PHILADELPHIA — It will be high-stakes theater at Lincoln Financial Field when the 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles host the 8-3 San Francisco 49ers on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox) in a 2023 NFC Championship Game rematch.
The 49ers were left with a bitter taste in their mouths after being throttled 31-7 on Jan. 29. Quarterback Brock Purdy was knocked out of the game on their sixth offensive snap with a torn UCL in his throwing elbow, and backup Josh Johnson exited with a concussion in the third quarter. Afterward, receiver Brandon Aiyuk said Philadelphia got “extremely lucky.” Deebo Samuel got personal, calling Eagles corner James Bradberry “trash.” He said San Francisco lost “because we played with 10 people.”
“Talk is cheap,” Eagles edge rusher Haason Reddick said this week, via KYW news. “You know, they get to come back in the Linc. It was a lot of boohoos last year, a lot of crying, a lot of what if, a lot of this, a lot of that. They get a chance to come back in here, line that s— up, and prove it again.”
While the Niners are out for payback, the Eagles get to play the underdog card despite owning the best record in the NFL. San Francisco is a three-point favorite, making Philadelphia just the seventh team in the Super Bowl era to have 10-plus wins and one or fewer losses and be a home underdog.
“I mean, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “But I don’t really know how that stuff works. So, I don’t really know why.”
Added Eagles coach Nick Sirianni: “Before I ever stepped foot in the city all I knew about this city was Rocky versus Apollo Creed. The city plays the underdog well.”
Beyond the drama, there’s plenty on the line in this matchup when it comes to playoff positioning. There’s a decent chance these teams will square off in the postseason once again. If San Francisco wants any shot of hosting that game, it needs to walk out of Philly victorious this time around.
ESPN 49ers reporter Nick Wagoner and Eagles reporter Tim McManus break down the heavyweight bout.
How this game affects the NFC playoff scenarios
The Eagles are in control of the No. 1 seed in the NFC and have a chance to all but lock it up over the next two weeks if they can beat the Niners and Dallas Cowboys. That would leave only the Detroit Lions in the mix for that top spot, provided they continue to win and keep pace. In more immediate terms, the Eagles have multiple scenarios to be the first team to clinch a playoff berth this week. The easiest path is a win against the Niners paired with a Los Angeles Rams loss to the Cleveland Browns.
As for the 49ers, a victory would thrust them back into the mix for that top seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. While they would still be a game back of the Eagles, they’d have the head-to-head tiebreaker and could find themselves — gasp — rooting for the Cowboys in Week 14. The 49ers can’t clinch a playoff spot this week, but a win in Philadelphia combined with some losses from the Rams and Seahawks could put them in position to wrap up not only a postseason spot, but the NFC West division title as soon as Week 14. — Nick Wagoner
Quarterback strengths and weaknesses
Brock Purdy, 49ers: Through 10 games, no quarterback in the NFL has been more efficient than Purdy. He leads the NFL in many major statistical passing categories including QBR, completion percentage, yards per attempt and traditional passer rating. Purdy has been particularly good against man coverage and using the middle of the field, something the Eagles play a lot of and have struggled against, respectively. Purdy is third in QBR (85), tied for first in touchdown passes (16) and second in completion rate (66%) against man coverage this season. He’s also second in QBR on throws between the hashes (94.9), while the Eagles are allowing a QBR of 95.6 on such throws, which ranks 28th in the NFL.
The biggest question for Purdy is how he fares in close and late situations. All six of Purdy’s interceptions this season have come in the second half, including three in the fourth quarter when trying to forge comebacks in eventual losses to Minnesota and Cincinnati. — Wagoner
Jalen Hurts, Eagles: Hurts is a closer. He has helped the Eagles overcome halftime deficits in each of their past four games, including Sunday against the Bills when he went off for four touchdowns after intermission and called game with a walk-off rushing TD in overtime. “There aren’t too many guys that I’ve played with — probably nobody that I’ve played with — that’s been more clutch down the stretch,” Eagles veteran center Jason Kelce said. Hurts, the current MVP favorite, has a regular-season record of 24-2 over the past two seasons and has won 14 straight games against teams that entered with a winning record — the longest win streak for a starting QB since 1950.
