San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles
All concerns about Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts’ shoulder injury have been calmed ahead of the NFC title game, and the betting market reflects as much. Philadelphia opened as a 1.5-point favorite against San Francisco before sharp money moved the line to 2.5. Hurts passed all tests during a 38-7 victory over the Giants in a divisional-round beatdown. With a healthy Hurts, the Eagles resembled the team they were during a 13-1 start to the season.
Hurts was 7-for-7 for 89 yards passing in the first quarter and threw for two touchdowns and ran for one in the first half. The Eagles were not forced to go vanilla and operated their typical offense with zone-read plays that only work if Hurts is a threat to run, and he opened up the field for running backs Kenneth Gainwell, Miles Sanders and Boston Scott, who combined for 234 yards on 35 carries. The performance by the offensive line was dominant, with right tackle Lane Johnson providing more good news by returning from an abdominal injury to play deep into the game. A Philadelphia defense that leads the league in sacks (75) dropped Giants quarterback Daniel Jones five times, so it was business as usual on both sides of the ball.
While the Eagles made it look too easy against the outclassed Giants, the 49ers had a difficult time putting away Dallas, 19-12. The Cowboys made a few clumsy mistakes — Dak Prescott threw two interceptions and Brett Maher had an extra-point kick blocked — and lost their top running back, Tony Pollard, to injury. San Francisco played far less than its best game yet got off the hook. Still, the 49ers extended their winning streak to 12 games and rookie quarterback Brock Purdy improved his record as a starter to 7-0.
Purdy has not faced a lot of adversity so far, but he did make plays under pressure against Dallas and continues to show no moment is too big for him. San Francisco’s offensive playmakers — running backs Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle — are hyped for good reason. Hurts will be facing the fastest, most talented defense he has seen all season. Nick Bosa leads the pass rush, and linebacker Fred Warner is an all-around weapon. San Francisco ranked No. 1 in the NFL in scoring defense (16.3 PPG).
The difference, if things go Philadelphia’s way, will be Hurts. The 49ers feasted on weak opposing quarterbacks for most of the season, but the last quarterback to thoroughly beat their defense with the run and pass was Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes in October. Hurts has his own array of targets — receivers DeVonta Smith, A.J. Brown and tight end Dallas Goedert — and triggers a ground attack that can expose San Francisco like only the Chiefs did. If Hurts lives up to the hype — Eagles coach Nick Sirianni compared him to Michael Jordan — he’ll go to the Super Bowl and end Purdy’s Cinderella story.