The No. 1-seeded Eagles are hosting the No. 2-seeded 49ers on Sunday afternoon in the NFC Championship Game.
To the predictions:
Reuben Frank (14-4)
No blowout this week. No 28-point halftime lead. No rushing for 268 yards. This is an intriguing NFC Championship Game between two teams that have elite defenses, young quarterbacks, top-5 offenses and legit Coach of the Year types running the show. This one is going to come down to a play here, a play there. Who commits one less turnover. Who makes one more big play. Who has one less missed tackle. Who commits one fewer turnover. Who converts one more 3rd-and-long. The 49ers haven’t lost since October and are 7-0 under rookie Brock Purdy. The Eagles are 15-1 under Jalen Hurts.
I’m picking the Eagles for two reasons. First, Purdy has never played in an atmosphere like the Linc on a playoff Sunday. He’s obviously very smart and poised – you don’t throw 16 TDs and 3 INTs in your first eight games if you’re not smart and poised. But we’re talking about a 23-year-old rookie with very little experience here who’s played exactly two road games in his life. Maybe he can handle it. Very few can. But even more important than the crowd and the noise is the Eagles’ pass rush. It’s not just best in the league, it’s one of the best ever. Purdy is elusive in the pocket, he’s smart, he gets rid of the ball quickly and he’s got terrific weapons. But he’s never faced a pass rush like this. This d-line wrecks games. We’ve seen it week after week. I think they’re the difference Sunday afternoon.
Eagles 23, 49ers 20
Dave Zangaro (14-4)
For a couple months, it felt like the Eagles and 49ers were on a collision course. They have two of the most talented rosters and both play an extremely physical style of football. This could be the most violent game of the 2022 season and having that game at the Linc in the NFC Championship Game is extremely exciting. If you go position-by-position, these rosters are pretty even. Both teams has legitimate stars on offense and defense and they were two of the most balanced teams in the NFL this season. The marquee matchup happens when the Eagles are on offense, facing the No. 1 defense in the NFL. That’s the true heavyweight fight in this game. But these teams are close.
So for me, it comes down to tiebreakers. The Eagles have the better quarterback. Sure, what Brock Purdy has done in his seven starts is impressive. But Jalen Hurts was an MVP candidate and posted a 15-1 record in his starts this season. He’s healthy and was extremely efficient last week. The Eagles also have the better in-game manager. Kyle Shanahan is one of the best coaches in the NFL and his offensive scheme has him in the conference championship game with a seventh-round rookie as a QB; credit to him. But in games, his decisions leave plenty to be desired. He always leans toward the conservative side and sometimes loses track of time. And the last tiebreaker: The Linc. I’m not pandering here. I was in the building for that NFC Championship Game against the Vikings and it mattered. It just did. That place is going to be rocking and the home fans will get to celebrate a win. See ya in Phoenix.
Eagles 24, 49ers, 17
Barrett Brooks (14-4)
I played in two championship games in my 12-year NFL career. Those moments come few and far between. But championship games in Philadelphia have actually become more frequent for the Eagles than any of the other teams in the conference.
This matchup is between the two heavyweights in the NFC. For the past two months I have been screaming that the Birds are the No. 1 team in the NFL, not just the NFC. I have had to defend my stance because everyone else has crowned the 49ers as the best. Yes, they have a special defense, but our defense is No. 2. Yes, they have a good offense, but the Birds have an even better offense. The QB position will be the deciding factor in this game. Jalen Hurts will dictate the tempo of the game, controlling the clock and frustrating the 49ers defense. The Birds have the best O-line in the NFL. I think they will control DE Nick Bosa and LB Fred Warner.
The 49ers’ offense has a lot of weapons. Deebo Samuel often goes in motion. This creates matchup problems for lesser defenses. The Eagles defense will have those adjustments and will play physical defense, matching the Niners’ intensity.
So when I look and evaluate the direction of the game, player for player, coach for coach, it's a pretty even matchup. The QB position will give the Birds the win! Hurts is the key to open the door to the Super Bowl.
