It seems like we have been building towards this matchup for most of the season, and finally the football gods have bestowed it upon us. The two best teams in the NFC all year – the San Francisco 49ers (13-4, #2 seed) and the Philadelphia Eagles (14-3, #1 seed) – will go to battle in the NFC Championship Game with a spot in Super Bowl LVII on the line. The game kicks off Sunday, January 29 at 3 p.m. EST at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
The 49ers are the league’s hottest team, riding a 12-game winning streak including eight with rookie 3rd string quarterback Brock Purdy running the offense. The 2022 NFL Draft’s “Mr. Irrelevant,” Purdy has been a revelation for the 49ers, showing the poise, accuracy and command of the offense rarely found in rookie quarterbacks, let alone those picked in the seventh round. He has been anything but irrelevant for San Francisco.
Purdy will be just the fifth rookie quarterback ever to start in a conference championship game. The previous four all lost, and none performed particularly well in the game. All four also were underdogs in the game, and only Shaun King’s Buccaneers were able to cover the spread.
NFL Rookie QBs in Conference Championship Games
|2nd round (50th)
|St. Louis Rams (-14.5)
|1st round (11th)
|New England Patriots (-3)
|1st round (18th)
|Pittsburgh Steelers (-6)
|1st round (5th)
|Indianapolis Colts (-8)
Purdy will have his work cut out for him if he wants to buck that trend and become the first rookie quarterback ever to start in the Super Bowl. The Eagles have tormented opposing quarterbacks all season with the best pass defense and the best pass rush in the league.
The Eagles are getting healthier at a perfect time, with several key players having returned from injury over their last two games. Most importantly, quarterback Jalen Hurts looked like he was fully recovered from his sprained throwing shoulder last week against the Giants.
This highly anticipated matchup brings plenty of intrigue, with two very evenly matched teams and several compelling matchups of strength against strength. We’re going to break down everything you need to know about the odds, injuries, depth charts, and key matchups to watch for this 49ers vs. Eagles matchup. And of course, I will give you my picks and predictions for the game.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles Betting Odds
The Eagles opened as two-point favorites, but that line quickly moved to -2.5 late on Sunday and early Monday. Some sportsbooks have briefly moved the line to -3, but it seems to be holding pretty steady at -2.5. It is still possible it could cross the key threshold of 3, but I expect it will likely stay at -2.5 right up until kickoff.
As of Saturday morning, the public is leaning slightly towards San Francisco against the spread, with roughly 60% of the handle on just over 50% of the bets. Unless that trend moves further in the 49ers’ direction, it’s unlikely the line will move much.
On the moneyline, the Eagles opened around -140 while the 49ers opened at +120. As usual, those lines have fluctuated plus or minus five to 10 points, but have not moved significantly. That is not likely to change based on current betting trends, as the handle is split right down the middle with just over 50% on Philadelphia. There are some bigger bets coming in on the 49ers, as they have receive half the money on roughly 30% of the moneyline bets.
For most of the week, the strongest public lean was on the total, which opened at 45.5 and has creeped up to 46 or 46.5 depending on the book. Despite the two dominant defenses in this matchup, the public had wagered roughly 70% of the money on the over as of Wednesday. If that trend had continued the line could have moved up another point, but instead the money moved in the other direction. By Saturday morning it was closer to 50/50. As such, I expect the line to hold steady at 46.5 until kickoff.
The implied outcome of these odds is the Eagles winning 24.5-22.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles Prediction
The 49ers have been the darlings of the NFL over the second half of the season. Brock Purdy is drawing comparisons to Tom Brady, the mid-season acquisition of Christian McCaffrey was hailed as a move that puts the team over the top, and defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans is considered a shoo-in to become a head coach next season thanks to the dominance of the defense during his tenure.
Much of that praise has been well-deserved. San Francisco is an excellent team with a complete roster and they are unquestionably the hottest team in the league right now.
At the same time, the Eagles’ lackluster finish to the season along with Jalen Hurts’ injury seems to have taken some of the shine off a team that was getting all the glory earlier in the year. The Eagles looked like they had regained their early season form last week in a 38-7 domination of the New York Giants, albeit not the strongest of playoff opponents.
Had the Eagles not floundered down the stretch with several key players on IR, they likely would be heavier favorites than the -2.5 spread indicates. Oddsmakers seem to be following the public sentiment about the 49ers with that line, but when we dig into the details of this matchup, the Eagles have a few distinct advantages that have me feeling confident they will cover.
The obvious advantage is at quarterback, where Purdy will face a defense and a road atmosphere unlike anything he has faced this season. A healthy Hurts is an MVP candidate who brings a dynamic the 49ers’ defense has hardly encountered all season.
Before his injury, Hurts was averaging just under seven designed runs (rush attempts minus kneels or scrambles) per game. His seven designed runs last week are a great indicator that he has no limitations entering this game. He likely would have had even more designed runs if the score were not so lopsided.
The Eagles’ offense is also well-equipped to attack the most vulnerable aspect of the 49ers’ vaunted defense – their secondary, particularly their coverage against deep passes.
