If this weekend’s conference championship games feel as if they were predestined, it’s no accident. In fact, many prognosticators projected a version of this for these four teams — the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC and the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC — as the season began. That means we could be in for an outstanding weekend of games between the very cream of the NFL’s crop.
In the NFC, this is a matchup of the conference’s top offense (the Eagles) versus its top defense (the 49ers). Philadelphia played like the NFL’s best team all season behind their Most Valuable Player award finalist Jalen Hurts at quarterback. However, uncertainty crept in as Hurts injured his shoulder late in the season (and his replacement, Gardner Minshew, appeared to be in over his head). Nonetheless, when Hurts returned from injury he regained the form that made Philadelphia one of the most dangerous teams in the league. Somehow, being injured and missing games only solidified his MVP case — only in his absence did we see just how valuable he truly is.
Hurts is protected up front by arguably the NFL’s best offensive line — they ranked first in ProFootballFocus’s pass-blocking grade and third in run-blocking — led by center Jason Kelce, who could find himself in Canton when his career concludes. And when given enough time, Hurts has been able to efficiently get the ball to his dynamic wide receivers. DeVonta Smith had 1,196 yards on the season while his teammate A.J. Brown had 1,496. But the Eagles also have a well-balanced offensive attack. Running back Miles Sanders was fifth in the NFL in rushing yardage this season, eclipsing the 1,200-yard mark, and he wasn’t even the team’s leading rusher in the divisional round win over the rival New York Giants (that would be third-stringer Kenneth Gainwell, showcasing just how much depth Philly’s offense has). The Eagles also have the best defense by yards per game allowed, anchored by an elite pass-rusher in 2023 Pro Bowler Haason Reddick. And on the back end, they boast what most would consider the league’s best secondary with Darius Slay, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and James Bradberry — all considered in the upper tier at their respective positions in the NFL.