Preview, prediction, what to watch for


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An inside look at Sunday’s Eagles-49ers NFC championship matchup in Philadelphia:

Marquee matchup

Eagles QB Jalen Hurts vs. 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans

Hurts is an MVP candidate who averaged 297.4 yards per game passing plus rushing and was responsible for 35 touchdowns against eight turnovers. Ryans is on the verge of becoming a head coach (likely for the Texans) after overseeing the NFL’s No. 1-ranked total defense (300.6 yards per game) and scoring defense (16.3 points per game). The Eagles scored touchdowns on 68.7 percent of their red-zone trips (ranked No. 3). The 49ers accumulated 30 turnovers (tied for No. 2) and tied for the league-high with 20 interceptions.

Hurts, who missed two late-season games with a shoulder injury, proved he is healthy enough to scramble last week in the win over the Giants. What ways will Ryans have to keep Hurts in the pocket, where Nick Bosa (18.5 sacks) can harass him?

Jalen Hurts
Getty Images

DeMeco Ryans
DeMeco Ryans

Dunleavy’s decision

It’s strange these teams haven’t previously met in the NFC Championship, given the 49ers have played in a league-best 16 since 1980 and the Eagles have been in six of the past 21. It’s like looking in a mirror when you see two teams built on both sides of the line of scrimmage, but Hurts is the better quarterback, and A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith, Dallas Goedert and Miles Sanders comprise a better cast of playmakers.

Eagles 26, 49ers 21

Four downs

Chasing history: After scoring 32 rushing touchdowns during the regular season and adding three last week against the Giants, the Eagles need two more to tie the NFL single-season record of 37 (playoffs included) set by the 1962 Packers. The Eagles are seven sacks shy of matching the single-season record of 85 (playoffs included) set by the 1984 Bears. If the Eagles match their total from their playoff opener (five), they will tie the 1985 Bears for second place (80) and become the first team with at least five sacks in nine straight games within the same season.

Six-pack: Christian McCaffrey can become the sixth running back in NFL history with at least 50 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in each of his first four career playoff games. Marcus Allen and Terrell Davis share the record with seven straight games at that mark — followed by Curtis Martin with five, and Arian Foster and Devonta Freeman with four each. McCaffrey was on the injury report earlier this week but said there is a “zero” percent chance of missing the game, while backup Elijah Mitchell did not practice.

Shootout sequel: These teams have met just three times in the past eight seasons, but their young quarterbacks squared off once before. Purdy led unranked Iowa State to 20 unanswered fourth-quarter points to cut a three-score deficit against Hurts-led No. 9 Oklahoma to 42-41, but his 2-point conversion pass was intercepted with 24 seconds remaining. Purdy accounted for 337 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns, while Hurts totaled 341 and five, respectively, with an interception in a classic Big 12 shootout on Nov. 9, 2019.

Hang tight: If the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce is the consensus best tight end in the NFL, the 49ers’ George Kittle and Eagles’ Dallas Goedert aren’t far behind. In fact, Kittle (198) and Goedert (189) had more receiving yards over expected in 2022 than Kelce (184), according to Next Gen Stats. Goedert and Kittle have developed a friendship and talked at the start of the week, but Goedert has a ways to go to catch up to Kittle’s career résumé, if only because he was a backup to Zach Ertz for three-plus years.

“I thought I should be mentioned in that [elite] breath since I was a rookie,” Goedert said, “but that’s the self-confidence that I have in myself.”

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