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NFC championship game preview: 49ers try to spoil the Lions' feel-good story

The San Francisco 49ers have some great storylines.

They have a bunch of likable stars. Their quarterback, Brock Purdy, is an incredible story as the former Mr. Irrelevant of the NFL Draft. They're also trying to break a long Super Bowl drought. It seems hard to believe, but San Francisco hasn't won it all since the 1994 season.

And the 49ers are completely overshadowed in this NFC championship game.

That's because the Detroit Lions making their first Super Bowl would be one of the best stories in the NFL in many years.

Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) and his team are one win from the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) and his team are one win from the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

Lions (14-5) at 49ers (13-5)

Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, Fox

Betting line: 49ers -7, total is 51

Super Bowl odds: Lions +700, 49ers +145

(Odds via BetMGM)

Why we're watching

Detroit making a Super Bowl would be one of the most memorable runs for any team in recent memory, due to the Lions' impossibly bad history. The Lions are the only team to have played every season in the Super Bowl era but never actually played in a Super Bowl. This is just their second trip to the conference championship game, and the first since the 1991 season. It's the first NFL franchise to post an 0-16 season, one that had just one playoff win from 1957 to this postseason. The wild atmospheres at Ford Field for the Lions' playoff wins the past two weeks speak to what a Super Bowl trip would mean to long-suffering Lions fans. A watch party for Sunday at Ford Field sold out in less than 12 hours. Nothing against the 49ers and their fantastic team, but they're the supporting actor in this show.

What could put us to sleep

While the 49ers looked rusty in the divisional round and barely beat the Green Bay Packers, they still have the ability to blow teams out. The 49ers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers by 23, the Dallas Cowboys by 32, the Jaguars by 31 and the Philadelphia Eagles by 23. The Steelers, Jaguars and Eagles wins came on the road. When the 49ers are at their best, they're a dominant team. The Lions have been very good all season and are capable of pulling off an upset, but it also wouldn't be that big of a surprise if the 49ers pull away in the second half and take away a lot of the intrigue from a highly anticipated NFC title game.

Wild card of this NFC title game

The 49ers have a deep group of skill-position players, but they are not the same team when receiver Deebo Samuel is out. The 49ers were 12-1 in the regular season when Samuel played most of the game. They were 0-4 when Samuel played less than half of the snaps or didn't play at all. The 49ers struggled on offense against the Packers last week when Samuel left with a shoulder injury. The 49ers put Samuel's chances of playing against the Lions at 50/50 early this week, and although he says he's ready and went "full go" in practice, there's still concern over if he'll be 100%. His effectiveness is a massive question for the 49ers, considering the impact he has on the offense.

Person we'll likely praise after the victory

The 49ers have so many stars on offense that Brandon Aiyuk gets overshadowed sometimes. It might surprise some that Aiyuk had 75 catches for 1,342 yards this season. He's one of the NFL's best receivers. And he goes against a Detroit secondary that has had some issues against receivers late in the season. Mike Evans had eight catches for 147 yards against the Lions last week. Puka Nacua of the Los Angeles Rams had 181 yards in the wild-card round against Detroit. The Lions allowed 351.7 passing yards per game over their final three regular-season games. The 49ers should be able to pass the ball, and given Samuel's injury concerns, Aiyuk will be a prime target.

Person we'll likely second-guess after the defeat

Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, recently named the league's top defensive coordinator in an NFLPA survey, has been interviewed by multiple teams with head-coaching openings. But Glenn's defense hasn't been great this season. It ranked 13th in DVOA, but 19th in yards allowed and 23rd in points allowed. It was 29th in net yards allowed per pass attempt, via Pro Football Reference. If the Lions lose on Sunday, it's more likely to be because the defense couldn't stop the 49ers. That wouldn't be all Glenn's fault, but it also might not be the best way for him to enter another round of head-coaching interviews.