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The NFC playoff clubs will battle Sunday night at Candlestick Park.
Some of the national attention will be on the two coaches when the San Francisco 49ers host the Detroit Lions Sunday night at 8:20pm EST on NBC, but the real story is a solid NFC matchup between two postseason teams with high goals for this season. After San Francisco’s 25-19 win last October, Lions coach Jim Schwartz and 49ers boss Jim Harbaugh had a rather contentious postgame handshake that was played over and over again on the highlight shows. However both coaches say it was overblown, and that the focus belongs on two 1-0 squads with Super Bowl aspirations.
When the San Francisco 49ers have the ball:
The Niners are known for a conservative offensive attack featuring physical tailback Frank Gore, but they did finish 11th in the league in scoring last season. Gore was excellent (16 carries for 112 yards and TD) in Week 1, but quarterback Alex Smith was also huge with an efficient 20-for-26 performance that included two touchdowns. With Randy Moss and Mario Manningham joining Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis on the receiving unit, the San Francisco offense has a very dangerous balance for its opponents.
The Lions defense had a quality outing against St. Louis, holding the Rams to just 250 total yards. It will be a more difficult challenge this week with 49ers power running game, which is led by an excellent offensive line. Detroit must limit Gore’s production, while also hoping that a banged up secondary does not get beat for big plays on the outside. Smith does not turn the ball over, so the Lions must tackle well to get off the field.
When the Detroit Lions have the ball:
After a slow start that included three first-half interceptions, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford finished with 355 passing yards against the Rams in a 27-23 victory. Receiver Calvin Johnson had a routine six catches for 111 yards, while an important contribution was made by oft-injured running back Kevin Smith (62 rush yards and a score plus a touchdown catch). Detroit should look to work underneath routes in order to combat the ferocious Niners pass rush, so Smith, wideout Nate Burleson and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler will be valuable targets in this game.
The 49ers defense is their catalyst, and their performance in a 30-22 win at Green Bay last week was stellar. The high-octane Packers only managed seven points in the first three quarters and totaled just 45 rushing yards (with 27 by quarterback Aaron Rodgers) for the game. San Francisco’s linebackers group — NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks — can handle the run game and blitzing Stafford, so the secondary’s top priority will be doing whatever it takes to slow down Johnson.
The 49ers have historically dominated the Lions, and this contest will come down to the Lions ability to stop Gore and force Smith to beat them through the air. Detroit could be depleted with injuries on the back end, but giving up clock-eating rushing yards to San Francisco would be a losing formula. Schwartz will have his team motivated, but Harbaugh’s crew will win at home in the end.
49ers 24 Lions 17
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)