Everything You Need to Know Before the Eagles-49ers NFC Championship Game
Move along, Mr. Irrelevant. Feel-good stories only feel good when they happen to us.
Okay, let’s do this all again! The Eagles are coming off a dominant 38-7 victory against their NFC East rival New York Giants. It’s been a hell of a ride, and I, for one, am not ready to get off. I’m ready to eat inexplicably green food and hug strangers. I’m ready for thousands of fans to descend upon Broad Street this weekend. And whether you’re ready or not, this is your life, too. The skyline is green, and so is this hot dog:
So consider this your cheat sheet. We’ll tell you where to watch, how to watch, and everything you need to catch up on what’s been happening so you can talk Birds at the bar without embarrassing yourself. For now, I’m gonna go buy another hoodie.
Let’s get this part out of the way: the playoff schedule. Since the Eagles have the best record in the league, they’ll be playing at home this week against the San Francisco 49ers. The winner will advance to the Super Bowl, which will be played on a neutral site (State Farm Stadium, outside Phoenix) regardless of who participates.
The Eagles play the 49ers at 3 p.m. on Sunday, January 29th, at Lincoln Financial Field. If they lose, it’s all over, and we all cry a million tears. But they’re (slightly) favored to win (more on that later). If they do win, meet everyone you know on Broad Street. Stay on the ground; climbing poles is as tired as cheesesteak B-roll.
Let’s really jinx the hell out of things here and tell you that after that, the winners take a week off before the Super Bowl, which is on Sunday, February 12th, at 6:30 p.m. in Glendale. The winner of the NFC Championship Game (presumably the Eagles, or why am I even writing this?) will face off against either the Cincinnati Bengals or the Kansas City Chiefs.
Where and How to Watch
Face-value tickets are gone, my friends. Long gone. A precious few were released Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., and just for fun(?), I got in the virtual queue ….
At 11:11 a.m., it was my time to shine … and it was all resale, with a wall of $800 and $900 price tags leading off the list. And that’s without fees. If you don’t already have tickets or an obscene amount of disposable income, your chances aren’t great.
Whenever a Philly team makes the playoffs (or Taylor Swift goes on tour), I see social media posts asking for tips or “deals” on how to get tickets. Let’s assume efficient markets here. You’re not gonna find a deal, so please, don’t answer DMs, pay cash, or hang around shadowy alleys waiting for a cheap ticket. Go with resellers — sites like NFL Ticket Exchange and StubHub are your best bets, since they’re secure and verified — and if you do get a ticket, keep it to yourself. (For the love of God, don’t post a picture online. Not only will your friends hate you, but someone can use that barcode to steal your tickets.)
The subway takes you right there — buy a Key Card, ride the Broad Street Line southbound to the end, follow all the Hurts jerseys up the stairs, and you can’t go wrong. If you’re coming from the ’burbs, Regional Rail and PATCO connect to the BSL underground, and you’ll have lots of company in folks who likewise know better than to drive. (Of course, you can drive to the game, but keep in mind that if you do, you’ll also have to drive home.)
The game will be broadcast on Fox, so if you have cable or a digital antenna, you’re set. As for streaming, you can subscribe to NFL+ (they have a deal where you can stream the playoffs and Super Bowl for $12.99) or watch via Sling or Fubo TV.
If you want to watch the game somewhere other than your couch, we’ve got some bar recommendations here, though they’ll probably be packed all day, and let’s be honest, you’d have a harder time finding a bar that’s not showing the Eagles on game day.
How Did We Get Here?
The Eagles were supposed to be good, but no one expected them to be this good. They were Super Bowl champions five years ago, but this team bears little resemblance to that team, which captured the city’s heart. Head coach Doug Pederson was fired in January 2021, less than three years after leading the team to its lone Super Bowl title. Then-quarterback and erstwhile face of the franchise Carson Wentz was gone a month later, unceremoniously shipped out of town following a disastrous season that ended with him benched in favor of rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts. In fact, only two offensive starters — both linemen — and two defensive starters remain from those Super Bowl champs.
