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These are the two most well-rounded teams in the NFL, and let’s be honest, they also represent the two cities in America where you’re most likely to see footage of a Foot Locker getting robbed. This is Philadelphia’s first time reaching the NFC Championship since their Super Bowl win, and San Francisco’s third time playing in this game in the past four years. The 49ers might be more accustomed to playing in late January than the Eagles, but history is on Philadelphia’s side here. The Eagles won 15 games this year, which nobody could have seen coming two years ago (except for maybe Howie Roseman). The past two times the Eagles have won 13 or more games, they’ve made it to the Super Bowl (2004 and 2017), and with how healthy Lane Johnson and Jalen Hurts looked last Saturday against the Giants, they have every reason to believe that they could do it again. San Francisco’s rookie quarterback, Brock Purdy, has done enough to earn praise in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, but he’s yet to face a defense like Philadelphia’s. The Eagles have four guys (Haason Reddick, Javon Hargrave, Brandon Graham, and Josh Sweat) with over ten sacks. Philadelphia has already racked up the THIRD-MOST sacks in NFL history for a single season (75), and they could pass the 1985 Bears for the second-most if they pick up six more sacks on Sunday. Yes, the same ’85 Bears are known for having the best defense in football history.
Not only does the Philadelphia defense not give a quarterback time, but their secondary also defends the pass better than any team in football. The Eagles only gave up 175.9 yards per game through the air (a league-best), and the combination of James Bradberry and Darius Slay is a dangerous duo to go up against for any quarterback, let alone a rookie. Speaking of rookie quarterbacks in Conference Championship games, there’s more bad news for 49ers fans. When Brock Purdy takes the field on Sunday, he’ll become just the fifth rookie QB in NFL history to start in a conference title game (Shaun King, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, and Mark Sanchez are the others). Curious as to how those other guys fared? They went a collective 0-4 in their starts and also combined to throw nine interceptions compared to just four touchdowns. San Francisco’s only chance at winning this game is by running the football and running it well. Luckily for the 49ers, they already do that. Against the Cowboys, the 49ers won even though Purdy threw for less than 215 yards while also throwing zero touchdowns. They will not ask him to do much more against the Eagles, so Philadelphia’s run defense better show up. The Eagles’ defense surrendered 4.6 yards per carry against the run this year, which was the ninth-worst number in the NFL. If the 49ers average 4.6 yards per carry in a game, they almost always beat you. They’ve won six straight games when hitting that number, and they’re 11-3 in their past 14 games averaging that amount. With that being said, the Eagles have had no problem beating the piss out of one-dimensional teams. After all, the Giants ran the ball more frequently than almost any other team in football, and now half the team will be watching this game from Mexico.
As long as Philadelphia can limit Christian McCaffrey (easier said than done) the Eagles have everything they need on offense to win this game. Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, and the rest of San Francisco’s front four are scary…but do you know what’s scarier? A healthy Philadelphia Eagles offensive line. Sure, the Eagles scored their 28.6 points per game in part because Nick Sirianni developed Jalen Hurts and gave him some really talented weapons to play with, but having the best offensive line in football probably had something to do with it too. Like we all saw last week, the Eagles’ offensive front is unstoppable when they have Lane Johnson healthy. Since the start of the 2016 season (including playoffs), the Eagles are 60-29-1 with Johnson in the lineup and 10-22 without him. With Lane Johnson healthy again, Philadelphia can hit the 49ers in the only place where they are weak- their secondary. Here’s how the 49ers matchup against receivers this year:
No. 1 WRs: #4
No. 2 WRs: #18
San Francisco could probably fare well against AJ Brown or DeVonta Smith individually, but both of them will be too much for even the best defense in football to contain. And as you can see above, San Francisco really struggles when a team has a third option…and that’s why you’re going to see more Quez Watkins than usual on Sunday (and also why Sirianni let him rest against the Giants… it’s called being one step-ahead, folks). The Eagles have one loss with Jalen Hurts at quarterback. Even if Philadelphia’s running ability is quelled this weekend, you have to have some faith in Jalen, especially with how good his shoulder looked last weekend. The 49ers are 3-3 this season when surrendering 19 points or more, but when they surrendered less than 19, they went 12-1.
The NFL playoffs are about big-time players making big-time plays. Who do you trust more, Brock Purdy, the check-down king from Iowa State, or Jalen Hurts, who has had success at Alabama, Oklahoma, and now Philadelphia? Vegas likes the Eagles -2.5, and the Eagles will win by a touchdown. Want a chance to put some money in your pocket for a long weekend?
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