Conference Championship Games Upset Alert: 49ers the Best in the NFC?

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Brock Purdy #13 and Aaron Banks #65 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrate after a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks. Henderson/Getty Images/AFP.

NFL Pick: 49ers ML (+125) at Bovada (visit our Bovada Review)

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The 2022 NFC Championship Game is the right matchup between the two best teams in the conference: the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles. But only one can advance to Super Bowl 57 as they meet for the first time this season.

The Eagles were the NFL’s last unbeaten team at 8-0 to start the season, but the 49ers come in on a 12-game winning streak, the fifth-longest winning streak any team has entered a Conference Championship Game with, and the longest since the 2007 Patriots were 17-0.

Those teams were 3-1 in the title game, but the 49ers, a 2.5-point road underdog at many California betting sites, have a tough matchup here. We have four primary reasons why they can pull off the upset and go back to another Super Bowl.

Read on for our NFL breakdown, including the latest NFL odds and our free expert analysis.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Sunday, January 29, 2023 – 03:00 PM EST at Lincoln Financial Field

Reason 1: The Eagles Peaked Early

The Eagles were the talk of the NFC early this year when they were 8-0 and usually putting games away by halftime. Philadelphia was just the third team since the merger to not trail in the second half of its first eight games. Only the Cardinals managed a fourth-quarter tie with the Eagles before they won on a field goal. The 2022 Eagles scored more points in the second quarter in their first eight games than any team in NFL history.

But then the turnover-filled home loss on Monday night against Washington happened, and that seemed to lift the cloak of invincibility on this team. No major weakness was ever exposed, but the Eagles slummed it out with the Colts for four quarters before winning by a point, and the only team we have seen the Eagles beat, who has a winning record since Week 9, was the Giants (three times).

The Giants were not exactly a strong team this year either, outscored by 6 points on the season.

MVP finalist Jalen Hurts’ shoulder injury also did not help as without him the team lost in Dallas in Week 16 and against New Orleans in Week 17. Still, the Eagles’ second-quarter dominance greatly diminished and they look a lot more like a normal 7-3 team in the last 10 games. While 7-3 is a fine record, consider the Bengals have won 10 in a row, the Chiefs are 11-1 in their last dozen games, and these 49ers are on a 12-0 run.

The Eagles are still a very good team and favored for having home-field advantage, but the 8-0 start is well in the rearview mirror. They are getting their toughest test of the season from San Francisco.

Reason 2: The 49ers Are Surging

After some disappointing losses early in the season to start 3-4, the 49ers did what they did last year and turned things around to go on a run. Nevertheless, this team they have exceeded all expectations with 12 straight wins, and most of them with a rookie quarterback who was the last pick in the draft.

Brock Purdy has made history already by tying the record for most consecutive games with multiple touchdown passes by a rookie at seven, and he was the first rookie to throw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in a playoff game since Sammy Baugh in 1937.

Purdy’s career has few historical comparisons, and he is doing more than just driving the bus here. The roster is of course fantastic with one of the most unique sets of skill players around, and the defense has been No. 1 in many categories for virtually the entire season as defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is likely to snag a head coaching job for this effort.

The 49ers actually average more points with Purdy than they were with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. Of course, he is still the question mark as no team has ever reached the Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback, but nothing has phased him so far. Kyle Shanahan will have a good plan to keep him out of harm’s way from a defense that has 70 sacks and has feasted on many quarterbacks this year.

In the last 12 games, the 49ers have outscored their opponents by 186 points. Only the Eagles (108) are within 80 points of them during that time. Like the Eagles, the 49ers have been beating up on lesser teams during their win streak, but they did beat the Chargers, Dolphins (with Tua Tagovailoa), and Seahawks (twice) during that run, so that is better than the Giants' three times. They also just knocked off the Cowboys, who were on their own scoring run under Dak Prescott.