Hurts retained his starting quarterback position in 2021 but wasn’t given a long leash. The Eagles had amassed a number of early draft picks that could have been packaged for a quarterback. But Hurts held the team together, going 9-8 and reaching the playoffs. Rather than pulling the trigger on a deal for a QB, the Eagles decided to give Hurts another season in 2022. They gave him another big weapon, too — trading away draft picks for wide receiver A.J. Brown, who has proven crucial to the Eagles’ offensive success and to Hurts’s MVP campaign.
So the Eagles were favored to win their first game of the 2022 season. And they did. They were favored to win their second game, and they won that, too. Then their third, and their fourth; that kept happening until suddenly they were 8-0, the only undefeated team in the league. They lost their ninth game to the Commanders, despite being heavy favorites, but they bounced back and won five more games. These weren’t close wins, either: The Eagles started December beating the Colts, 35-10, at home, and obliterated the Giants on the road, 48-22.
The NFL allows one team in each conference to skip the first round and then have the opportunity to win two home games to earn a spot in the Super Bowl. But in the Eagles’ 13th win, Hurts injured his shoulder. At 13-1, the team just needed one more win in the final three games to secure a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs. But with backup quarterback Gardner Minshew in charge of the offense, the Eagles lost the first two of those games.
The Eagles needed a win in their final game of the season to earn that week off. Hurts was healthy enough to play but not healthy enough to let loose. He was cautious about running as frequently as he did earlier in the season, reluctant to re-injure his shoulder before the playoffs. The Giants responded by being less concerned about Hurts running, making it easier for them to guard against the pass that week.
The biggest question going into their Divisional Round rematch against the Giants last Saturday was whether Hurts would be in peak form. He answered that question with a resounding yes. Hurts was clearly a threat to run — which he did frequently in the first half as the Giants struggled to contain the unconstrained Eagles offense.
The Eagles’ Chances vs. the 49ers
The Eagles showed that they were back to their dominant selves again with last week’s big win against the Giants. Nobody thought the Giants were as good as the Eagles with a healthy Jalen Hurts, so nobody was proven wrong when a healthy Hurts led the team in crushing them. But most mavens think the 49ers and Eagles are far more evenly matched, so this week will be more of a challenge for the Birds.
They’re 2.5-point favorites against the 49ers at home, which roughly equates to bettors believing the two teams would be evenly matched at a neutral site (since the Eagles have home-field advantage). Nevertheless, the odds are (slightly) in our favor. I’m not a betting man (I’m also not a man), but if I were, I’d take that line.
The 49ers have gone on quite a wild ride to end up in Philly this Sunday. They started the year crowning Trey Lance, the third overall pick in the 2021 draft, as their starting quarterback. They split their first two games, but Lance’s season ended with a broken ankle in their second game. The 49ers turned to backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was behind center as they lost three of their next five games and fell to 3-4 on October 23rd.
That was the turning point in the 49ers season, in no small part because it was their first game with star running back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey had been both an elite rusher and an elite pass catcher out of the backfield in his first two seasons with the Carolina Panthers, in 2018 and 2019. But injuries kept him off the field for 23 of 33 games in 2020 and 2021. McCaffrey was healthy again in 2022, but the Panthers — realizing that they ultimately needed to rebuild — traded him to San Francisco for four draft picks on October 21st.
Other than that first game, in which he was still getting acclimated, the 49ers haven’t lost since acquiring McCaffrey. Garoppolo helped the team win its next five games with the help of an elite defensive unit. But Garoppolo broke his foot on December 4th and was initially declared out for the season.
Since then, reports show some chance of him returning for the Super Bowl if the 49ers advance. But the team has done just fine without him. Their defense held back their opponents, while a new quarterback and folk hero emerged. Brock Purdy was the last pick of the last round of the 2022 draft—an honor that earns draftees the title of “Mr. Irrelevant”—but he’ll now start at quarterback in the NFC Championship Game. Purdy’s improbable journey has been the subject of much media hype, though the Eagles hope to end his Cinderella story on Sunday. And quite frankly, so do I. Feel-good stories only feel good when they happen to us, thanks.
