The Eagles and 49ers are preparing for a heavyweight showdown on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, highlighted by star power on both sides of the football.
Philadelphia got off to a 13-1 start and outside of two consecutive losses without an injured Jalen Hurts, the Eagles have been the NFC’s top team.
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San Francisco has battled adversity and the loss of two starting quarterbacks but has now won 12 straight, with rookie quarterback Brock Purdy unbeaten in his first seven starts replacing an injured Jimmy Garoppolo.
The 49ers are in the NFC Championship Game for the third time in four seasons, while Philadelphia is making its seventh NFC title appearance since 2001, more than every team in the NFL accept the Patriots over that span.
With kickoff fast approaching, here are seven matchups to watch when the Eagles have the football.
The six experts at USA Today are evenly split.
Greg Rosenthal is picking Philadelphia in a close matchup.
The Eagles were my pick to win the Super Bowl before the season, and there’s no reason to quit them now. In a game with small margins, I trust second-year coach Nick Sirianni to make better game-management decisions when it comes to timeouts and crucial fourth downs. Expect an epic postgame celebration, even if Sirianni has to wait longer than the second quarter to start mean-mugging the camera.
Vic Tafur is picking San Francisco against the spread.
While the Eagles are 7-3 against the spread at home this season, they also haven’t faced an offensive foursome as talented as McCaffrey, Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Or a play caller as good as Kyle Shanahan, who is on his third quarterback this season. As a road underdog under Shanahan, the 49ers are 19-10 ATS.
Finally, it seems like playing the Cowboys was great preparation for the 49ers, as Dallas is similar to Philadelphia with the exception of the receiver depth.
The pick: 49ers +2.5
The Ringer is picking the Eagles to cover.
The spread reflects a matchup between two evenly matched teams. For as well as Purdy has played, he’s now going on the road against a team with the best pass rush in the NFL. He’s been surprising everyone since he took over for Garoppolo, and Shanahan will position Purdy to succeed, but at the end of the day it’s still a tough spot. Hurts has answered the call all season long. The Eagles are healthy. They’re at home. And their pass rush can take games over. I like them to advance.
The pick: Eagles (-2.5)
Gerry Dulac is picking Philadelphia.
The 49ers are the one team that has the defense to slow the Eagles’ offensive attack. Problem is, the Eagles have the defensive-line pressure to unnerve any quarterback, especially a rookie such as Brock Purdy. The 49ers have won 12 games in a row, and their seven-point victory margin against the Cowboys in the divisional round was their second-smallest in the past 10 games. They are built to get to the Super Bowl. But, man, did the Eagles look good against the Giants. Their lines of scrimmage just dominate the opponent.
ESPN’s four experts are split on the Eagles and 49ers.
three of the five experts at Sports Illustrated are rolling with San Francisco.
Pete Prisco is picking the Eagles.
The Eagles offense had another big rushing day against the Giants, which is the basis of their offense. Jalen Hurts can throw it, but they have to be able to run it here. That’s why their top-rated offensive line is key. They have to get push in the run game and keep Nick Bosa and gang off Hurts when they do throw. The 49ers linebackers can run and cover, which is a must against the Eagles offense. Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are special. They will have to be in this one.
But I look for Hurts to outplay Purdy and lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl. That Eagles offensive line and pass rush will decide this game.
Pick: Eagles 30, 49ers 21
Pro Football Talk is split, with Michael David Smith picking the 49ers, and Mike Florio rolling with the Eagles.
49ers (+2.5) at Eagles
MDS’s take: Over the course of the full season, the Eagles have been the better team. But in the last couple of months, since Brock Purdy became the 49ers’ starting quarterback, the 49ers have been better. I don’t want to discount the great season Jalen Hurts and the Eagles have had, and playing in Philadelphia is an advantage, but I think the 49ers are playing better football than the Eagles right now, and I’m picking the upset.
MDS’s pick: 49ers 24, Eagles 21.
Florio’s take: It’s still a quarterback-driven league. And Jalen Hurts is a far more accomplished quarterback than Brock Purdy. Yes, Purdy hasn’t lost a game yet. He also has yet to face a team like the Eagles, in a place like Philadelphia. Maybe he’ll make a clutch play that delivers a win. Maybe the 49ers are otherwise good enough that he won’t have to. Regardless, Hurts is the more proven quarterback, and I’ve got more faith in him to make a big play in a big spot, and/or to inspire his teammates at the right moment to do something that will make a difference. It will be a very slim difference.
Florio’s pick: Eagles 24, 49ers 23.
All four writers at Athlon Sports are picking Philadelphia.
Bill Bender and The Sporting News are picking San Francisco.
Purdy has Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle. Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson is the X-factor on the back end. He had six interceptions this season. Kittle is without question Purdy’s favorite target. Can the Eagles take him away? Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans are auditioning for head-coaching jobs, and which team can generate the game-changing turnover?
Our guess is the 49ers – who have that recent experience – find a way in an instant classic that comes down to a game-winning field goal by Robbie Gould.
All three writers at The Inquirer are rolling with the Eagles.
Jimmy Kempski is picking the Birds.
49ers No. 3 quarterback Brock Purdy deserves all the credit he has gotten for helping the Niners continue their winning streak into the postseason, but Sunday evening will be a major challenge. He’ll be trying to avoid a pass rush that sacked opposing quarterbacks 75 times this season while throwing into a ball-hawking secondary in front of a very loud, liquored-up crowd unlike any he has ever seen. The magical run ends Sunday evening.
Brandon Lee Gowton and his staff are picking Philadelphia.