Reason 3: Stopping the Run

While the 2022 49ers will not be confused with the 2000 Ravens or 2002 Buccaneers, this is a very good defense with a ton of talent at all levels. One area they have been so consistent is at stopping the run.

Teams average just 3.4 yards per carry against the 49ers, and only five teams have rushed for 100 yards against them. No individual player has rushed for 70 yards on the 49ers this year. Josh Jacobs, the rushing champion from the Raiders, got to 69 yards thanks to overtime.

But this should be a good way to contain the Eagles, who are so dangerous when their running game is dominating. The Eagles just rushed for 268 yards against the Giants, which won’t happen in this matchup as the Giants were one of the worst run defenses this season. Now the Eagles are seeing one of the best.

Also, wide receiver A.J. Brown had a quiet game last week and may have injured his hip on a late pass target that fell incomplete. We’ll see how he looks this week, but he is an important part of this offense, especially if they need to throw more in this matchup.

Reason 4: Can Kyle Shanahan Finally Catch a Break?

It is hard to deny that Shanahan has had a lot of good playoff games in his career, but his record would be great if games ended after the third quarter. In all four trips to the playoffs as an offensive coordinator or head coach, Shanahan’s team has been eliminated after blowing a double-digit lead and a fourth-quarter lead. Sometimes they did both as his last three trips show.

He helped blow the 28-9 lead in the fourth quarter against the Patriots in Super Bowl 51 with Atlanta. He called pass plays when he should have called runs. He also blew a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead against the Chiefs in Super Bowl 54, and he blew a 17-7 lead in the fourth quarter of last year’s NFC Championship Game against the Rams.

By now, you probably know the excuses. Robert Alford should have intercepted Tom Brady instead of letting Julian Edelman catch that ball. Jimmy Garoppolo missed that deep shot to Emmanuel Sanders. The defense dropped a Matthew Stafford interception at midfield.

But the fact is Shanahan’s teams never scored a single point in the fourth quarter of these games. That is a problem. Against Dallas last week, the 49ers scored on the first play of the quarter with Christian McCaffrey cashing in the game-winning touchdown. They later added a field goal too, so that was good to see.

Strategy and Tactics

Shanahan, who is 7-1 ATS in playoff games with the 49ers, has clearly not had issues with getting leads in big playoff games. His problems have been closing the games out, and that is a mixture of continuing to score and playing defense to stop the other team from coming back.

But this might be the right team and opponent for him this year. The defense has been outstanding at shutting teams down after halftime. Only the Jets (61) allowed fewer fourth-quarter points than the 49ers (67) this year. In the last 10 games of the regular season, the 49ers allowed 54 points after halftime, 20 fewer than any other team, and less than half of what the Eagles allowed (112 points).

Fortunately, the Eagles are not much of a comeback team either. Jalen Hurts has two wins in his career when trailing by at least 3 points in the fourth quarter. The first was against Carolina in 2021, and Carolina is a team that has lost 50 straight games when trailing in the fourth quarter since 2018.

The other was against the Colts, who were coached by Jeff Saturday, who blew a 33-point lead and watched the Cowboys outscore him 33-0 in the fourth quarter of a game.

Shanahan-led teams do not lay eggs in the postseason. They just crack in the fourth quarter. Maybe this is the matchup where they finally close it out as they are not playing a prolific game-winning drive quarterback like Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, or Matthew Stafford.

49ers vs. Eagles: Pick and Prediction

The 49ers are 15-0 when they do not turn the ball over multiple times this season, while the Eagles are 15-1 when they do not turn the ball over four times in a game this season. Whether it is the quarterback making the mistake or the defense forcing it, the team that wins the turnover battle is likely to win this game.

This should be a fantastic game, but let’s back the 49ers to finish the job they have been so close to before, and they get this win in Philadelphia for your NFL picks. Purdy makes history as the first rookie quarterback to start a Super Bowl.

NFL Pick: 49ers ML (+125) at Bovada

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