The game of the year is upon us in the NFC when the Philadelphia Eagles (10-1) host the San Francisco 49ers (8-3) in a rematch of the 2022 NFC Championship Game.
The Eagles won that game decisively, 31-7, but it was a bit of an asterisk as 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy injured his elbow on the opening drive, leaving the team without an effective passing quarterback for the rest of the afternoon.
Both teams are doing very well this year and are the favorites at our offshore sportsbooks to return to the Super Bowl for the NFC side. But despite the Eagles having a 10-1 record and home field in this game, the 49ers are a 2.5-point road favorite.
It is a rarity for a huge matchup like this, but let’s look at the reasons for why the Eagles can pull off the upset and move to 11-1.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, December 03, 2023 – 04:25 PM ET at Lincoln Financial Field
Eagles Can Embrace the Underdog Role
The Eagles have a lot of new players and coaches since they won the Super Bowl in 2017, but Jason Kelce is still the center, as he was that year when he broke out the underdog masks to help the team through a playoff run where they were the underdog in every game and still won every time.
It’s starting to feel that way again for these 2023 Eagles, as they were underdogs in Kansas City and found a way to win that game, and now they are underdogs at home when facing a San Francisco team they beat by 24 points in January.
But the 49ers have been a more statistically dominant team than the Eagles this season, despite losing 3 games. Both teams have scored 310 points, but the 49ers have allowed 76 fewer points, which is basically a whole touchdown per game.
In fact, Philadelphia’s plus-64 scoring differential ranks 64th out of the 65 teams since 1950 that won at least 10 of their first 11 games. This team is 10-1 because it is 9-1 in close games with 4 double-digit comebacks already in hand.
It makes sense why the 49ers are favored even on the road after they have won their last 3 games by at least 2 touchdowns. Cincinnati is the only team to score more than 23 points against the 49ers this year.
But the Eagles can no doubt embrace the underdog role at home.
Underdogs Do Well in Such Matchups
Just how rare is it for a 1-loss team to be a home underdog this late in the season?
We can tell you that there have been 53 games since the 1970 merger where a team that won 80% of its games was a home underdog of at least 2 points.
- The home underdog was 36-17 SU (67.9%) and 39-13-1 ATS (75.5%), which are very strong numbers for underdogs.
- If you remove Week 17 playoff rest games, the home underdog is 34-13 SU (72.3%) and 37-9-1 ATS (80.9%)
- If you only look at games after Week 9 and without playoff rest, the home underdog is 18-6 SU (75%) and 20-4 ATS (83.3%).
The last time a 1-loss team this late in the season was a home underdog was when the 16-1 Steelers were a 3-point home underdog to the Patriots in the 2004 AFC Championship Game. The Patriots won 41-27, but Ben Roethlisberger was also a rookie quarterback at the time. The Eagles have the odds-on favorite for MVP in Jalen Hurts.
This looks very favorable for the Eagles, but there is one huge caveat. We don’t know if the 2023 Eagles are going to finish with a 14-3 record (or better) again to get to 80% wins in the regular season. This could be a game that puts them on a little losing streak with Dallas coming up. But with the Seahawks, Giants (twice), and Cardinals after that, it could very well be 14-3 for the Eagles, which would put them on this list of rare games for home underdogs with great records.
Eagles Can Stop the Run and Make Purdy Beat Them
Last year, the Eagles had that notable pass rush with 70 sacks, but the run defense was a bit leaky. This year, teams are abandoning the run and throwing at will against the Eagles, who despite facing the most pass attempts in the league, they are just 1 sack behind the 49ers (33 sacks) to rank outside the top 10 this year. The Eagles may not reach 50 sacks this year.
But only 3 teams have rushed for over 90 yards against the Eagles this year, and they all got decent production out of their quarterback on the ground in those games as well. But the Chiefs had some real success with the running backs too in Week 11. Still, most teams are not doing well on the ground against this front.
This could be a quiet game for Christian McCaffrey, who has been held under 55 rushing yards in all 3 San Francisco losses this year, and each game was within one score in the 4th quarter. They weren’t blowouts like last year’s title game where McCaffrey was all the 49ers had, and he had 15 carries for 84 yards. But his 23-yard touchdown run was one of his only significant runs on the day.
Defending Against Big Plays
Putting more of the game in Purdy’s hands could be advantageous to the Eagles. The 49ers like to keep his attempts low and he is 9-0 in games he starts and finishes when he throws fewer than 27 passes.
