Fast-forward six months later, and we’ve finally arrived at the doorstep with the game just as anticipated as it was then. The 49ers enter at 8-3, two games behind the 10–1 Eagles, with six games left in the season. The winner on Sunday will earn the all-important tiebreaker for a potential future playoff clash between these two teams.
Everything is lining up for a close game on Sunday. To begin this week’s numbers to know, let’s look at why that might be a bad thing for the 49ers:
Record. The Eagles are 7-1 in one-possession games this season.
Eight of Philadelphia’s ten wins this season have come by eight points or fewer, with each of its last four wins being by a touchdown or less. Some call it luck, and some call it skill, but there’s something to teams that can win close games. Of the 18 teams that have won more than half of their one-possession games this season, 11 currently sit in a playoff spot with Philadelphia tied with Pittsburgh for most one-possession wins.
In the Super Bowl era, 106 of the 114 conference champions have finished with a .500 or better record in one-possession games, and only five of the eight who finished .500 or worse have gone on to win the Lombardi.
And that’s what Sunday is about; it’s not yet about who’s better between San Francisco and Philadelphia but more about positioning for what feels like the inevitable NFC Championship Game matchup. The Eagles could win this Sunday by a million points, and it would be a moot point if the 49ers end up the representatives for the NFC in Las Vegas come February.
But as of right now, the Eagles meet the one-possession wins criteria that 93 percent of all conference champions have met, while the 49ers do not.
The 49ers have played fewer one-possession games in 11 games this season than Philadelphia in the last month. San Francisco has played in only three games decided by eight points or fewer, going 1-2 with the lone win coming from a Rams field goal as time was expiring to cut the 49ers win from double-digits to a seven-point win.
Of the 14 teams with a record worse than .500 in one-possession games, three are in the playoffs - the on-the-fringe Vikings, the NFC South-leading Falcons, and the 49ers, whose .333 winning percentage is the worst of the current playoff field.
Wins are wins, and the 49ers’ blowout victories count the same as Philadelphia’s narrow ones, but the likeliest outcome on Sunday is a close game in Philadelphia. The Eagles are tried and tested, but the 49ers are not.
Snap count. Eagles wide receiver AJ Brown has taken 269 snaps out wide on the right side and 251 out wide on the left.
This number isn’t as much about Brown as it is about the 49ers and how Steve Wilks decides to cover Brown on Sunday. Charvarius Ward played on both sides of the defense out wide for just the ninth time as a 49er last Thursday against Seattle, and that was to follow DK Metcalf. It worked well against Seattle, with Ward holding the Seahawks’ best receiver to just one reception on six targets.
For as good of a duo Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are, the 49ers will have a more challenging test in the duo of Brown and DeVonta Smith. While Brown ranks in the top ten in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns, Philadelphia’s second option has more receptions, yards, and touchdowns than both members of Seattle’s receiving duo.
If the 49ers choose to have Ward follow Brown like he did Metcalf, that would mean Wilks is comfortable with the combination of Deommodore Lenoir and Ambry Thomas following the maybe just as talented Smith. Or does Wilks take the 50/50 chance of Brown against the weaker side of the second with the cornerbacks staying on one side?
Either way, there’s a threat of a mismatch on both sides of the ball with the Eagles’ pass-catching duo.
Snaps. 49ers pass-rusher Chase Young has taken 113 snaps against the Eagles this season.
I’ll be honest: I’m not sure if this matters for Sunday, but I found it interesting, so let’s just tuck this number away and keep it handy if Young has a big game. With Washington playing both of its divisional games against the Eagles before the deadline, Sunday will mark the third time Young faces his now former division rival and current conference rival this season.
Young has nine pressures and a sack in the two games against Philadelphia but has three-and-a-half sacks in four career games against the Eagles, his most against any franchise. While the 49ers defense saw the Eagles last January in the NFC Championship Game, Young has seen this year’s version of what many believe to be the best offensive line.
While it might not mean something for Sunday, it can’t hurt. Any inside information the 49ers can get to help on Sunday is an advantage. Having Young - and to an extent, Javon Hargrave, who had countless practice reps against this line last year - could give the 49ers some type of edge against an offense line, allowing a sack on 7.5 percent of pass plays this season.