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Spadaro: 6 key storylines to follow Sunday vs. 49ers 

Jordan Davis
Jordan Davis

This is a game that many have circled since the NFL schedule was released in the spring: A rematch of the 2022 NFC Championship Game between two teams having outstanding 2023 seasons vying for the top seed in the conference playoffs. 

It's a big one.  

But then again, haven't we been saying that for weeks? And a week from Sunday, when the Eagles play in Arlington, Texas against the Cowboys, won't that be the narrative for another nationally televised game? 

That's exactly why the Eagles are taking this, as they do every week, as "another game on the schedule." You hear it from one end of the locker room to the other. 

What this game does have is many great storylines and intriguing matchups, so let's get right into it as kickoff (Sunday, 4:25 PM, FOX) nears at Lincoln Financial Field ... 

1. How can the Eagles contain Christian McCaffrey?

Christian McCaffrey leads the NFL in rushing and is second in total yards from scrimmage and there is no doubt that San Franciso's offensive approach goes through his multiple skills. He runs extremely hard, has speed, can catch the football in space and make defenders miss, and he's capable of lining up anywhere in the formation. San Francisco is going to give CMC a lot of touches. So, the Eagles have to rally to the football to contain him, because stopping him is so difficult to do. This is a physical challenge for a defense that likely won't be at full strength and it's a matchup challenge with so many other weapons to consider in the 49ers' offense. 

2. Offense looks to pick up where it left off last week 

Perhaps lost in the slow start for the Eagles' offense last week was the way it finished: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt, field goal, touchdown. That's impressive. Quarterback Jalen Hurts accounted for a career-high five touchdowns as the Eagles, again without tight end Dallas Goedert, roared to life. 

How about on Sunday against a defense allowing just 15 points per game this season? What do the Eagles do to continue the momentum they had in the second half and in overtime a week earlier? Goedert practiced in a limited capacity on Friday, but is listed as doubtful. His presence would be a huge boost in terms of matching up against great linebackers who can run. Hurts understands just how good San Francisco is defensively, so how can he unlock the passing game and get A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith going? D'Andre Swift is fourth in the league with 760 rushing yards and he's a threat in the passing game, too. Everything is in play here for an offense that has playmakers at every skill position. So, that means the success of the offense will come down to ... 

3. Classic battle at the line of scrimmage

San Francisco and Philadelphia have great players up and down the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The matchups are as good as they get, so expect the team that wins at the line of scrimmage to win this game. Niners quarterback Brock Purdy is having a terrific season, but the Eagles understand that he is like every quarterback: Much better with a clean pocket. How do the Eagles muddy the pocket? How do they keep Hurts clean? Adding Chase Young at defensive end has changed the dynamic up front for an already-good 49ers front four. Trent Williams is a future Hall of Famer at left tackle. The Eagles are hopeful with Lane Johnson at right tackle and we know what a difference he makes. Great, great matchup to watch.

4. Turnover ratio, again, matters so much

This is so huge: San Francisco has a plus-11 in the turnover department and the Eagles are at minus-1. To be 10-1 at minus-1 speaks to how the Eagles haven't yet played their best game. Sunday would be a great time to do just that. Giveaways matter. Pressure helps. Keeping teams off schedule changes everything. The Eagles would love to win this category against such a quality team. 

5. The rest factor: Does it matter?

The 49ers played on Thanksgiving night and are coming off a mini-bye weekend. The Eagles are coming off an overtime win on Sunday and the defense was on the field for 95 snaps, an extremely high number. Will fatigue be a factor? The Eagles always make sure they place a high priority on their recovery, and this week it will be put to the test.  

6. Who jumps out and makes the difference that we don't know about?

Quickly, a weather update: Rain is again in the forecast – if so, it would be the fifth game with rain for the Eagles this season and the third straight – and the field at Lincoln Financial Field has been re-sodded. What that means, we will find out. 

But who besides the "stars" changes the course of the game? Could it be on special teams, where the Eagles have been so good and the Niners are historically very good? Is someone like Kenneth Gainwell or Olamide Zaccheaus or Jalen Carter or Jordan Davis or Christian Elliss in line to win the game for the Eagles? 

This is a juicy one, one of the best matchups of the season with a lot on the line for the 10-1 Eagles and the 8-3 49ers.

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