Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers
The two best defenses by EPA per play in the regular season square off in the divisional round as the 49ers (No. 1) and Cowboys (No. 2) meet at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara for the right to go to the NFC Championship Game. Possible Offensive Rookie of the Year and current first-ballot Hall of Famer Brock Purdy has opened a ton of eyes in his six starts and one elongated relief appearance, but he’s really stepping up in class here.
In terms of EPA per play ranks during the regular season, Purdy’s seven games have been against the Dolphins (24), Buccaneers (11), Seahawks (26) twice, Commanders (5), Raiders (30) and Cardinals (20). Against the Commanders, Purdy was just 15-for-22 and took three sacks, though he did have 234 yards on the 15 completions with explosive plays to Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle.
The Cowboys also ranked fourth in Rush EPA and third in Rush Success Rate as a defense. This game will test the scripting and scheming of Kyle Shanahan and will also be Purdy’s biggest test to date by far. That being said, it’s also a huge test for the Cowboys, who face the league’s top defense by EPA per play and also a top-five offense in that metric.
Only the Titans had a better defense against the run and only the Eagles had a better defense against the pass by EPA. The Eagles, of course, ranked third all time in sacks with 70. The 49ers had only 44 sacks but found other ways to be effective, including 30 takeaways and the fewest points per drive in the league.
The Cowboys had 33 takeaways to lead the NFL. This may simply be a game about which quarterback takes better care of the football, as the profiles of these squads are strikingly similar. The 49ers offense was more explosive with a full half-yard per play more than the Cowboys. This looks like an outstanding game to wrap up the divisional round weekend.
It also looks like a tricky game to bet, as you’re likely to have strong opinions on both sides and the total looks just about right. Maybe the play here is to isolate some player props that make sense, particularly with two great defenses and two solid offensive minds in Shanahan and Kellen Moore.