Five players to watch when the Eagles clash with the 49ers in the NFC Championship

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Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown runs a route against the New York Giants during the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

For the 8th time in the Super Bowl Era, the Eagles are going to play in the NFC Championship game. This is their 7th appearance since 2000, which is the most of any NFC team in that span. The only thing standing in their way is the San Francisco 49ers.

They are the hottest team in all of football, winning 12 games in a row. Many thought that these were the two best teams in the NFC all year, and at the season’s end, it proved to be true. Before the two teams face off on Sunday, here are some players to watch that could have a big impact on the game. 

A.J. Brown

In his Eagles postseason debut, Brown was pretty silent, with only 22 yards on 3 catches. That falls well below his average production of 88 yards per game in 2022. It didn’t matter much because of how well the team played as a whole, but Brown was pretty much a non-factor for most of the afternoon.

The biggest weakness of the 49ers’ defense is their secondary, and they tend to give up big yardage to elite wide receivers. In their two previous playoff games, D.K. Metcalf and Ceedee Lamb went for 136 and 117 yards, respectively. They have good corners but not elite corners, so A.J. is primed to have a big day. The Eagles will need him for them to have the best chance at winning on Sunday night.

Brock Purdy

This 7th-round rookie quarterback has quickly become the most relevant Mr. Irrelevant in NFL history. After San Francisco’s first two quarterbacks suffered season-ending injuries, Purdy took over in December and has yet to lose a game, going 7-0 on his first 7 starts, including the playoffs. Purdy is good, but the Eagles’ defense will be the best he’s faced in his career.

No rookie quarterback has ever made it to the Super Bowl before, so I have a hard time seeing Purdy doing it in Philadelphia. He has made legitimate throws to help win games, but he is gettable and has made his share of rookie mistakes. If the 49ers want to make history, Purdy will have to play exceptionally well. 

Avonte Maddox

After getting injured on Christmas Eve against Dallas, it looks like Maddox will be able to return before the season ends. The Eagles have had the best secondary in the NFL when Maddox is healthy. While he doesn’t rack up a lot of interceptions, he makes plays for the team when needed and has always shown up in the playoffs.

Maddox is one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league and while he’s not super big, he plays with a tenacity and toughness that goes up against anyone. I think Maddox will see a lot of different looks with Christian McCaffery, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk all taking turns in the slot, but he’s so versatile I trust him on pretty much anyone. 

Fred Warner

While Nick Bosa gets all the attention for how many sacks he gets, Fred Warner is the real heart and soul of the San Francisco defense. He might be the best player in the NFL that nobody talks about. The middle linebacker is one of the best defenders in all of football, starting his career with 5 consecutive seasons with 100 or more tackles.

Warner is a ball hawk and the Eagles always have to be mindful of where he is on the field. With Hurts’ ability to run, Warner may be used as a spy, or he can drop back in coverage and defend passes. He does whatever defensive coordinator Demeco Ryans asks him to do. The Eagles have to game plan around him because he can wreck how your game goes. 

Lane Johnson

There may not be a more important player to the success of the Eagles than Lane Johnson. Ever since he was drafted in 2012, the team is significantly under .500. Even this year, the couple of games the Eagles struggled in, was when he was out. The offensive line just does not hold up the same way without him, and the offense in general is just not as effective. Johnson is still injured and has a tough matchup against Nick Bosa. As long as he doesn’t re-injure his groin, I have confidence in Lane not giving up a sack, like he usually does.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke