The third-seeded Detroit Lions versus the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers is about as stark of a juxtaposition between two NFC Championship finalists as there's ever been. 

The Lions are playing in their first conference title game since the 1991 season, and the 49ers have made a conference championship game appearance in each of their last seven postseason trips, a streak that is the second-longest ever behind only the 2011-2018 New England Patriots led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.  

However, there are some similarities between the two franchises. They are both two of the top five rushing offenses and defenses in the NFL. San Francisco ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards per game (140.5) while Detroit isn't far behind (135.9 rushing yards per game) with the fifth-ranked rushing offense. The Lions' 88.8 rushing yards per game allowed ranks as the second-fewest in the NFL while the 49ers are right behind them with the No. 3 run defense (89.7 rushing yards per game). 

The 49ers are currently 7-point home favorites against Detroit, per Sportsline's consensus odds, but Lions appear to be on a magical run with more playoff wins this season (two) than the previous 65 seasons combined (one). 

Here is a ranking of the five players likely to have the most outsized impact -- aka the X factors -- on the final result of Sunday night's game.

Note: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy will not be listed among the X factors because he doesn't elevate or sink Kyle Shanahan's offense. He is simply the 49ers barometer, reflective of which playmakers are or aren't on the field each game. San Francisco is 18-1 when Purdy, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and running back Christian McCaffrey all play since Purdy's first career start. In the same span, Purdy's entire career as their starting quarterback, the team is 2-4 when any one of these three players, including Purdy, do not play.

Last week against the Packers when Samuel left the game with a shoulder injury and did not return, San Francisco short-circuited, allowing Green Bay to possess control over the game for the vast majority of play. It wasn't until a Packers missed field goal that the 49ers were able to drive down the field and score a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Purdy is a solid player, but he struggled mightily all night long against a team that fired its defensive coordinator until the final drive of the game.

He's not one of the most prominent, determining factors in the 49ers winning or losing a game. 

The 49ers with Purdy, Samuel and McCaffrey in lineup since Purdy's first career start (including playoffs):

49ersAll Healthy All Other Games







5. Fred Warner, LB, San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner is the NFL's best inside linebacker. He was named a First-Team All-Pro in three of the last four seasons, including two in a row in 2022 and 2023. 

This season, his 90.3 Pro Football Focus defensive grade led all NFL linebackers, and his 90.7 PFF run defense grade ranked third among all linebackers around the league. His role in defending against both Detroit's ground and aerial attacks is pivotal. 

Lions running backs David Montgomery (1,015 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns) and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs (945 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns) almost became the first teammate duo to each go for 1,000 or more rushing yards and 10 or more rushing touchdowns in the same season in NFL history. 

Detroit rookie Pro Bowl tight end Sam LaPorta has 11 receiving touchdowns this season, including the playoffs, which is the second most in NFL history by a rookie tight end, trailing only Hall of Famer Mike Ditka's 12. Warner will most likely be tasked with keep LaPorta blanketed over the middle of the field and in the run zone. 

How well he does at keeping LaPorta and Detroit's dynamic, two-headed rushing attack at bay will be critical in determining the outcome on Sunday. 

4. Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Detroit Lions

Pressuring an opposing quarterback consistently is a key to a victory no matter who a team is playing. For the Detroit Lions, pressuring Purdy is paramount. 

When Purdy wasn't pressured dropping back to pass in the regular season, he had an NFL-best 115.2 passer rating with 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in addition to an NFL-best 9.7 yards per pass attempt. No other quarterback had a yards per pass attempt over 8.5.

When Purdy was pressured when dropping back to pass he had a passer rating of 25.2, the fourth-worst in the entire NFL this season, with no touchdowns and one interception. His yards per pass attempt also plummeted to 5.5, 16th in the league. 

For context, a 115.2 passer rating is one point higher than Hall of Famer Peyton Manning's rating from the 2013 season in which he set the NFL's single-season passing touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477) records. A 25.2 passer rating is 14.4 points lower than the passer rating generated by throwing only incompletions, 39.6. 

Lions Pro Bowl edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson is currently on a roll. He has eight sacks in the last four games including the playoffs after having just 6.5 sacks in his first 15 games. Hutchinson has recorded 11 consecutive games with five or more quarterback pressures including the postseason, which is the longest streak by any player since Pro Football Focus began tracking this statistic in 2017. His 118 quarterback pressures this season are the most in the NFL, including postseason play. 

Hutchinson has the ability to have an outsized impact on the result of the game. 

3. Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers

Did you know that the Lions' first game with Dan Campbell as their head coach and Jared Goff as their quarterback came against the 49ers? The result was a 41-33 49ers victory in Week 1 of the 2021 season in which 49ers do-it-all receiver went off.

He totaled 189 receiving yards and a touchdown on nine catches. His status for Sunday's game is up in the air after he didn't practice on Wednesday, following the shoulder injury he suffered against the Packers on Sunday in the NFC divisional round. Shanahan did say that Samuel "feels better" when asked about his status on Wednesday. 

His presence is critical in helping power the 49ers back to the Super Bowl for the first tine since the 2019 season. Samuel leads all NFL wide receivers in yards after catch/reception (8.8) this season, a metric he has led the league in during each of the last four seasons. He also leads the entire NFL in yards per carry (6.3) since entering the NFL in 2019, among those with at least 150 carries in that span. 

Samuel's all-around offensive production is singular as he is the only player in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) with at least 4,000 receiving yards and 1,000 rushing yards across his first five NFL seasons. How big is his impact on the 49ers? Well, the team is 53-23 when he plays since 2019, but they having a losing record (8-9) when he doesn't suit up. 

When zooming on his impact when he is on and off the football field during a game this season, it's incredibly clear how significant of an X factor Samuel is for the 49ers. San Francisco average one-and-a-half fewer yards per play, two fewer yards per carry and half a yard fewer in yards per pass attempt without him on the field in 2023. 

The 49ers with Samuel on/off field this season (including playoffs):

On FieldOff Field







Yards/Pass Attempt



2. Jared Goff, QB, Detroit Lions

The formula for a Lions victory begins and ends with Goff playing efficient football, throwing touchdowns and taking care of the football. In Detroit's two postseason wins, Goff has three touchdowns and no interceptions. Two of those two touchdowns came on Sunday against the Buccaneers in a 31-23 win in which Goff threw for 287 yards and the two scores on 30 of 43 passing.

In the 24-23 wild-card round win over his predecessor Matthew Stafford and his former team, the Los Angeles Rams, Goff set the Lions' postseason single-game completion percentage record, minimum 10 pass attempts, at 81% (22 of 27 passing) with 277 passing yards and a touchdown. His ability to maintain composure and lead the Lions up and down the field for points will be the single biggest reason why the Lions win or lose on Sunday. 

1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, San Francisco 49ers

The First-Team All-Pro running back is the engine that powers the 49ers offense. People think of the Shanahan tree offenses, and they think of motion usage and route trees that do a fantastic job of scheming pass-catchers open. 

Shanahan is at his happiest when bludgeoning his opponent to death with creative run-blocking schemes and the NFL's most dynamic running back going wild. McCaffrey literally carried the 49ers to victory last week in the divisional round with over 128 scrimmage yards (98 rushing and 30 receiving) and two rushing touchdowns, a 39-yarder in which he threw multiple Packers defenders off of him like children and the game-winning 6-yard score with 1:07 left to play. 

His 23 scrimmage touchdowns, including the postseason, are tied for the most in 49ers history, and he is on the precipice of becoming the first rushing title winner (1,459 rushing yards in the regular season) to reach the Super Bowl since Shaun Alexander did so with the Seattle Seahawks in the 2005 season. 

However, McCaffrey has what may be his toughest test of the season on Sunday. The Lions defense ranked top three in the league in rushing yards allowed (88.8 rushing yards per game allowed, second-fewest in NFL) and yards per carry allowed (3.7, third-fewest in NFL) this season. 

Detroit is also the first team since last season's 49ers to not allow a running back to have at least 70 rushing yards in a game for the entire regular season. Naturally, McCaffrey led the NFL with at least seven games of over 100 rushing yards. The Lions have also limited explosive runs as they still have yet to allow a run of over 30 yards to a running back this season, including the playoffs. McCaffrey's five runs of 30 or more yards this season including the playoffs are tied for the most in the entire NFL.

How McCaffrey does on the ground affects every other element of the 49ers offense. If the Lions can limit him to under 100 yards or close to it as the Packers did last week, Detroit will have a chance to win. If McCaffrey goes bananas and grinds the Detroit front seven into a paste, San Francisco will win easily. His production is the top X factor for the 49ers every week, and it will be once again against the Lions with a trip to the Super Bowl within reach.