But he has been turning the ball over at a higher clip this season. Hurts already has a career-high 10 interceptions after throwing just six picks all of last year and is tied for the third-most turnovers among quarterbacks with 14. — Tim McManus
The 49ers will win if …
Just because this is a huge game doesn’t mean the Niners want the recipe for victory to change. They’ve jumped on their opponents early all season and will need to do that and keep their foot on the gas against an Eagles team that’s been outstanding in coming from behind. There should be opportunities to make plenty of plays in the intermediate passing game and run the ball successfully, particularly by attacking the edges.
The biggest challenge will be slowing down Philadelphia’s running game. The Eagles’ offensive line is posting a league-best 76.6% run block win rate. The 49ers have 15 sacks over the past three games and Hurts is prone to hang on to the ball, so there should be opportunities to get to him, but the Niners have to slow the run first. As always, the turnover battle is most important. The Niners have just 10 giveaways this year (third in the NFL) to Philadelphia’s 16 (tied for 18th). That means there should be some chances for takeaways and the Niners have to take advantage. — Wagoner
The Eagles will win if …
Their pass rush can dominate once again. The front seven generated 17 pressures, 7 QB hits and 3 sacks in the NFC Championship Game against the 49ers and knocked a pair of quarterbacks out of the game. It remains a favorable matchup for Philadelphia: The Eagles have the league’s fifth-best pass rush win rate (51%) and face a 49ers offensive front that is 16th, or middle of the pack, in pass block win rate (56%). Josh Sweat (60 pressures) and Reddick (55 pressures) lead the charge from the outside while Rookie Defensive Player of the Year candidate Jalen Carter has four sacks on the season and has generated pressure on 14.2% of his pass-rush snaps, which ranks fourth among defensive tackles.
The Eagles are expected to be without both of their original starting linebackers in Nakobe Dean and Zach Cunningham because of injury. The middle of the defense is vulnerable and the back end has had its share of issues — the Eagles rank 29th in pass defense (255.7 YPG) and have yielded the second-most passing touchdowns (23) — making it imperative that the rush gets home. — McManus
Non-QB X factor to keep an eye on
Jake Moody, K, 49ers: There is rain in the forecast in Philadelphia again this week, which is nothing new for the Eagles, who have played in similar conditions in recent weeks. The Niners, meanwhile, have played in only one rain game so far, a Week 6 loss against Cleveland in which they had their worst performance of the season. More rain could mean even more to Moody, a rookie who has been nearly perfect aside from that Week 6 loss to the Browns. Two of his three misses this year came that day, including a game-winning 41-yard field goal attempt. The stakes of this game, combined with the weather, make Moody someone to watch. — Wagoner
DeVonta Smith, WR, Eagles: A.J. Brown was on an absolute heater from Weeks 3 through 8, posting a record 125-plus receiving yards in six consecutive games. Defenses have since ramped up the amount of double-teams and bracket coverage they’re throwing his way. Smith has taken advantage of his one-on-one opportunities. He has 99-plus receiving yards in three of his past four games, including seven catches for 106 yards and a touchdown against the Bills on Sunday. Whether it’s Charvarius Ward or Deommodore Lenoir lining up against him, expect Smith to see plenty of action. — McManus
Stat to know
49ers: In a battle of great on great, this matchup features the team posting the most yards after contact per play (1.55) and per game (93.73) per ESPN Stats & Information — the Niners — against the team allowing the fewest yards after contact per play (0.93) and per game (60.55) — the Eagles. — Wagoner
Eagles: Philly has won eight consecutive home games, marking the second-longest active home winning streak in the NFL behind the Cowboys (13). The Eagles are 17-3 over their past 20 games at Lincoln Financial Field. — McManus