All season the Eagles piled up victories and earned glowing praise from opponents and national media types.
They were for real. Win followed win. Jalen Hurts played like an All-Pro. He started 16 games and the Eagles won 15 of them.
That kind of record rarely happens.
The Eagles are in position to go back to the Super Bowl. They have momentum and home-field. They also will face a strong opponent that has won 12 straight games.
This NFC title game against San Francisco is expected to be close. Go with the better quarterback — it’s the most important position on the field. Go with Hurts.
3 PREDICTIONS YOU’LL LIKE
1. JALEN HURTS
After Hurts and the Eagles defeated the Giants on Saturday night, the quarterback was asked how he felt physically.
“Good enough,” he replied.
He’s basically saying the same thing going into this game. This is what we know: Hurts looked a million times better in the playoff game than he did two weeks earlier in Week 18 against the same team.
Hurts will be on eight days’ rest. He’ll get two weeks’ rest if the Eagles win and advance to the Super Bowl.
Eagles coach Nick Sirianni was effusive talking about his quarterback after the 38-7 win over the Giants.
- “He’s your leader. He’s your guy,” Sirianni said. “Hopefully that’s the biggest respect I can pay to him comparing his ability to being on the field to a Michael Jordan-type.
- “This guy leads. He brings this calmness to the entire team. He plays great football. He’s as tough as they come.
- “Yeah, I mean, to me, nobody has played any better football than him this year.”
Sirianni’s right — he shouldn’t compare his third-year quarterback to Jordan. It’s probably bad form to compare anyone to Jordan.
Against San Francisco’s top-ranked defense, Hurts will need his best performance of the season. This is what Hurts lives for. If he can run the ball, I expect a big game from him.
2. THE NUMBERS
Going into almost every Eagles’ game this season, they dominated team statistics. Their offense and defense were consistently in the top-10.
The top-seeded Eagles are ranked second in defense and third in offense. The second-seeded Niners are ranked first in defense and fifth in offense, and that includes starting three different quarterbacks this season.
Some weeks, the Eagles’ dominance was obvious beyond the teams’ records. The 49ers are their equal in many regards. The Niners demand respect. They are a little scary, too.
Both are excellent teams, have strong rosters and outstanding coaching. The difference could be execution, or getting a good bounce at the right time.
This could be a home-crowd game. Get in Brock Purdy’s face early and often. Rattle the rookie with pressure and bring the crowd more into the game.
This is the formula to winning a close game.
3. EAGLES WIN
You expect a conference championship game to be difficult. This game will be.
The Niners getting here with a third-string quarterback should tell you this: Their defense is tremendous and their young quarterback has been good enough.
I think the Eagles’ offense is better and the Niners’ defense is better, but close.
Hurts is going to win the game. I believe that. Eagles, 26-17.
3 PREDICTIONS YOU WON’T LIKE
1. NINERS DEFENSE
Get used to linebacker Fred Turner disrupting plays over the middle.
Expect defensive end Nick Bosa to cause trouble. He led the league with 18.5 sacks, 82 quarterback pressures and 29 quarterback knockdowns.
Look out for safety Talanoa Hufanga, who had 97 tackles, four interceptions, nine pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
All three are first-team All-Pro players. If they play their game, it could be a long day for the Eagles’ offense. Expect a big Niners’ defensive effort. That’s their pathway to victory.
2. TURNOVER BATTLE
We know the team that wins the turnover differential usually wins the game.
The Chargers disagree. The Jaguars turned over the ball five times and still won their wild card game. Regardless, you want to win the turnover margin.
The 49ers are 15-0 this season when they win or tie the turnover margin and 0-4 when they lose it.
In two of the Eagles’ three losses, they lost the turnover margin (Dallas and Washington). They split turnovers in the third loss to New Orleans.
San Francisco led the NFL in turnover differential with plus-13. The Eagles were third at plus-8. The quickest way to lose a playoff game is to give up an early turnover and give up points.
The Niners aren’t going to win with Purdy going off on a 350-yard passing game. They’re going to grab turnovers.
3. NINERS WIN
Imagine being 23-year-old Purdy, who was one draft pick away from going undrafted. He might have been coaching high school football in suburban Phoenix last fall if the Niners didn’t make him Mr. Irrelevant, the last player drafted.
His story is remarkable. He stood up against the Cowboys’ defense. He has played mistake-free football — no turnovers in two playoff games. It takes someone special to accomplish that.