% of targets traveling 20+ yards downfield:
Brown – 21.1%
Smith – 14.1%
— Jared Smola (@SmolaDS) January 23, 2023
As I discuss more below, the Eagles are also stronger on both sides of the line of scrimmage than San Francisco. In particular, I expect their dominant pass rush to wreak havoc on Purdy, who struggles when passing under pressure.
One of the hallmarks of this Eagles team has been their versatility and the ability to win games in a variety of ways – offensively or defensively, on the ground or through the air. They are built to exploit the 49ers’ weaknesses, while the 49ers’ offense is going to struggle if forced to play from behind.
For all these reasons, I am fading the public and picking the Eagles to win and cover in this game. I am also fading the public on the total and betting the under. Neither of these offenses has faced a defense as dominant as the ones they will face this week. While I expect the Eagles to have more success offensively and connect on more explosive plays than the 49ers, I also expect them to struggle to run the ball and move the chains consistently, which will lead to a lower scoring game.
My Prediction: Eagles win 23-17, Eagles cover -2.5, Under 46.5 total points
- Since the NFC Championship game began in 1970, the favorite has gone 34-18 straight up and 27-24-1 against the spread. In the 35 games where a total points line has been set, the over has hit 20 times.
- The 49ers are 5-0 ATS in their last five playoff games, while the Eagles are 6-2 ATS in their last eight playoff games.
- The Eagles are 6-2 in their last eight games vs teams with a winning record, while the 49ers are 4-0 in their last four games vs. winning teams.
- The 49ers are 9-1 ATS in their last 10 games following a straight-up win, and 7-1 ATS in their last eight games following an ATS win.
- The Eagles are 1-5 ATS in their last six games in January, with the one game they covered coming last week against the New York Giants (-7.5).
- The Under is 5-1 in the 49ers’ last six playoff games, and 7-0 in their last seven playoff road games.
- The Under is 4-1 in the Eagles’ last five games, but the Over is 4-1 in the 49ers’ last five games.
- The favorite is 7-3 ATS in the last 10 meetings between these teams.
- The 49ers are 3-7 ATS in the last 10 meetings between these teams.
- The Under is 4-0 in the last four meetings between these teams.
San Francisco 49ers Injuries: RB Christian McCaffrey (Q – calf), RB Elijah Mitchell (Q – groin), WR Deebo Samuel (Q – ankle), CB Ambry Thomas (Q – ankle), QB Jimmy Garoppolo (O – foot), DL Hassan Ridgeway (IR – pectoral), CB Jason Verrett (IR – knee), CB Emmanuel Moseley (IR – knee), QB Trey Lance (IR – ankle), TE Jordan Matthews (IR – knee), DL Maurice Hurst (IR – bicep)
The 49ers have some significant injury concerns entering this game, as three key offensive playmakers – Samuel, McCaffrey and Mitchell – were all new additions to the injury report this week. If any of those players is out or limited in this game, especially Samuel and McCaffrey, that would be a major loss for the 49ers’ offense.
Mitchell seems like the most likely player to miss the game, as he didn’t practice all week. McCaffrey missed two practices, but said on Thursday there was “zero” chance he would miss the game, which was validated when he was upgraded to a full participant on Friday. Samuel was limited on Wednesday and Thursday and was a full participant on Friday. While McCaffrey and Samuel carry no official injury designation heading into the game, it remains to be seen how their injuries might affect their performance.
There was a chance that Garoppolo would be activated for this game as the backup to Brock Purdy, who was named the starter early in the week. However, Garoppolo did not practice all week and has been ruled out.
Philadelphia Eagles Injuries: CB Avonte Maddox (Q – toe), RT Lane Johnson (Q – abdomen), P Arryn Siposs (IR – ankle), DT Marlon Tuipulotu (IR – knee), DE Janarius Robinson (IR – ankle), LB Shaun Bradley (IR – wrist), DE Derek Barnett (IR – knee)
The Eagles are as healthy as they have been in weeks after getting several key players back from injury over the last two games. Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson and DE Robert Quinn returned from IR stints in week 18, while RT Lane Johnson and DE Josh Sweat returned from multi-game absences in the Divisional Round last week. Slot cornerback Avonte Maddox was held off IR to preserve a chance of him playing in the playoffs, and that decision paid off for the Eagles. Maddox was upgraded to a full practice participant on Friday and carries no injury designation for this game, but it remains to be seen how many snaps he will be able to play.
Eagles QB Jalen Hurts was removed from the injury report last week and appears to be fully recovered from the sprained right shoulder he suffered in week 15 against Chicago. However, that injury is one that can be reaggravated by a big hit or if he lands with all his weight on that shoulder. While he should enter the game with no limitations, it bears monitoring during the game.
Check out the key matchups and mismatches for San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles below.
49ers’ offensive line vs. Eagles’ pass rush
Trent Williams is one of the best offensive tackles in the league and he anchors the blind side of the 49ers’ O line. After him, however, the 49ers’ line is just average. They finished the season ranked 20th in pass block win rate and 17th in run block win rate. They did allow the second-lowest pressure rate in the league this season (16.2%), but that can also be attributed to Garoppolo and Purdy getting rid of the ball quickly.
