After several largely predicable matchups, this year’s NFC Championship showdown is anything but. While the San Francisco 49ers’ participation isn’t surprising, their opponent on Sunday, the Detroit Lions, are one win away from pulling off one of the most unthinkable feats in NFL history.
If they can get past San Francisco, the Lions will advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. The win would also mark Detroit’s third playoff victory this month after the franchise won just one total playoff game the previous 66 years.
The Lions’ success this season isn’t a fluke, though. Arguably the NFL’s most consistent team, Dan Campbell’s squad is equipped with a loaded offense and an opportunistic defense. On Sunday, Campbell will match wits with offensive guru Kyle Shanahan, who is trying to join his father, Mike Shanahan, as a Super Bowl-championship head coach.
Here’s a ranking of the five players we think will impact the outcome of Sunday’s game the most.
Samuel’s status for Sunday is up in the air after the versatile wideout injured his shoulder during the 49ers’ divisional round win over the Packers. Shanahan provided a positive update earlier this week when he announced that Samuel did not break his shoulder. Patience, Shanahan stressed, will be the key this week regarding Samuel.
Samuel’s absence would clearly impact the 49ers, who weren’t the same without him against the Packers. Even if he plays, it’s safe to say that Samuel won’t be able to contribute the way he normally does. This will undoubtedly put more of the onus on the 49ers’ other top playmakers, led by Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk.
Aiyuk, more than anyone, will likely have to step up most with Samuel compromised. He’ll surely have to have a bigger impact than he had against against Green Bay, when he had just two catches on two targets.
Greenlaw was a…