While the NFC Championship Game always delivers matchups between some of the best teams in the conference, Sunday’s battle between the San Francisco 49ers vs Philadelphia Eagles could be an all-time classic.
Fans get to see two of the deepest rosters in the NFL, with both the 49ers and Eagles boasting talent pools that will likely never all be together on the same field again. If the proverbial saying that defense wins championships is accurate, no one should be surprised that the two best NFL defenses will be out there in the NFC Championship Game.
In terms of what’s at stake, only the George Halas Trophy and a career-defining moment for so many of these players and coaches. Sunday’s winner won’t just represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVII, they’ll likely be the favorite to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Let’s dive into our bold predictions for the NFC Championship Game.
Jalen Hurts delivers three touchdowns, 300-plus total yards
San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is a phenomenal strategist, both in how he prepares his defense for opponents during the week and his in-game adjustments. However, the 49ers’ secondary is a legitimate weakness that can be exploited. Opponents averaged a 95.6 QB rating and 71.2% completion rate in San Francisco’s last four regular-season games. Philadelphia knows specifically who and where to attack on Sunday.
Outside corner Deommodore Lenoir is the Achilles’ heel of the 49ers’ defense. Among starting corners, per Pro Football Focus, Lenoir ranked 52nd in yards per reception allowed (12.4), 63rd in yards after catch surrendered (339), 47th in reception rate (68.7%), and 61st in PFF coverage (55.2).
Hurts is going to attack him and No. 1 cornerback Charvarius Ward is inconsistent in coverage, struggling more often against elite receivers. With the problems in the secondary, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith should get open enough for Hurts to throw for 250-plus yards. Combine that with his dangerous rushing ability, especially effective in the red zone, he could have an MVP-caliber performance in the biggest moment of his career.
Brock Purdy falls apart
Brock Purdy, Mr. Irrelevant in the 2022 NFL Draft, became a savior for San Francisco. When Jimmy Garoppolo went down, most assumed the 49ers’ chances of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy vanished. Instead, Purdy played better than any 49ers’ quarterback during the Kyle Shanahan era.
However, the Divisional Round game showed something. Against a great pass rush, Purdy’s inexperience and recklessness become more evident. Facing the Dallas Cowboys, he completed just 33.3% of his 12 pass attempts when pressures, totaling 55 passing yards and a 49.0 QB rating.
While one game is a small sample size, look at his senior season at Iowa State. Purdy had a 79.9 QB rating vs pressure and he ranked 55th among college quarterbacks in PFF passing grade (51.2) when pressured.
Philadelphia’s secondary is far better than what Dallas put out on the field in the Divisional Round. The Eagles’ safeties and cornerbacks match up better in coverage against San Francisco’s offensive weapons. Combine that with a record-setting pass rush and you have a recipe for Purdy to get sacked multiple times with at least one turnover in his worst start ever.
Christian McCaffrey delivers big game playing through injury
Christian McCaffrey proved to be worthy of everything the 49ers paid to get him and more. While it took a few weeks for Shanahan and the All-Pro offensive weapon to gel, he became one of the most unstoppable and explosive players in the NFL after everything clicked.
McCaffrey will play in the NFC Championship Game despite a lingering calf injury. Given what is on the line for San Francisco and Shanahan, we should see one of his highest usage rates since he put on a 49ers’ uniform.
During the regular season, Philadelphia allowed 86 receptions and 542 receiving yards to opposing running backs. While those numbers hang around the league average, defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (14%), Avonte Maddox (22.6%) and linebacker T.J. Edwards (11.8%) all had high missed-tackle rates when in coverage.
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McCaffrey will take advantage, especially in a game where he should receive 20-plus touches. While we can’t guarantee two touchdowns, McCaffrey will extend his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown and eclipse 120 scrimmage yards.
Philadelphia Eagles win NFC Championship Game
It will come down to the final drive. Even after Purdy struggles in the first half, taking multiple sacks and throwing an interception, McCaffrey and the 49ers’ defense keep it a one-score game. Hurts will put Philadelphia in scoring position with under 10 minutes remaining, putting the Eagles ahead 27-21.
San Francisco then responds with a field goal before forcing an Eagles’ 3-and-out. However, Philadelphia’s pass rush will come through on the final drive to record a fourth-down stop, securing a 27-24 victory and a trip to the Super Bowl.