NFC Conference Championship Game Preview & Prediction – Philadelphia Eagles vs. San Francisco 49ers
By Ha Kung Wong
NFC Conference Championship Game
Sunday, January 29th @ 3:00 PM ET in Philadelphia
Eagles favored by 2.5
- Passing Yards per Game: 241.5 (9th)
- Rushing Yards per Game: 147.6 (5th)
- Points per Game: 28.1 (3rd)
- Giveaways (Interceptions Thrown + Fumbles Lost): 19 (Tied 5th)
- Average Time of Possession: 30:50 (8th)
- Jalen Hurts Time to Throw (of QBs with at least 4 appearances): 2.76 seconds (Tied 18th)
- Sacked: 35
- Interceptions thrown: 6
- Passing Yards Allowed per Game: 179.8 (1st)
- Rushing Yards Allowed per Game: 121.6 (Tied 16th)
- Points Allowed per Game: 20.2 (Tied 7th)
- Takeaways (Interceptions + Fumble Recoveries): 27 (Tied 4th)
- Sacks: 70 (1st)
- Field Goal Percentage: 88% / 22 of 25 (10th)
- Kickoff Return Average: 22.1 (Tied 17th)
- Punt Return Average: 9.2 (14th)
Keys to the Game for the Eagles
- Eagles Health
Most importantly is Jalen Hurts, who looked absolutely fantastic in the game against the Giants, is still having some problems with his throwing shoulder. You couldn’t tell from how he performed in the first half, but the Eagles primarily ran the ball in the second half, with 18 runs, only one of which was by Hurts, and only 36 passing yards. Hurts still ran for 34 yards and a TD, but it’s a wonder if he’ll be able to consistently handle designed runs against a tougher defense.
In addition, right tackle Lane Johnson opted to returned from a 2-game absence due to a torn tendon in his adductor, which will eventually require surgery. It was pretty clear that Johnson was struggling, but he didn’t allow the Giants defense any significant opportunities to pressure Hurts. That being said, he’ll have a much more challenging defense to contend with in the Conference Championship, and it’ll be interesting to see if the injury will be an issue.
If that wasn’t bad enough, left guard Landon Dickerson limped off during the second quarter and was briefly replaced by Andre Dillard, but did manage to play through the fourth quarter. Assuming there was no long-term injury, it shouldn’t be a problem, but the Eagles can’t afford to lose any pieces along its offensive line against a challenging 49ers defense, particularly since Hurts was sacked 35 times in the regular season.
And finally, AJ Brown had a hip issue that prompted the Eagles to rest him for most of the second half, and although it appears to be just precautionary, it’s worth keeping an eye on.
- Philly Swagger
The Eagles completely dominated the Giants who looked like they had a shot after putting away the Vikings in Wild Card Weekend. And when I say dominated, I mean in every phase of the game. Jalen Hurts was back to MVP form, and all of Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott ran at will down the field, totaling a whopping 268 rush yards. And perhaps more importantly, Haason Reddick and the defense brought continuous pressure, inhibiting Daniel Jones from getting good looks are get anything going with his legs, an impressive feat after Jones put up 78 yards on the ground last week. The Eagles look confident and primed to win, and we’ve already seen in the regular season how tough they are to beat when Hurts is healthy.
- Run Defense
The Eagles totally shut down the Giants ground game limiting them to just 118 total rush yards and, more importantly, Saquon Barkley to just 61 rush yards. The Eagles haven’t been great defending the run being ranked only 16th in the league during the regular season, being dominated by every run-first team, including the lowly Chicago Bears. They’ll have to maintain a solid run defense facing a tough run offense like the 49ers with Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell.