For all the praise heaped on Purdy, McCaffrey, and the rest of the 49ers’ very solid offense, the truth is that they also have an excellent defense. No team has allowed fewer points or yards per game this season , and they’re tough against both the rush and the pass. It will be the venerated Eagles offense’s toughest challenge to put up points against this squad, which, incidentally, they didn’t face this season, so we don’t have any history to go off of.
The Eagles defense is also nothing to dismiss. This season, they notched a team-record 70 sacks, the most in the NFL and just two short of the single-season NFL record. They also have the distinction of allowing the fewest total passing yards of any defense in the league. They hope to apply a lot of pressure to rookie Brock Purdy and force some mistakes. If they can keep him from getting the ball to the talented players around him, and ideally force some turnovers, the game will be far more manageable for the Eagles’ offense.
Bottom line: I feel better about our team led by a newly dominant Hurts than I do about a 23-year-old with imposter syndrome coming into hostile territory.
“It’s a Philly Thing”: Fun Stuff to Know
Let’s start with our beloved meme generator, Mr. Jason Kelce. This is a man who continues to not take himself seriously while taking his passions really, really seriously. He didn’t just drop a Christmas album with teammates Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata; he and his teammates sounded way better than they had any right or need to (partly thanks to a West Philly vocal coach), and the album sold out three times over, raising more than $250,000 for the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center. Speaking of raising money for good causes, Kelce also started his own nonprofit to help kids in Philly schools. (The t-shirts benefiting the nonprofit are also Philly-made, instant sellouts, and way better than they need to be.)
And if that wasn’t enough for us, he also hosts a must-listen podcast with younger brother Travis Kelce, a tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs. New Heights highlights the brothers’ big personalities and gives fans a hilarious glimpse into their relationship and football careers. If you’re not listening, do yourself a favor and start — it’s delightful. This past weekend, after the playoff game, the podcast led to a real-life fan moment that involved Jason Kelce signing a baby doll. For the record, he would sign an actual baby if someone asked him to. His brother wouldn’t. One of them is more committed; that’s all I’m saying. Let’s see if they both win their respective games this weekend and face each other in the Super Bowl!
That baby had it comin! https://t.co/mtsZ4LQz4q
— Jason Kelce (@JasonKelce) January 22, 2023
Meanwhile, the wide receivers are all Batman. (Batmans? Batmen?) You may notice fans wearing masks of the Dark Knight and wonder what that’s all about. Well, as defensive back Darius Slay explains, A.J. Brown is “Swole Batman,” DeVonta Smith is “Skinny Batman,” and Quez Watkins is “Fast Batman.” There are “no Robins” here: It’s “nothin’ but Batmans.” Capes are also involved. It’s everything.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) September 25, 2022
And while Kelce told his brother on their podcast, “I don’t like to play dress-up; I like to play football,” he got in on the Batman action on Halloween. (While Kelce dubbed himself “Fat Batman,” Darius Slay countered that if anything, Kelce is “Sexy Batman.” Where’s the lie?)
Speaking of Halloween, while Kelce was dressing like a superhero, Johnson was dressing like Kelce.
While we’re on the topic of clothing, this team is full of sharp dressers. Check out our pre-game fashion breakdown here, or let Miles Sanders analyze it:
“It’s a swagger. It’s a kind of an air of its own. You know, when you talk about the passion in this city, the support in this city, the love for the Philadelphia Eagles in this city, it’s truly a Philly thing. … It’s a special city. It’s a special time.”
And finally, one last statement on home-field advantage. It’s real for a million reasons — familiar facilities, lack of travel fatigue, the best damn fans in the land — but I’m hoping for another home-field hero to emerge, as happened last week. In a scandal some on social media have dubbed Woodergate, the Giants hit a bit of a snag with their Philly accommodations. On the morning of the big game, their hotel suddenly had no water. A pipe burst at the Westin — a lovely hotel — which was surely an unfortunate accident … or was it? Yeah, it probably was. The Westin isn’t going to risk its reputation as a luxury hotel just to give the Eagles the edge. So let’s hope the Niners book a less scrupulous, more … creative Philly lodging this weekend. “Dear 49ers, welcome to Philadelphia. Enjoy your complimentary room service: It’s a bag of bees.”