49ers vs. Lions picks, predictions against spread: How San Francisco will win NFC Championship, advance to Super Bowl 58

The 49ers have advanced to the NFC Championship game for the fourth time in five seasons. Their opponent in next Sunday’s matchup (6:30 p.m. ET, Fox) will be the Lions, who last played for the conference title 32 years ago.

San Francisco, the No. 1 seed, rallied to beat Green Bay, 24-21 in the divisional playoffs. Now, it will try to beat another NFC North team at home. Detroit, the No. 3, seed, has eliminated the Rams and Buccaneers, also at home.

The 49ers were expected to make another deep playoff run, which they did after going 12-5 in the regular season. The Lions did have promise to win their division, but they have exceeded expectations with two playoff wins.

San Francisco goes into the matchup as seven-point favorites over Detroit with the total set at a robust 51 points. Will the 49ers avoid the upset and also cover the spread, despite the Lions’ momentum? Here’s picking and predicting the game:

(Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook)

49ers vs. Lions picks, predictions against spread

  • 49ers’ offense vs. Lions’ defense

The 49ers had a few snags with their usual explosive offense against the Packers. Quarterback Brock Purdy was off with his passing in rainy conditions while also having some trouble with Green Bay’s pass rush. The 49ers also had to adjust without wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who injured his shoulder and didn’t play in the second half.

Regardless of Samuel’s availability, Purdy should be much sharper this week. The Lions have a shaky pass defense in the back seven and rely often on blitzing to get to the QB under Aaron Glenn. The one advantage the Lions do have is that top defensive end Aidan Hutchinson will avoid facing All-World left tackle Trent Williams, instead trying to get to Purdy from the other side vs. Colton McKivitz.

The Lions do not match up well with either wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk or tight end George Kittle, the primary field-stretching targets for Purdy. They have a stout power run defense, but they also will struggle with Christian McCaffrey’s outside running and elite outlet receiving. They will have even fewer answers in coverage should Samuel play.

Purdy had a rare bad home game in the divisional round. He will be a lot more comfortable picking apart the Lions than he was the Packers with Aiyuk being a much bigger factor and Kittle remaining his deep go-to guy in the middle of the field. Look for McCaffrey’s rushing to have the most impact in the red zone, with a good chance for him to be busy on short passes.

Advantage: 49ers

  • Lions’ offense vs. 49ers’ defense

Jared Goff on the road simply isn’t the same Lions quarterback vs. when he plays at home. That’s been the case for two seasons. He also operates at a high level when his pocket is clean and defenses need to blitz, opening up more favorable single-coverage matchups. That won’t happen here.

The 49ers’ goal will be first stopping David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs in the running game. They have been solid against the run, but teams often can’t stick with it against them. They also wilted vs. Green Bay’s shifty and explosive veteran Aaron Jones. That suggests Gibbs needs to be a big factor, earlier and more often than he was vs. the Buccaneers. The rookie was terrific with his speed and quickness to help Detroit pull away late in that game.

If the 49ers can stop the run on early downs more times than not with help from their offense building a significant lead, they can be relentless in getting to Goff with a front-four pass rush fueled most by defensive end Nick Bosa.

The 49ers will have some issues in the slot vs. go-to wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, but expect them to clean things up after allowing some big pass plays to Jordan Love and the Packers. The 49ers also tend to cover tight ends well thanks to linebacker Fred Warner, which is not great news for rookie Sam LaPorta.

Detroit will need to find a way to find an effective running game in a tough spot, much like it did vs. Tampa Bay, to have a chance of keeping up offensively with San Francisco. If not, it would be a long late afternoon for Goff back home in Northern California.

Advantage: 49ers

The 49ers have more offensive depth and versatility than the Lions, even though the latter has a great play-caller in Ben Johnson. The 49ers could always use wrinkles with extra backs and receivers to exploit more matchups behind the big three or four for Purdy. Defensively, Glenn found good pressure vs. the Buccaneers, but there are limited sources beyond Hutchinson. The 49ers have more defensive impact in their front seven.

Although Goff took the Rams to Super Bowl 53, there’s not the same level of playoff experience elsewhere on the Lions’ roster. The 49ers are loaded with savvy players with plenty of experience who know the pressure that comes with this game.

Advantage: 49ers

  • Special teams

The 49ers have a rookie kicker in Jake Moody. Their punter, Mitch Wishnowsky is solid, but not spectacular. Meanwhile, the Lions have found a money field-goal man in well-traveled Michael Badgley. Punter Jack Fox has the potential to dominate as a one-time Pro Bowler. In the return game, the 49ers have A-OK Ray-Ray McCloud. The Lions will be hopeful that Kalif Raymond can return from his knee injury to provide a spark.

Advantage: Lions

Dan Campbell has been awesome leading the Lions’ turnaround. Johnson and Glenn have been ace coordinators. That said, it’s hard to give them the edge with Shanahan on the other side calling the plays and Chris Foerster among his key offensive assistants. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks also has been around and has kept the tradition of predecessors DeMeco Ryans and Robert Saleh.

Advantage: 49ers

  • Intangibles

The 49ers have gone to the championship game in three of the past four seasons before this latest appearance. They have won only once, though, four years ago vs. Green Bay. They have since lost to the Rams and Eagles. The pressure will be on Shanahan for another breakthrough, especially since the 49ers have been the NFC’s best team for most of this season.

It’s cliche, but the Lions are indeed “playing with house money” by playing in this game, as many thought they might lose to the Rams in the wild-card round. Campbell, already aggressive, will coach like Detroit has nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Lions will be looser, and the 49ers will need to execute better as a tight ship.

Advantage: Lions

NFC championship game prediction

The Lions have had a great run, but it comes to an end, as they simply do not have enough defense to slow down all the 49ers’ weapons around Purdy. Goff will be under more duress all game with his backs being less of a factor than McCaffrey will. Aiyuk and Kittle also will explode for bigger games than St. Brown and LaPorta. Bosa and the defense flex again in the fourth quarter to shut the door.

Pick: 49ers win 34-20 and cover the spread (-7), and the game goes OVER the total (51).

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