There is no committee in the NFL voting on the best team. In the pros, every result actually matters. To qualify for the NFL’s 14 playoff spots, teams must either finish atop a division or win enough games to get in as a wild card. While every game counts, there are some, even on the regular season schedule, that stand out more than all the others. In week 13 that game was San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles.
With the NFL in its second Byemageddon of the season — six teams not in action — it was likely that Week 13 would be a dud. I certainly wasn’t walking around my apartment trying to avoid going to the bathroom during the RedZone Witching Hour.
I enjoyed the goofiness of the Tennessee Titans to get consecutive points blocked and also they take a Indianapolis Colts 2-point conversion attempt to the house for a score. The Denver Broncos and Houston Texans held a key play in the AFC Wild-Card picture close for four quarters. Also the Los Angeles Rams jumped into the playoff conversation with a win against the Cleveland Brownsonly to fall back on it Sunday Night Soccer. The last game of the day between the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers was highlighted by a poor performance from the referees.
While there’s no denying the cultural significance of a night Simone Biles and Taylor Swift both chose to spend in Green Bay, the NFL playoff landscape underwent its most significant shift at 4:25 PM EST at Lincoln Financial Field. This NFC Championship rematch — with an actual healthy quarterback under center for the 49ers — would either solidify the Eagles as the best team in the conference or reveal that winning so many games this season by one score is a sign of weakness.
The 49ers were dominant in a 42-19 victory. While the Eagles have dynamic playmakers, their defense doesn’t put them in as many compromising positions as the Niners’ — when everyone is healthy. AJ Brown is arguably one of the two best wide receivers in the NFL. Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk may not be in that group, but along with Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle, with Trent Williams protecting the blind side, the 49ers may be too much to handle as long as there is a functioning elbow behind center.
Even the Eagles’ offense may not be able to fight that in January.
Pass defense is a problem for Philly
The Eagles entered Week 13 with 129 pressures – the most in the league. Unfortunately for them, a truly effective defense needs to be able to do more than create pressure on nearly 25 percent of dropbacks. The secondary and linebackers, too, must be able to keep up with top pass catchers on a regular basis.
For all the havoc the Eagles wreak in offensive backfields, they began their game against the 49ers with their defense ranked 29th in yards allowed and 31st in passing. They could pass the Buffalo Bills and Chiefs, but their pass defense was exposed on Sunday.
Brock Purdys elbow was literally unavailable in last season’s NFC Championship Game, but in Week 13 he put the ball wherever it needed to go on his way to 314 passing yards and four touchdowns.
The 49ers scored their first touchdown of the game with just over seven minutes left in the second quarter. They scored again before the end of the half. It was a 90-yard drive that ran three and a half minutes off the clock and ended with a touchdown.
Starting with that first second quarter TD drive, the 49ers reached the end zone on six straight drives. They punted toward the end of the first quarter and none of their drives ended without a touchdown until they ran out the clock on the final drive of the game.
Deebo Samuel continues to be one of the best offensive players in the NFL
If Jimmy Garoppolo hadn’t thrown that interception deep in 49ers territory late in the fourth quarter of their NFC Championship game against the Rams two seasons ago, he might still be their starting quarterback.
Instead, they were done with him during 2022 training camp, but couldn’t find a trade partner. Garoppolo practiced on a different field than the rest of the team until Trey Lance broke his leg. Samuel’s fantastic 2021 season was the spark that fueled his team’s offense that season
When the 2021 49ers entered the NFC Championship Game, Samuel was considered unstoppable. During the regular season, he totaled 1,770 yards from scrimmage, scored 14 touchdowns, eight of which were rushing, which led the team, and he also gained more yards after contact than any player in the NFL. He did it all while playing wide receiver, averaging 18.2 yards per reception en route to first-team All-Pro honors.
In 2022 and 2023, Samuel missed a lot of time due to injury. His 2023 year-end totals won’t rank among the top wide receivers in the league, but against the Eagles, Samuel showed that any conversation about top NFL skill position talent needs to include him. He caught four passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 22 yards on three attempts with a score.
All of Samuel’s scores against the Eagles were big plays. The least of which was his 12-yard TD run. His two receiving touchdowns both went for 40-plus yards, most of which came after the catch. His second receiving TD came off a screen pass.
Spirits that flare up are always appreciated in sports
In truth, Philadelphia’s favorite safety — Dom DiSandro — has been put in a tough spot. The entire exchange between Dre Greenlaw and DeVonta Smith happened right in front of him. Greenlaw was already flagged for tackling the wide receiver, who was not happy about the act. They were in each other’s faces when DiSandro turned around and tried to separate the two. He didn’t run a few yards looking for conflict. It was literally brought to his face.
According to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, the job of NFL team security not to break up fights between game participants. DiSandro was absolutely wrong when he put Greenlaw in the hands, but it would have been physically difficult for him to walk away from that fracas.
As a viewer, a little spice is always nice when watching sports. There were scuffles the rest of that drive, but tempers were hot from the start when Eagles coach Nick Sirianni got into an altercation with members of the 49ers’ staff before kickoff.
In professional sports, the best athletic specimens in the world compete against each other in front of a crowd. That energy will sometimes spill over after the whistle is blown and not only players will be subject to it.
The NFL, and all professional sports, sell conflict. Two opponents physically fight each other in the pursuit of victory. This is how these people earn a living. When the contestants don’t love each other, skirmishes happen, which improves the viewing experience most of the time.
Sunday’s game set up a potential exciting NFC Championship rematch in January. The 49ers and Eagles clearly do not fancy each other. That fact occurred to him long before DiSandro was evicted. He probably shouldn’t be on the sidelines for a postseason rematch between these two teams, but his presence will have a limited impact on how contested a rubber matchup will be.