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The 49ers Aren’t Going To Win The Interesting Bowl

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 23: George Kittle #85 of the San Francisco 49ers walks off the field with a turkey after beating the Seattle Seahawks 31-13 at Lumen Field on November 23, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The NFL works hard to hook us on one apocalyptic game per week, and since there are only so many ways you can spread the Carolina Panthers around, next week's wheel is 49ers-Eagles. And before you roll your eyes so hard you pull a neck muscle from the recoil, this isn't about the Eagles. You're sick to death of the Eagles.

No, this is about the quiet creep toward San Francisco by a nation that has never really embraced the notion that the 49ers are must-see viewing but is coming around simply due to the laws of public opinion. Example: the Eagles opened as 1.5-point favorites last week, the game moved to pick'em on Sunday morning and is now 49ers minus-two. You may abhor gambling, and good for you, but as political polling has been rendered useless, line movements may be the only reliable way left to measure the nation's mood. It's easy to lie to a pollster, but to back your lie with a bunch of money is a step few are willing to take.

In short, the nation is hesitatingly leaning into the 49ers as a concept while preferring to wax profuse about the improbable Eagles, the juggernaut-y yet still untrustworthy Cowboys, the troublesome all-defense Chiefs, and the barely-mastered-the-Chargers Ravens. The 49ers have an easy-to-understand/hard-to-enjoy arc as invulnerable when healthy, as they won their first five games by an average of 20 points per game, then lost three in a row without Deebo Samuel, Trent Williams, and a subpar Christian McCaffrey, then got them back and won their last three by an average of 20 points per game.

This isn't just the irksome Kyle Shanahan picking on the weak, infirm, and uninterested either. It's not like the 49ers are bloating their collective resume on a steady feast of Rams-Cardinals-Giants. They beat playoff teams Dallas by 32, Pittsburgh by 23, and Seattle by 18. (Their three losses came to pre-Dobbsian Minnesota, manic-version Cleveland, and best Cincinnati.) They are not the team that breaks the glass on the national chat shows because they are too easy to parse, but they look more like the league's Thanos than anyone else.

San Francisco, though, gives off an oddly smug vibe for a team that hasn't had a parade in almost 29 years. Kyle Shanahan has built an empire without a crown by defying the laws of roster construction, making victories with average-and-north quarterbacks, the latest of which, Brock Purdy, is a general manager's fantasy come true. Shanahan being the team's actual general manager, his philosophy of taking his biggest swings at running back, offensive tackle, and edge rusher has caused much agita among the proles while setting the team up for deep runs.

All of which puts them front and center in every category save talking points. Shanahan is an efficiency junkie whose offensive philosophy is post–cutting edge in that it actually starts with the running back rather than the quarterback, and most punditistos get stuck on quarterback as a condition of employment. The Eagles on the other hand are the team that tap-dances on axes every week, as they did against Buffalo, and are 10-1 despite the fact that nobody knows why. They are an endless mystery in a league full of improbable results except in Carolina, where Frank Reich just got fired for taking the wrong job from the wrong owner. Indeed, every team feels week-to-week except the 49ers, which makes them a nice investment but a lot less compelling for the average barfly. Choose your preference wisely, but know this: The line is only going up from here.

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