San Francisco 49ers
- Passing Yards per Game: 226.8 (13th)
- Rushing Yards per Game: 138.8 (8th)
- Points per Game: 26.5 (6th)
- Giveaways (Interceptions Thrown + Fumbles Lost): 17 (3rd)
- Average Time of Possession: 31:54 (2nd)
- Brock Purdy Time to Throw (of QBs with at least 4 appearances): 2.84 seconds (25th)
- Sacked: 7
- Interceptions thrown: 4
- Passing Yards Allowed per Game: 222.9 (20th)
- Rushing Yards Allowed per Game: 77.7 (2nd)
- Points Allowed per Game: 16.3 (1st)
- Takeaways (Interceptions + Fumble Recoveries): 30 (Tied 2nd)
- Sacks: 44 (Tied 10th)
- Field Goal Percentage: 84.4 (18th)
- Kickoff Return Average: 23.0 (14th)
- Punt Return Average: 10.8 (5th)
Keys to the Game for the 49ers
- Christian McCaffrey’s Health
Christian McCaffrey didn’t have many yards, but he made his presence felt against the Cowboys with clutch 3rd down conversions and the only 49ers TD in the game. That being said, he barely played in the 4th quarter due to an apparent calf injury, which led to Eli Mitchell taking over on 1st and 2nd downs. McCaffrey is a huge part of this offense and is particularly important against a top end Eagles defense that’s essentially only vulnerable on the ground. If he’s not a full go, Mitchell, who’s also dealing a groin injury, will need the game of his life to keep the ball away from the Eagles.
- They Don’t Make Mistakes
The 49ers are incredibly careful with the ball with only 17 giveaways this season, good for 3rd best in the league. They also sustain drives and have the 2nd longest time of possession per game during the regular season. In the game against the Cowboys, it was no different as the 49ers had zero turnovers on offense and handily won time of possession with 32:53. The problem is that they generally are not a quick strike offense and not built to come back from multi-score deficits. But they thrive on close games, so long as they’re within a score or two, and are fantastic at holding leads with the slowest offensive pace in the league (30.23 seconds per play).
- Good as Gould
Robbie Gould was as good as always, hitting all 4 of his FG attempts from 26, 28, 47 and 50 yards. Being able to consistently hit long FGs takes the pressure of rookie QB Brock Purdy.
- Purdy Good for Mr. Irrelevant
Brock Purdy has been a revelation with his efficient play and smart decision making. In the regular season, he had a 67.1% completion percentage along with 1,374 yards and 13 TDs to just 4 INTs, resulting in a lofty 107.3 passer rating, which was better than any other starter in the NFL. And he’s continued that in the postseason, with a 60.0% completion percentage and 3 TDs to 0 INTs for an impressive 131.5 passer rating. He’s now won 8 games in a row with the benefit of one of the most talented group of pass catchers in the league including George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. That being said, although he proved he could handle tough defenses in taking out the Cowboys, he hasn’t faced the Eagles pass defense, which is the best in the league with 70 sacks this season, and who just completely destroyed a much more experienced Daniel Jones, so it’ll be critical for his offensive line to hold up and for him to handle the pressure.
The 49ers have the number 1 defense in the league. They shut down a dynamic Seahawks offense and followed that up by shutting down the Cowboys and Dak Prescott, who just threw 5 TDs against the Buccaneers. They’re opportunistic in having the 2nd most takeaways in the regular season as well as allowing the least amount of points to opposing offenses. The Eagles scored the 3rd most points per game during the regular season, so it’s not going to be easy. But keep in mind that the Cowboys actually scored the 4th most points per game during the regular season, and the 49ers managed to limit them to just 12 points.
This is as tough a game to predict as they come. The Eagles are unstoppable on offense and have the best pass defense in the league, but they’re vulnerable on the ground and injuries leave some question marks. The 49ers also have some injury questions, and are led by a rookie QB, but have plenty of weapons on offense and defense and don’t make mistakes. The 49ers are actually the most well-rounded NFL team in the league, and assuming the 49ers control time of possession and pressure Hurts (as we know that Hurts was susceptible to being sacked in the regular season), I think the 49ers grind out a narrow victory.
49ers beat the Eagles – 24 to 20
Take the Under on 45.5