Lions vs 49ers NFC Championship Predictions, Picks, Odds: Detroit's Offense Hits a Wall in Santa Clara

Although Jared Goff has been lights-out in the postseason so far, the Lions offense won't look as shiny when they face a staunch 49ers defense in an outdoor setting. Read more in our Lions vs. 49ers NFC Championship betting picks.

Jan 28, 2024 • 16:03 ET • 4 min read
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Unless you’re a Niners fan or laying the points with the home favorite, you’re likely cheering for the Detroit Lions when they visit the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Championship Sunday later tonight.

Detroit has captured the hearts of football faithful beyond the Motor City, as the once-floundering franchise tries to end years of suffering on Sunday night.

The Lions, who have been betting favorites in all but three of their 19 games this season, find themselves as big road underdogs, with the NFL odds giving Detroit a touchdown in San Francisco.

I break down the point spread and the Over/Under as I give you my best NFL picks for Lions vs. 49ers on Sunday, January 28.

Make sure to also check out the Lions vs. 49ers weather and Jared Goff spotlight picks before placing your bets!

Lions vs 49ers odds

Lions vs 49ers predictions

The Detroit Lions could be considered “indoor cats” when you size up their recent — and not-so-recent — schedule.

And if you’ve ever been around someone with an indoor cat, you know that accidentally letting that reclusive feline outside is akin to pushing the “big red button.”

Sunday’s trip to Santa Clara will be the Lions’ first outdoor game in almost 50 days, going back to a Week 14 loss at Chicago. And looking down the calendar, the NFC Championship is just the second time Detroit will be under the heavens since October 22, when it lost at Baltimore in Week 7.

The Lions already see a bit of an offensive blip on the road, with their scoring average sliding down almost six points (24.1 points per away game), but that production takes a swan dive off the top rope in outdoor games.

Detroit’s offense has scored an average of just 17.8 points over its five games in open-air stadiums, compared to 30.75 average team points indoors. The Lions are 7-3 Over/Under in Ford Field and 3-1 O/U on the road in indoor venues, but just 2-3 O/U when playing outside.

Oddsmakers have the Lions’ team total set at 21.5 points for the NFC Championship. Detroit was 6-3 O/U with its team total at home and 3-1 O/U TT visiting indoor stadiums, but just 1-4 O/U TT outdoors, with those derivative numbers ranging between 20.5 to 24.5 points.

This notable split isn’t reliant on weather to play a role either. While the Week 14 trip to Chicago was played in the cold with wind gusts flirting with 20 mph, the Lions logged the bulk of the open-air contest before November in good conditions.

Outdoor venues are less “clean” and quick compared to indoor stadiums, especially when playing on grass versus artificial turf (Levi’s Stadium is natural grass). That makes a bigger difference to a speed-based offense like the Lions, who have fast receivers and some breakneck runners in the backfield. Overall, outdoor NFL games average about four points less than those contests played indoors.

Detroit’s yards per play takes a tumble to 5.05 outdoors (vs. 5.9 overall) and the points per play shrinks from 0.409 on average to just 0.251 outside, which is even a sharp decline from the overall road points per play clip of .355. The Lions were a collective 7 for 14 in the red zone over those five contests, well off their league-best 74.36% RZ TD rate at home.

Like most offenses, it begins and ends at quarterback. Jared Goff is playing the best football of his career in Motown, but has benefitted not only from a home-friendly schedule but also from those indoor venues.

Goff sees his production slip in the fresh air, with his completion rate dropping to 63.59% (70.2% indoors) and his yards per attempt at 6.47 (vs. 8.09 indoors), leading to a low passer rating of 87.9 (104.0 indoors).

Venue aside, Goff takes on one of the best pass defenses in the league. The San Francisco 49ers finished No. 6 in EPA allowed per dropback and gave up the fifth-fewest yards per attempt (5.9), with opposing QBs owning an average passer rating of 79.2 versus San Francisco.

With that in mind, I expect the Lions to go after the 49ers on the ground. San Francisco has been susceptible to the run or at least a little less stingy, giving up 4.2 yards per carry and finishing 26th in EPA allowed per handoff. That means shorter gains with the clock ticking.

And, per the game script, the 49ers could also turn to a plodding pace with the big spread, suggesting San Francisco will be protecting the lead in the second half. The Niners run the slowest tempo on offense in terms of seconds per play and smash into a Detroit defense that has been among the best run-stop units in the league. Again, tick, tick, tick.

San Francisco has held its opponents to 21 points or less in 13 of its 18 games this season, with seven of those results coming in Santa Clara.

My best bet: Lions team total Under 21.5 (-116 at FanDuel) 50% boost available
Picks made at time of writing may not reflect live odds.