The 49ers thrive on scheming open big pass plays to their talented weapons, including George Kittle and Deebo Samuel. While the Eagles are 20th in scoring defense and have already allowed 30 touchdowns this year, they have limited the big scoring plays. The only touchdown longer than 27 yards against the Eagles was Jordan Addison’s 62-yard touchdown in Week 2. Oddly enough, the only touchdown longer than 26 yards allowed by the 49ers was also a 60-yard touchdown to Addison in Minnesota, so these defenses have that much in common.
But containing McCaffrey should help the Eagles’ cause this week.
Eagles Can Come Back While 49ers More of a Front-Running Team
The 2022 Eagles were a dominant team that controlled so many games right from the start that they were basically decided by halftime. That is not the case in 2023, when the Eagles are allowing many more points and fighting for close wins almost every single week.
Philadelphia is 9-1 in close games in the 4th quarter, and the only game that wasn’t close was the 25-11 win in Tampa Bay earlier this year. Meanwhile, the 49ers are only 1-3 in close games this year as they like to win big, lose close, a trait shared by the Bills, who lost in overtime last week against these Eagles.
Close games have not been kind to Kyle Shanahan during his time with the 49ers, especially in games without Jimmy Garoppolo as his quarterback. Shanahan is just 15-32 (.319) in game-winning drive opportunities in the 4th quarter and overtime, a record that ranks 22nd among active coaches. Nick Sirianni with the Eagles is 8-7 (.533) in such games, the 3rd-best record among active coaches.
That means Jalen Hurts is now 8-7 (.533) at game-winning drive opportunities for Sirianni, which is the best record among any active quarterback with at least 15 opportunities. Hurts has that dual-threat ability that allows him to scramble under pressure, and we know he’s almost automatic in short-yardage situations thanks to the best offensive line and the Brotherly Shove.
Big Leads Slipping Away
Shanahan’s 49ers are also 0-37 since 2017 when trailing by at least 8 points in the 4th quarter, the only team without a win in that time. Beyond that, we know Shanahan-coached teams have blown many big leads in big games, including Super Bowl 54 against the Chiefs and the 2021 NFC Championship Game. Shanahan was also the offensive play-caller for the 2016 Falcons when they blew a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl 51 against the Patriots.
Whether you call him and his team a front-runner or bridesmaid, these games are the reason why he has never won a championship. His teams always seem to come up short in the big moments.
The Eagles were the team that blew a double-digit lead in the 2nd half of last year’s Super Bowl, but for as good as Purdy is, let’s not confuse him with Patrick Mahomes. Also, the 49ers have a shaky rookie kicker in Jake Moody, who has already missed a 41-yard game-winning field goal in Cleveland this year.
You don’t want this game to be within one score in the 4th quarter (either way) if you are the 49ers. The Eagles are fine with it, though because they know how to win these games.
It’s the Turnovers
Both teams win a lot with their quarterbacks, and the only proven way of beating them is turnovers.
- In Hurts’ 3 losses since 2022, the Eagles either turned the ball over 4 times (2022 Commanders and 2023 Jets) or they had a fumble returned for a touchdown in the Super Bowl against Kansas City.
- The same is true for Philadelphia’s 2 losses that Hurts missed last year with 4 turnovers in Dallas and a pick-6 thrown in the 4th quarter by Gardner Minshew against the Saints.
- In Purdy’s 3 losses, excluding the NFC Championship Game where he was injured, the 49ers had 7 turnovers, including 3 in each loss to the Vikings and Bengals.
- Since 2022, the 49ers are 0-7 when turning the ball over multiple times and 23-1 with fewer than 2 turnovers.
Sometimes the game is really as simple as protecting the ball. The Eagles need to disrupt the timing of this offense to create some turnovers. Philadelphia started this season forcing multiple turnovers in 3 straight games, but it has only been able to do that once in the last 8 games. This is an ideal opponent to come up big against in that department.
This will hopefully be a great game, but the script for a great game is not favorable to San Francisco as we just observed in the close game results.
If you are backing the 49ers, you don’t want a shootout either, which is what most of the big home games for the Eagles have turned into this year. The 49ers are only 1-3 this year when allowing more than 16 points. The Eagles have scored at least 20 points in 27 of Hurts’ last 29 starts.
It should be a fun one, but the Eagles have what it takes to win this game again.
NFL Pick: Eagles ML (+140) at Bovada
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.