have their hands full.
Even so, the 49ers hold a record of 1-2 without Samuel this season, and are 8-9 without him since he was drafted in 2019. He is an X-Factor for their offence, with his ability to line-up wherever Head Coach Kyle Shanahan needs him, and make plays after contact.
While Samuel is back to practice, shoulder injuries are not to be taken lightly for wide receivers. Even if Samuel is able to start on Sunday, his injury will almost certainly linger. For neutral fans, the hope should be that Deebo is available and at 100%, since he is a joy to watch.
Detroit’s offence is similarly formidable, only less flashy. Quarterback Jared Goff has revived his career and his reputation in the 313, as the unequivocal leader of the Lions. Slot receiver Amon-Ra St-Brown is an All-Pro and on his way toward household-name status himself. Rookies Sam Laporta and Jahmyr Gibbs have come into their own, and are future stars in the NFL. Then, the offensive line, which is almost unanimously considered the best in the league, is led by Tackle Penei Sewell.
Battle Of The Offences
The forecast for Sunday in Santa Clara, home of the 49ers, is sunny and moderate: ideal for skilled offences. If Purdy and Goff are dealing, this game could be an offensive duel for the ages, considering the weapons at play for each unit.
In games like these, the turning point often comes in the form of a key defensive turnover or tackle. I would like to pose some candidates for a moment such as this.
San Francisco has a pair of star linebackers in Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, who make opposing quarterbacks lose sleep. Warner is mystically all over the field at all times – or at least it seems that way. Greenlaw is a brilliant ball-hawk, coming away from last week’s win over Green-Bay with two interceptions.
In his career, Jared Goff is known to make questionable throws into the middle of the field. While he’s cleaned up the turnovers over the past couple of seasons, he may be susceptible to a bad throw or two in this game: especially if pass-rushers Nick Bosa and Chase Young can create pressure. Look for Warner or Greenlaw to be all over a Jared Goff mistake, if there is one.
Sneaky Brian Branch
On the other side, if there is one hungry Lion who wants to be a difference maker in this game, it is rookie DB Brian Branch. Branch, who came up with three interceptions in his rookie campaign, was snubbed from the PWFA All-Rookie team. If I were Brock Purdy, who likes to throw the medium and deep ball, I’d be weary of the sneaky Branch whenever he is on the field.
My biggest takeaway for this matchup is just how many electric players there are on both sides. Whether Samuel plays or sits, there are playmakers all over the field. Most NFL fans will be in for a treat. I will be biting my nails, but I hope that at some point I can take a moment to sit back and appreciate this game for what it is: a star-studded battle that is anyone’s for the taking.