Lions vs 49ers same-game parlay

Lions team total Under 21.5

Jared Goff Under 1.5 passing TDs

David Montgomery Over 46.5 rushing yards

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The Lions are “indoor cats”, and the slow track in Santa Clara, along with the 49ers' defense, will hold them below 21.5 points.

Goff doesn’t play his best football outdoors and the Niners have one of the best passing defenses in the land, allowing an average of only 1.2 TDs through the air.

Detroit will try to run the ball on the 49ers’ softer run stop, which means a lot of David Montgomery. Most player projections call for more than 46.5 rushing yards, with some expecting as many as 57 yards on the ground.

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Lions vs 49ers spread and Over/Under analysis

Before the Divisional Round was even decided, select sportsbooks offered a look-ahead line for the potential NFC title game matchups, listing the 49ers as 7-point home favorites against Detroit.

Once that pairing was official, the spread for Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. ET kickoff hit the board at San Francisco -6.5 and slowly crept to -7 within the first few hours of action. As of Tuesday afternoon, the market consensus is Niners -7, with a few shops still showing San Francisco as a pricy -6.5.

The uptick to a touchdown does come in the face of early opinions on Detroit, with some notable betting groups backing the dog as well as the general public. According to Covers Consensus, 66% of early picks are taking the points with “America’s Sweethearts”, and sportsbooks like BetMGM reporting more than 70% of handle and ticket count taking the Lions to cover the spread.

The biggest knock against Detroit is its defense. The Lions stop unit has been suspect all year but really started to lag in the second half of the schedule, dipping to 27th in EPA allowed per play since Week 10.

That’s continued in the postseason, with Detroit giving up a total of 833 total yards in the past two outings for an average of 7.2 yards allowed per play. Yet, the defense budged for just 23 points in each of the wins over Los Angeles and Tampa Bay.

Can that “bend but don’t break” approach hold up against the most efficient offensive squad in the NFL? This tall total doesn’t think so.

San Francisco finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in Offensive DVOA and EPA per play — the two Holy Grail advanced metrics — and averaged a league-high 6.6 yards per play on the season overall.

Kyle Shanahan’s offense throws everything at you with a bevy of versatile weapons. The Niners' playbook is packed with pre-snap motion and misdirection, leaning into the run at the third-highest play rate in the NFL (48.07%).

Running back Christian McCaffrey heads the ground game but is just as dangerous as a pass catcher, joining a loaded receiving corps for QB Brock Purdy. The 49ers passing attack is No. 1 in EPA per dropback and success rate per attempt and now faces a Lions secondary that has made average QBs look extraordinary.

Rival QBs have a 93.3 average passer rating against Detroit this season. To put that into perspective, Patrick Mahomes finished with a rating of 92.6 in the regular season. The Lions watch those opposing QBs connect for more than seven yards per attempt and have buckled for 1.7 passing touchdowns an outing. Purdy’s player props have the Over 1.5 passing touchdowns heavily juiced heading into the weekend.

If Detroit’s defense can’t stop the bleeding, it will be up to Goff and the offense to go toe-to-toe with the 49ers. San Francisco’s defense has been among the stingiest in the land all year, sitting Top 10 in both EPA allowed per play and Defensive DVOA.

The Lions have looked good with the football in the first two playoff games but take to the road and an outdoor venue in the NFC Championship. Detroit sees its scoring skip a beat away from the fast track of Ford Field, averaging 24.1 points per road game, versus 29.9 points an outing at home.

Sunday’s total opened around 50.5 and climbed to as high as 52 points at select sportsbooks in the minutes after posting. The market consensus has settled in at 51 points, with a few books just short of that key O/U number at 50.5 points.

The Lions are 12-7 Over/Under on the season, with a 5-4 O/U count as visitors. Detroit does run one of the quicker tempos in the league, ranked 11th in fewest seconds per play, but offensive coordinator Ben Johnson doesn’t utilize much no-huddle — namely because Detroit played with the lead at the fifth-highest rate.

As for the 49ers, they own a 10-8 Over/Under record with a 5-4 O/U count inside Levi’s Stadium. Shanahan’s offense chews up a ton of time between snaps and is rated as the slowest tempo in terms of seconds per play. San Francisco also runs the lowest rate of no-huddle.

Lions vs 49ers betting trend to know

The 49ers have scored first in eight of their last 10 games at home (+4.95 Units / 26% ROI) and are listed as -145 favorites to find the scoreboard first in the NFC Championship. Find more NFL betting trends for Lions vs. 49ers.

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Lions vs 49ers game info

Location: Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, CA
Date: Sunday, January 28, 2024
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. ET
Opening odds: 49ers -7, O/U 52

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