The 49ers are back in the NFC championship for a second straight year, with eyes set on making it past their opponent and reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since Super Bowl 54.
Instead of the Rams standing in their way, the 49ers this year will contend with the Eagles, a team that dominated the regular season with one of the league’s most powerful offenses that finished the year with the fifth-ranked rushing attack and the ninth-ranked passing offense in terms of yardage.
While San Francisco’s defense is widely considered the best in the NFL, stopping Philadelphia completely will likely be too tall of a task. It will need the offense to help keep pace in order to advance to the Super Bowl. And to keep pace, the 49ers will almost certainly need Christian McCaffrey to be ready for the game.
McCaffrey, who was acquired midseason in a trade with the Panthers, has quickly emerged as the focal point of a San Francisco offense that is loaded with weapons. Despite playing in only 10 games with the 49ers, he leads the team with 746 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns and 1,210 yards from scrimmage. Only Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel have more receptions than McCaffrey’s 52 on the team as his dual-threat potential in the passing and rushing game has flustered opposing defenses.
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But despite playing in every game for the 49ers since the trade, concern has emerged about his status for Sunday’s NFC championship as he has missed practice each day during the week. Will he be ready to play in the biggest game of the year? Here’s what you need to know on McCaffrey’s status.
Is Christian McCaffrey playing this week vs. Eagles?
McCaffrey is almost certainly going to play on Sunday. If you ask him, his status for the game isn’t even a question.
Bring on Championship Sunday. @CMC_22 x #SFvsPHI pic.twitter.com/2jc5HgnAAs
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) January 26, 2023
McCaffrey missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with a right calf contusion. Coach Kyle Shanahan had said during a press conference on Monday that McCaffrey would be day-to-day during the week with the calf injury.
McCaffrey isn’t the only star dealing with injuries. Deebo Samuel had been a limited participant during practice with an ankle injury. Asked Wednesday about the two offensive standouts, Shanahan said he anticipates both will play against the Eagles.
“I expect them to, but there are no guarantees,” Shanahan said. “Especially it being the NFC Championship Game, I think there’s a better chance they will be ready since there is nothing guaranteed after this. Hopefully. We will keep our fingers crossed.”
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The 49ers running back has still participated in some aspects of practice. According to NBC, McCaffrey participated in the walk-throughs and went through plays with coaches.
McCaffrey said Thursday he is still involved in preparing for the game, but that there have been changes to allow him to heal up for the matchup.
“It’s the same process for me, just lowering a little bit of the physical load,” McCaffrey said.
Christian McCaffrey injury update
There didn’t appear to be much of an indication McCaffrey was injured after Sunday’s divisional round matchup against the Cowboys. According to PFF, he logged 44 snaps against Dallas, just four fewer than he did against the Seahawks.
But on Monday, concerns began to emerge he might be questionable to play against the Eagles on Sunday with a leg injury that was later revealed to be a right calf contusion.
McCaffrey has dealt with injuries during the season, though he has not missed any games. Through much of the latter half of the season, McCaffrey was listed as a limited participant in practices with a knee injury.
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Injuries have plagued McCaffrey in recent years. After appearing in all 16 games of the season in each of the first three years of his career, he was limited to just 10 games over the 2020 and 2021 seasons with injuries to his ankle, shoulder and hamstring.
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Backing up McCaffrey is Elijah Mitchell on the depth chart. However, Mitchell has also been dealing with his own injuries during the week.
Mitchell did not participate in practice on Wednesday or Thursday as he has dealt with a groin injury. Mitchell appeared in five games during the regular season as he dealt with MCL injuries that kept him out during Weeks 2-9 and 13-17. But he returned in Week 18 to play against the Cardinals, where he rushed five times for 55 yards and two touchdowns.
He then rushed nine times for only two yards against the Seahawks in the wild-card round, but saw his workload increased to 14 carries for 51 yards against the Cowboys in the divisional round.
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The Athletic’s David Lombardi reported Mitchell would still play against the Eagles on Sunday.
No practice today for Jimmy Garoppolo, Christian McCaffrey (calf) and Elijah Mitchell (groin).
Only one of those three not expected to be available for the NFC title game is Garoppolo
— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) January 26, 2023
49ers RB depth chart
McCaffrey and Mitchell are both expected to play Sunday against the Eagles, but if they have any issues, Jordan Mason and Tyrion Davis-Price would be next up on the running back depth chart.
Jeff Wilson had been the third-string running back, but he was traded midseason to the Dolphins.
Mason finished the season with 43 carries for 258 yards and a touchdown. Davis-Price saw less action, rushing 34 times for 99 yards in 2022.