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NFL: NFC Championship Game Preview

Two of the most talent-filled rosters in the NFL clash at Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers visit the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.

The Niners' top-ranked defense intercepted Dak Prescott twice and allowed just 76 rushing yards in Sunday's Divisional Round victory over the Dallas Cowboys, but Kyle Shanahan's players face a tougher task on the road this weekend. Seven of the past nine NFC Championship games have been won by the home team.

WhatSan Francisco 49ers @ Philadelphia Eagles
WhereLincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
When3:00 ET, Sunday, January 29th 2023
How to watchFox, Streaming via FuboTV
OddsSF 49ers +125, PHI Eagles -145

Niners will lean on Ryans-led defense

San Francisco have leaned on their defense all season long and it has provided the bedrock for their ongoing 12-game win streak during a period of extreme upheaval on offense.

DeMeco Ryans' unit has been electric all year, with great pass rushers up front, linebackers that can drop easily into coverage and a secondary that hardly ever gives up explosive plays.

The Eagles are going to have to figure out a way of moving the chains against the Niners without falling into the trap of throwing into double coverage, or attempting convoluted run plays that get blown up in the backfield.

Hurts back to normal vs. Giants

That will depend on quarterback Jalen Hurts, who looked like his MVP-candidate self against the New York Giants last weekend as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury.

His average pass length was a mere six yards, but he posted a solid 84 QB rating and completed 16/24 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Hurts wasn't as explosive as he looked in the regular season, but he didn't need to be, as the Eagles offense operated with impressive efficiency from the get-go. 

In what should be a much closer contest this Sunday, Philly fans will hope he can remain mistake-free as he was vs. the Giants. 

Shanahan's scheme protects Purdy

Some are calling this season Shanahan's finest accomplishment as a head coach having taken the 49ers to the NFC title game with a rookie quarterback. Specifically, the 262nd and final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. 

Without detracting too much from Brock Purdy, who is 7-0 as the starting QB, he has benefitted from Shanahan's quarterback-friendly scheme that involves plenty of short- and mid-ranged throws, which balance well with San Fran's dynamic running game involving Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, and Elijah Mitchell. 

Rookies have struggled in conference title games

This will be Purdy's sternest test yet, as the seventh-round pick has faced very few elite defenses during his run as the starter.

He struggled at times against a good Cowboys defense last Sunday, completing 19 of 29 passes while getting sacked twice. The Eagles' defense is arguably on the same level as the 49ers unit, so Purdy will have his hands full once again on Sunday in what will be a rowdy environment.

Purdy has attempted more than 30 passes just once in his seven starts, a theme that is likely to continue this Sunday as Shanahan is unlikely to stray away from his gameplan.

He will be just the fifth rookie QB in NFL history to start in a conference title game, and the previous four went 0-4 with a combined nine interceptions and four touchdowns.

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Eagles must stack up against the run

Philadelphia's strength is in their defensive front and they have already racked up the third-most sacks in a season (75) since the NFL began recording the stat. But given the number of different looks the Niners' offense can show, Philly's D-line will have its hands full.

There is no doubt Eagles DC Jonathan Gannon will aim to put the ball in the hands of Purdy on third down. Limiting McCaffrey, Samuel, and others on the early downs to put pressure on the rookie QB to make a big throw is a recipe for success for Philly on Sunday.

The Eagles' defense surrendered 4.6 yards per carry against the run this year - the ninth-worst number in the NFL - so the Niners' will take encouragement from that.

Points will be scarce in tight contest

Despite the strength of both offenses, San Francisco and Philly's defensive units could make Sunday a low-scoring affair, rather than a shootout. 

There were only four games this season when a team scored more than 20 points on the Niners, who went 12-1 when surrendering less than 19 points.

Both teams should see success in executing their defensive gameplans - the Eagles to make Purdy make big throws on late down, and the Niners to prevent Hurts and co. from running wild like they did against the Giants. Carrying out gameplans is never as simple as it may seem, but both teams have displayed their ability to do so throughout the season and Sunday should be no different.

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