After a stellar regular season that saw them lose only three games, the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles are only one win away from returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2017-18 season.
Standing in their way is a red-hot San Francisco 49ers team led by third-string rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. The final player drafted in 2022, Purdy is unbeaten as a starter, having won seven straight games.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. San Francisco 49ers (+2.5, 46.5 over/under)
This is going to be a close game. Strength vs. strength on paper, these teams seem virtually indistinguishable. Both boast versatile offences with strong run games, and stars in the passing game that can stretch the field.
On defence, things mostly stay the same, as both teams also field top-rated units on this side of the ball. There’s a good chance this game is decided by a mistake or an ill-timed turnover. This is why it’s no surprise that even after the Eagles’ 38-7 rout of the New York Giants last week, the spread line opened at -2.5 for Philadelphia at Sports Interaction.
After a low-scoring divisional round that saw every game hit the under, Sports Interaction is being a bit cautious with a 46.5-point total. With the strength both teams show here on defence, it’s hard to blame them.
How the Eagles got here
The Eagles have seemingly been Super Bowl-bound for the entire regular season. Sporting a top-ranked offence and a top-ranked defence, the Eagles were a league-leading 14-1 going into Week 15. Then quarterback Jalen Hurts got hurt. With their quarterback sidelined, the Eagles dropped the next two games and suddenly looked very beatable.
Hurts would return to win the final game of the regular season, but the mysticism surrounding the Eagles had been broken. Going into their first playoff game, many people wondered if the Hurts injury might cause an early exit for Philly.
It turns out that worry was unwarranted as the Eagles destroyed the Giants. The drubbing proved that the Eagles are back to midseason form and are prepared for this upcoming battle with the 49ers.
How the 49ers got here
Entering the playoffs, the 49ers were one of the NFL‘s hottest teams, winning the last 10 games of the regular season. But things weren’t always looking this sunny for the team by the Bay. During a game against the Miami Dolphins in Week 13, second-string quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was injured, and like starter Trey Lance, he was headed to the IR.
Things were looking grim for the 49ers with their starter and backup quarterback out for the year. Stepping in was a third-string rookie, the final pick of the 2022 draft, Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy. To say expectations weren’t high would be an understatement. So what did Purdy do? He not only won his debut in relief of Garoppolo, but he would finish the season undefeated winning the final five games of the year. Since then, Purdy has won two more playoff games, and now no one is questioning if he can lead this team.
The Eagles win if
They can win in the trenches.
The Eagles offensive line is one of the premier units in the NFL and is a big reason why the team’s running and passing games have been so prolific this season.
All of that might make you think this will be a cakewalk for the big guys up front, but it won’t be, as the defensive line of the 49ers is a force to reckoned with. The 49ers defensive front features multiple players who can single-handedly derail an offence. Opening holes for the running backs and keeping Hurts upright will be a challenge for the Eagles.
Like with many parts of this game, this will be a battle of pure strength and force, with whoever can win up front being the team on their way to the Super Bowl.
The 49ers win if
They lean on Christian McCaffrey.
It’s hard to take anything away from Purdy after his run thus far. He has had a great rookie year, making many teams’ general managers look silly for passing on him. But McCaffrey has been nothing short of amazing since Carolina traded him to the 49ers in October. Coach Kyle Shanahan has utilized the versatile back all over the field and he’s produced impressive results.
As I stated above, the Eagles haven’t lost much this season. But in two of their three losses, it was teams that leaned on the running game that were able to beat them. Both the Saints and the Commanders used their backs to extend drives and eat up the clock keeping the high-powered Eagles’ offence off the field.
Mismatch to watch
Brock Purdy vs. the Eagles defence.
There aren’t a lot of mismatches in this game. On paper, these teams line up pretty well.
There is one exception, though. The unknown of Brock Purdy. This season Purdy has been great. He has vastly exceeded expectations and looked like a starting NFL quarterback, not a third-stringer who barely managed to get drafted.
But there is one little asterisk to remember in this story. Due to the 49ers’ schedule, Purdy hasn’t faced an elite defence yet. That’s going to change this week. As stated above, the Eagles defence is exceptional. Up front, they’re going to pressure Purdy, and the secondary will be waiting to capitalize on any mistakes he makes.
Prop Bet to watch
Christian McCaffrey 49ers’ first touchdown (+210).
McCaffrey, who scored the team’s one and only touchdown in last week’s win over the Dallas Cowboys, is one of the best running backs in the league, when healthy. He’s an adept pass catcher and coach Shanahan is great at getting him open with creative play calling. The 49ers are going to run McCaffrey early and often, which should lead to early points.