Jan 26, 2024 - Sports

Lions, fans head west for NFC Championship game

Amon-Ra St. Brown points to the crowd after beating the Tampa Bay Bucs

Amon-Ra St. Brown after the Lions' win over Tampa Bay in the divisional round. Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The best month of football in state history continues on Sunday with the Lions one win away from their first Super Bowl appearance.

Why it matters: The NFC Championship game will be Detroit's toughest test of the season. The top-seeded San Francisco 49ers are favored by a touchdown and have positional advantages all over the field.

  • But this Lions team thrives as the underdog. It's where coach Dan Campbell is most comfortable and how most of the stars view themselves, from wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (passed over in the draft) to quarterback Jared Goff (trade throw-in) to safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (on three teams in five years).
  • If there was ever a team that could overcome a talent deficit to knock off the best team in the NFC on the road, it's this one.

Zoom in: Detroit's one positional advantage might be in the trenches. The offensive line matches up well with San Francisco's star edge rushers.

  • The 49ers could struggle throwing the ball if defensive linemen like Aidan Hutchinson, who leads the NFL in pressures this season, can keep up the pass rush.

A big factor: 49ers star wide receiver Deebo Samuel has a shoulder injury and might not play, which would be a huge boost for Detroit.

  • For the Lions, center Frank Ragnow, linebacker Alex Anzalone and tight end Sam LaPorta are all playing through injuries, while guard Jonah Jackson and tight end Brock Wright are both out after getting hurt last week.
  • One potential reinforcement is Zach Ertz, husband of U.S. women's soccer legend Julie Ertz. The former Pro Bowl tight end signed with Detroit this week and could be pulled up from the practice squad on Sunday.

💭 Everett's thought bubble: Lions fans are trending toward making up close to 20% of the crowd for the NFC Championship game, per the News' Justin Rogers, but it can't be overstated how much of an advantage playing at home has been for Detroit.

  • This former sportswriter has covered events like the AFC Championship in New England and the Final Four — but I've never heard anything like Ford Field over the last few weeks.
  • So if you're staying here on Sunday, enjoy it. Put your feet up. You earned it.

Watch: The 6:30pm game will be carried on Fox and by streaming services.

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