Eagles 27, 49ers 18
Mike Mulhern (15-3)
This week on Birds Huddle (weeknights at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia), I had Dave Zangaro and Barrett Brooks help me rank the 10 best players set to take the field in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. Trying to pare the list down to 10 showed just how insane the talent level in this matchup is. Elite players like George Kittle, Darius Slay, Javon Hargrave, and first team All-Pro Talanoa Hufanga couldn’t crack it! When all was said and done, we put Jalen Hurts in the top spot. Perhaps he doesn’t yet have the credentials to be placed ahead of Nick Bosa, Trent Williams, or Jason Kelce, but I expect Hurts to be the best player on the field on Sunday.
(In case you’re wondering, the list was: 10. Deebo Samuel 9. Haason Reddick 8. Christian McCaffrey 7. A.J. Brown 6. Fred Warner 5. Jason Kelce 4. Trent Williams 3. Lane Johnson 2. Nick Bosa 1. Jalen Hurts)
He’s an MVP finalist for a reason. He’s always in control and seemingly one step ahead of the opponent. Demeco Ryans’ defense is no doubt elite, but Hurts has been on a different level this year. He has referred to himself as a “triple threat” because he can beat you with his arm, his legs, and his mind. Hurts’ biggest strides this season have come in that latter most aspect of his game. He and the Eagles offense have an answer for everything and that won’t change, even against the best possible opponent. The 49ers are most vulnerable outside the numbers, and you should expect the Eagles to attack with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith.
Much has been made of the crowd potentially rattling rookie quarterback Brock Purdy. I believe it’s less about the fans and more about an Eagles defense that has racked up 75 sacks so far this season. If they get Mr. Irrelevant on the ground early, he’s going to get skittish, he’s going to put the ball in harm’s way, and his coach is going to get conservative. That is Kyle Shanahan’s M.O. It’s what happened last week against the Cowboys. The issue for Dallas was they couldn’t put enough points on the board to pressure the Niners into mistakes. They won’t be so lucky this week.
Eagles 27, 49ers 17
Adam Herman (16-2)
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't anxious about picking the Eagles to beat the 49ers Sunday afternoon in the NFC Championship Game. There isn't a team better suited to combat what the Eagles do well than San Francisco. The Birds are in for the hardest game of their season to this point.
But here I am, picking the Eagles to beat the 49ers.
I've only picked the Eagles to lose once this year, the Christmas Eve loss to Dallas, but I'll admit I entertained the thought this week. Everywhere you look, it feels like the Niners have a reasonable answer for the strengths that have carried this Eagles team to 15 wins.
The Eagles were fourth in the league in turnovers and fifth in takeaways, a deadly combination. The 49ers? Second in turnovers and third in takeaways.
The Eagles had 30 rushing touchdowns this season, the most in the NFL, and are generally unstoppable on the ground. The 49ers allowed 3.4 rush yards per attempt this year, second-best in the NFL.
Among his many strengths, Jalen Hurts has been tremendous this season at not turning the ball over. He threw just six interceptions, tied for third-fewest among qualified quarterbacks. San Francisco just happened to lead the league in picks with 20.
I imagine you're seeing the point. After rattling these off, it starts to feel like Sunday could be a pick-'em. And in some ways it feels like it might be.
Then you remember that only one team on the field Sunday will have an MVP candidate at quarterback. Yes, I've also been impressed with Brock Purdy's performance after being thrust into the starting role. But he's not Jalen Hurts, a dynamic weapon who no team in the NFL has been able to stop this year. Hurts is on a different level than Purdy, and we'll see that on Sunday.
Then you remember that San Francisco's secondary has a lot of interceptions... but can they stop these pass-catching weapons? You can put Charvarius Ward, who I like a lot, on Brown. What about Deommodore Lenoir vs. DeVonta Smith? Not a great matchup. And if you move someone to help Lenoir with Smith, all of a sudden you're giving Dallas Goedert a favorable matchup. And if you do too much shuffling to stop the passing game, you lose contain on Hurts and he's running for six. You see the problem?
There are certainly still questions for this Eagles team, some without easy answers. Will Lane Johnson be healthy enough to stand up against this mammoth 49ers defensive line? How will the edge rushers fare against the best left tackle in the NFL in Trent Williams? And what does Jonathan Gannon have schemed up to thwart Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey in space?
That said, I think the Eagles have enough advantages over the Niners to pull this one off - particularly when you remember the Birds will have one advantage Kyle Shanahan's squad can't prepare for in the South Philly crowd on Sunday afternoon. It's gonna be a monstrosity.
Give me a tight one until the end, and a second Super Bowl appearance in five years.
Eagles 24, 49ers 20
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