Last week against the Cowboys, the 49ers gave up pressure on 27.2% of dropbacks, and Purdy completed just 30% of passes when he was under pressure. The Cowboys presented a much stronger pass rush than Purdy had faced in any previous games, and it clearly affected him. Now he faces a dominant Eagles’ pass rush that nearly broke the single-season record for sacks by a team.
The Eagles finished with 70 sacks, just two shy of the record set by the 1974 Chicago Bears, which is considered one of the greatest defenses of all time. The Eagles also became the first defense in NFL history with four different players reaching double-digit sacks: Haason Reddick (16), Javon Hargrave (11), Josh Sweat (11) and Brandon Graham (11). They get pressure from all over – both inside and outside and from both the right and left sides.
If the 49ers struggle to protect Purdy, that will be a huge factor in the outcome of this game.
49ers’ running backs vs. Eagles’ defensive front
Kyle Shanahan’s offense is known for its creative play design in the run game that creates space and disguises blocking schemes. Ironically their offense was more effective in the passing game than on the ground this season, but the offense still runs through the rushing attack (pun intended!).
The 49ers’ top two running backs are both dealing with new injuries this week that could have a significant impact on this aspect of their offense, and thus their offense as whole. Late in the game last week, McCaffrey was only on the field on 3rd downs despite the 49ers’ being focused on running the clock with a late lead. If he is limited to 3rd downs and other passing situations in this game, the 49ers’ offense will be much easier to defend.
The Eagles’ run defense improved considerably over the second half of the season. Over the first 10 weeks, their run defense ranked 28th in DVOA and 31st in EPA per rush, but since then they rank 15th and 12th, respectively. That improvement can be attributed partially to the additions of veteran defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh, who both joined the team prior to week 11.
That said, the run defense is still the most vulnerable aspect of the Eagles’ defense, because their pass defense is so dominant. They ranked 1st in pass defense DVOA and 1st in EPA per dropback, not to mention their pass rushing prowess noted above.
If the 49ers are not able to run the ball effectively, they are going to struggle to move the ball and score enough points to keep up with the Eagles’ offense.
Eagles’ offensive line vs. 49ers’ defensive front
The Eagles have the best offensive line in the league. All five starters were either Pro Bowlers (Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce and Landon Dickerson) or Pro Bowl alternates (Jordan Mailata, Isaac Seumalo). Johnson and Kelce also both earned first-team All-Pro honors. As a unit they finished the season 2nd in run block win rate (75%) and 12th in pass block win rate (62%) and were PFF’s top-graded offensive line.
They will have their hands full against the 49ers’ front seven, which features two first-team All-Pros of their own in edge rusher Nick Bosa and linebacker Fred Warner. The frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year, Bosa led the league with 18.5 sacks, which represented 42 percent of the 49ers’ 44 total sacks.
The Eagles have found ways to neutralize dominant pass rushers this season, especially when that player is the only major pass rush threat. They did that twice this season against the Cowboys’ Micah Parsons, who had no sacks and just one pressure in two games against the Eagles.
Creating space in the run game may be a bigger challenge against the 49ers’ run defense that ranked 1st in DVOA and 2nd in EPA per rush this season. But the Eagles’ rushing offense also ranked 1st in DVOA and 1st in EPA per rush, so it will be steel against steel in that aspect of the game.
It’s also worth noting that the 49ers have not faced many teams with mobile quarterbacks this season. They faced Justin Fields in week one, but that game was played in a monsoon and doesn’t offer much predictive guidance (but the 49ers did lose that game). They struggled in week six against the Falcons when Marcus Mariota rushed six times for 50 yards and a touchdown.
That Falcons game (another 49ers loss) might have exposed a weakness against zone reads and RPOs, which is a strength of the Eagles’ offense that they will look to exploit.
Eagles’ wide receivers vs. 49ers’ secondary
This is probably the biggest mismatch in this game. The 49ers are down two of their top cornerbacks from the start of the season. Outsider corner Emmanuel Moseley tore his ACL in week five against the Panthers, while slot corner Jason Verrett tore his Achilles before the season.
That leaves second-year cornerback Deommodore Lenoir starting on the outside opposite week one starter Charvarius Ward. Lenoir has an interception in each of the 49ers’ playoff victories.
Quarterbacks targeting wide receivers covered by Lenoir this season completed 66.3% of passes for 8.4 yards per target and a QB rating of 91.2. Those are just average numbers at best for a CB2, and Lenoir is likely to be overmatched by Eagles wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. The Eagles have some experience completing big plays against Lenoir.
Expect Ward to spend most of the game covering Brown, which means Smith draws the primary assignment of Lenoir. Smith has been red hot down the stretch this season. Since week 13 he is averaging 6.4 receptions on 9.6 targets for 92.3 yards per game, and he caught five touchdowns over that seven-game span.
This is the type of matchup where the Eagles’ investments of two first-round picks in the duo of Brown and Smith is supposed to pay off. With the 49ers’ aforementioned vulnerability to deep passes, we could see at least one long completion to one of these receivers. In a low-scoring, hotly contested matchup, one big play like that could be all it takes to swing the outcome of the game.