Web Analytics
Fantasy Football Would You Rather: 49ers or Eagles — data or destiny? ‣

Fantasy Football Would You Rather: 49ers or Eagles — data or destiny?

The NFC’s cream of the crop will square off on Monday Night Football in Week 13. These two teams also happen to top Scott Pianowski’s latest fantasy power rankings — but which team will provide the most fantasy goodness, the Eagles or the 49ers? Scott and Jorge Martin play a little game of “Would You Rather” and take a side for which offense they like most in this matchup.

The Case for the Eagles

This week’s “game of the year” is yet another doozy. The 49ers go back to the Philly den of their playoff demise last January, and I’m scratching my head wondering how the 49ers are three-point road favorites in this one. And it has nothing to do with my residing on the south side of the LA-SF city rivalry.

The Eagles are 10-1 and just finished a seven-day stretch where they vanquished two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL: Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen. Outlasted might be a better word to describe those games, but a win’s a win.

I’m going to start where the last game finished: Jalen Hurts’ sheer will. Hurts looked cooked at halftime last week against the Bills, but then it was like he put on his Superman cape and took the game over with three second-half touchdowns before the walk-off 12-yard TD run in overtime. He’s come up big in the biggest moments with his arms and legs, and he’ll be able to let loose against a 49ers defense that’s gotten beat by the best quarterbacks. Joe Burrow was surgical in throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns in Week 8, and Kirk Cousins picked them apart to the tune of 378 yards and a pair of scores. Hurts will need to do it with his arm and legs, because the Eagles are going to give up some points via the air.

A.J. Brown has been quiet since his six-game streak of 125 yards or more. He’s due for an explosion, and San Francisco is going to be ripe for the taking after getting gashed for 100 yards or more by the likes of Ja’Marr Chase, Jordan Addison, Christian Kirk and Amari Cooper since Week 6. And I’m not going to discount DeVonta Smith, because this is going to be that sort of carnival game. Chalk up big games for both wideouts.

I’m not sure how much D’Andre Swift will get loose against the fifth-best defense against running backs, as the 49ers have put the STOP sign up against Travis Etienne, Rachaad White and Zach Charbonnet. And you say Christian McCaffrey is on the other side? Well, care to guess which defense is allowing the fewest fantasy points to running backs?

This game being in the home of the Liberty Bell reminds me of something that knuckleballer Tom Candiotti told me before the Eagles-49ers playoff matchup. He said how hard it was to pitch in Philly, because of the crowd. Do you think the Eagles faithful is going to let Brock Purdy hear it on Sunday as nightfall comes? His teammates might have a hard time even hearing him in the huddle. That will make a difference.

Cue up Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” and shine a light on an Eagles victory in another back-and-forth bonanza. And you can ring that bell. — Martin

The Case for the 49ers

Full disclosure: as alluded to in the intro, I had the Eagles ranked first on my recent Fantasy Power Rankings. They belong there, on the shoulders and legs of Jalen Hurts and the unstoppable tush push. But that doesn’t mean the Eagles are the better team. I get how it looks strange to see a 10-1 club catching points at home, but it’s probably the right line. The 49ers are probably the better team.

It’s human nature to want to ascribe special qualities to teams that win close games, but a truer measure of team strength is dominating opponents, not edging them out. And all of the stat-driven analytic sites I believe in view the Niners as better. DVOA has the Niners first, the Eagles tenth. ESPN’s metrics have the Niners first, the Eagles seventh. The NFELO model has the Cowboys first (I will now duck Pennsylvania snowballs being thrown at my head), the Niners second, the Eagles third.

(If the Cowboys beat the Eagles next week and Dak Prescott plays out of his mind, the MVP race gets really interesting.)

Even if we want to simplify the math, I side with the Niners. The Simple Rating System from the indispensable Pro Football Reference has the Niners 13.2 points better than an average team, the Eagles 5.5 points better than an average team. The Niners also have a point differential of plus-140, while Philly is at plus-64.

Hurts has played better in the second halves of games, for whatever that means. His YPA rises from 6.8 to 8.4, and his rating jumps from 88.7 to 102.9. Is there a logical reason for this? Do the Eagles come out tight? Does the immediacy of a game in the balance get Hurts’ juices flowing, like a college freshman who hurriedly writes his term paper the morning it’s due? I’m not one to dismiss plausible narratives out of hand. But data is usually the way to bet.

Both of these teams are good at many different things, but the one glaring flaw is the Philly pass defense. It’s ranked 21st in DVOA, and that’s bad news when an offense as versatile as San Francisco comes to town. Who do you prioritize, who do you target? Route-running savant Brandon Aiyuk? Seam-buster George Kittle? Gadget god Deebo Samuel? Receiving ace Christian McCaffrey?

If Philadelphia is going to win this game, it needs to rattle the cage of Brock Purdy. It’s possible. Purdy’s true value is one of the hardest questions to solve in the NFL. How much of his emergence is the pristine surroundings, and how much of it is reflective of his true skill level? I feel like I ask my friends this every day — if the NFL took a Mulligan on the 2022 NFL Draft today, using current knowledge, when would Purdy be selected? (Frank Schwab and I kicked this around informally; we both seemed to agree: Purdy made sense somewhere in the middle of the first round. Still, Purdy’s case remains mysterious, so much unknown.)

Maybe my mind just wants order. I see an Eagles team that’s been outgained by 98 yards or more in four straight games but won them all. Washington took the Eagles to overtime, somehow. The Patriots — the pitiful Patriots, Jorge — outgained Philly by 131 yards. The Cowboys also won the stats against Philly in Week 9 but somehow lost the game.

Maybe there’s a special sauce that I’m missing here. Maybe A.J. Brown has one of his Superman games on Sunday, maybe DeVonta Smith gets behind the Niners’ secondary a few times and maybe Hurts has another three hours of end-zone celebrations. Maybe I’m a fool to dismiss Team Destiny.

But in the meantime, count me on Team Data. Niners by 10. — Pianowski