NFC TITLE GAME PREVIEW: Green playoff QBs, grizzled defences

NFL’s top two defences, 49ers and Eagles, clash in a conference title game for only the third time

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How hot are the San Francisco 49ers?

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Their current win streak, 12 games, is the NFL’s longest heading into a conference championship game since the New England Patriots won all 17 heading into the 2007 AFC title game.

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But that Patriots juggernaut had peak first-phase Tom Brady at quarterback — at age 30, in his seventh season of starting — and not a 23-year-old with less than two months of pro experience.

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Yet hotshot rookie Brock Purdy indeed leads the 49ers on Sunday against the host Philadelphia Eagles, in this season’s NFC championship game (3 p.m. EST, CTV via FOX).

The winner advances to Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Ariz., two weeks from Sunday.

If the game is low-scoring, no one should be surprised. It’s not that the weather in Philadelphia is expected to be an issue. Rather, that the two starting quarterbacks have little post-season experience — four games combined — and, even more impactfully, this is a matchup of the NFL’s two stingiest defences.

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In the 2022 regular season, the 49ers surrendered just 301 yards per game, the Eagles 302. Only twice before have the NFL’s two best teams in this regard clashed in a conference title game — in 1978 when Dallas beat the L.A. Rams, and in 2008 when Pittsburgh beat Baltimore.

It starts up front for both defences, and actually applies to each’s offence too, Eagles head coack Nick Siranni said.

“I’ve been taught from very young that it’s O-line, D-line; O-line, D-line; O-line, D-line,” he said Thursday. “It doesn’t matter if it’s my son’s peewee game … a high school game … a college game … a pro game — O-line, D-line wins games and sets the tone.

“We have a great defensive line. We have a great offensive line … We also know this (is true) about San Francisco.”

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Purdy is just 23 years old. His Eagles counterpart, Jalen Hurts, is 24. This is the first NFL conference championship game with both starting QBs under age 25. Three years ago the two actually squared off in a Big 12 college thriller, with Purdy and the Iowa State Cyclones coming up just short in a late, furious comeback, losing 42-41 to Hurts and the Oklahoma Sooners.

Don’t expect anything close to such scoring.

Here’s the nuts-and-bolts info you need on the NFC championship game:

49ers at EAGLES

NFC: No. 2 seed at No. 1 seed.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 3 p.m. EST.

TV: CTV via FOX.

LINE: Eagles by 2.5.

WEATHER: Mild. 11ºC, cloudy, 16% chance of rain, winds 15-25 km/h.

PREVIOUS PLAYOFF RESULTS: The 49ers beat visiting Seattle 41-23, then visiting Dallas 19-12. The Eagles had a first-round bye, then punished the visiting New York Giants 38-7.

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ROAD QB: Brock Purdy. First season, third playoff start, two playoff wins. Is 7-0 as a starter. Still incredible this kid never took a meaningful pro snap before mid-December. So far in the playoffs has completed 63% for three TDs, an excellent 9.3 yards per attempt and 109.9 passer rating, against no picks and only three sacks, while rushing for a TD too. Hoping to become first rookie QB ever to win a conference title game and start in a Super Bowl.

HOME QB: Jalen Hurts. Third season, third playoff start, one playoff win. Is 15-1 this season. In last three starts has produced more TDs (six) than sacks taken (five). First QB in NFL history with 10+ rush TDs in consecutive years. Last year vs. 49ers he rushed for 82 yards and a TD, and threw for 190 yards in victory. His completion percentage has skyrocketed between each of these three NFL seasons, from 52.0%, to 61.3%, to 66.5%.

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49ers FYI: DE Nick Bosa had two sacks and a forced fumble vs. Eagles last season … Bosa became first Niner in 40 years to lead the NFL in sacks (18.5) … Head coach Kyle Shanahan now 6-2 in the playoffs, with only losses to that season’s Super Bowl champ … Since DeMeco Ryans became defensive coordinator two years ago, the Niners have allowed only two 100-yard rushers in 39 games, and none this season … Deebo Samuel already has matched his 2019 and 2021 playoff totals with 10 catches.

EAGLES FYI: With three more rushing TDs in the playoffs they’d set a new single-season NFL record, including playoffs, with 38, to break the 1962 Green Bay Packers’ 60-year milestone … Philly’s defence had the fourth most interceptions (17) … Eagles added five sacks last Sunday to their NFL-best 70 during the regular season, and held Daniel Jones of the Giants to a lowly passer rating of 53.8 … RB Miles Sanders is good. He had 90 yards vs. Giants, after posting career regular-season highs of 1,269 yards and 11 rush TDs.

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IMPACTFUL INJURIES: Hurts revealed to the FOX broadcast crew a week ago his right throwing shoulder, which he sprained in mid-December, still is nowhere close to 100%. How much is it still limiting him? Otherwise for Philly, only CB Avonte Maddox (toe) was limited both Wednesday and Thursday. Shanahan said he expects all his active 49ers players except still-rehabbing Jimmy Garoppolo to play, including RB Christian McCaffrey, who sat out Wednesday and Thursday practices with the calf injury he’s been carefully nursing.

KEY QUESTION: Can the Eagles and their vaunted pass rush do what no other team over the past two months has been able to — fluster the Niners’ rookie passer? That might seem the surest path to victory, but if the Cowboys and their nearly-as-good pass rush couldn’t do it, you have to be worried if you’re an Eagles fan, with all that elite talent surrounding Purdy.

KRYK PICK: 49ers 19, Eagles 13.

John Kryk now writes a weekly newsletter on NFL matters. Content is exclusive to that platform. You can have it automatically dropped into your email inbox on Wednesdays simply by signing up — for free — at

[email protected]


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