Five 49ers to watch: CMC's production could be key to NFC title


SANTA CLARA — As the 2022 NFL season has worn on, this matchup seemed inevitable.

And here it is: The 49ers face the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

The Eagles have not faced a team as good as the 49ers in a while.

And the same can be said for the 49ers, who take a 12-game win streak into Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.

“Anytime you play a team with good players in a good scheme and when you play sound defenses, there's not a lot of holes schematically,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You try to put guys in position to beat their players and they got pretty good players, too.”

While there are not many matchups for either side to exploit, here are five players who will be key to the 49ers’ chances at leaving town with a victory and a berth in Super Bowl LVII:

5. QB Brock Purdy

Rookie quarterback Brock Purdy has been steady since taking over for injured Jimmy Garoppolo on Dec. 4.

He has thrown just three interceptions in eight games with no fumbles. His ability to take care of the football is a big reason the 49ers have not lost with Purdy behind center.

The 49ers will not put a lot on his plate, as far as making things happen. Purdy will be schooled-up and must make the plays that present themselves to get the ball into the hands of the playmakers.

Purdy might have some opportunities to keep plays alive after the first wave of pressure in going up against the Eagles' pass rush.

4. DE Nick Bosa

The Eagles have an offensive line that generally is considered the best in football.

Bosa registered an NFL-best 18.5 sacks during the regular season, and will figure out which offensive tackle gives him the best matchup among left tackle Jordan Mailata and right tackle Lane Johnson.

This is the game in which Bosa must be a destructive force because it will be difficult on the 49ers’ other pass rushers to win their battles.

Bosa, the favorite for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, can single-handedly give the 49ers’ defensive line the edge in this epic matchup if he can provide steady pressure on Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts.

3. RT Mike McGlinchey

The 49ers do not worry much about All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams.  But right tackle Mike McGlinchey will be under the microscope against Philadelphia’s deep and talented group of pass rushers.

McGlinchey is at his best as a run-blocker, and that is why it is important for the 49ers to experience success on the ground.

If McGlinchey is able to fire out and have success in the run game, it will slow down the edge rusher against whom he matches up when the 49ers throw the ball.

The 49ers need to avoid third-and-long situations, or McGlinchey will have his hands full keeping Purdy well-protected against a team that rolled up 70 quarterback sacks during the regular season.

2. LB Fred Warner

All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner does a little bit of everything for the 49ers’ defense.

He will find himself in coverage down the middle of the field, as he did against Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb last week. Warner attacks the line of scrimmage in the run game. He will find himself in coverage against backs and tight ends.

But this week there is another part of his well-rounded game that will be tested, too.

Hurts rushed for 760 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season.

Whether it’s the quarterback-driven run game or when pass plays break down and Hurts escapes the pocket, Warner will be tested to make sure those do not turn into big plays for the Eagles’ offense.

1. RB Christian McCaffrey 

Running back Christian McCaffrey returned to practice Friday after missing two days with a calf contusion. He said there is “zero” chance he does not play Sunday.

The 49ers have not lost since McCaffrey entered the starting lineup in Week 8 against the Los Angeles Rams.

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And he figures to be a key factor against the Eagles, as Shanahan tries to find the matchup for the 49ers to exploit on critical downs.

The 49ers can make big plays at important times if they can find ways to get McCaffrey matched up against either of the Eagles’ linebackers, T.J. Edwards or Kyzir White.

McCaffrey’s production could be the key factor -- both in the running game and as a top target for Purdy on third downs.

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