With the winless 49ers and the Michael Vick-less Eagles squaring off in primetime, the NFL probably wishes it had flex scheduling in place all season. This matchup surely looked better on paper back in April. But that’s partly what makes this contest more compelling than it appears at first glance. The Niners and Eagles are two of the more confounding teams in the league after four weeks, and both desperately need a win here in order to gain some control before the season gets away from them. San Francisco coach Mike Singletary has already made one drastic move, firing offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. But after two blowout losses and two near misses, it is Singletary’s job security that must be in question. The intense former linebacker, who didn’t help himself by refusing to shake the hand of Atlanta coach Mike Smith last Sunday, can quiet the speculation with a decisive win against the Eagles. Andy Reid, meanwhile, has created a quarterback drama that just keeps taking stranger turns. Vick, the surprise replacement for the carefully groomed Kevin Kolb, injured rib cartilage in the loss to Washington. He will not play. Kolb, who sustained a concussion in Week 1, must shake off his benching as well as two unimpressive performances so far this season.
Keys for the 49ers
• The Eagles defense has shown a vulnerability against the run, so Frank Gore should have a big day. But the Niners must complete the one-two punch by taking advantage of injuries (Asante Samuel) and inexperience in the Eagles’ secondary. Getting Ted Ginn back should help.
• Kolb has been stymied by Green Bay’s intense blitzing and by Washington’s ploy of rushing four men and dropping into a deep zone. If the 49ers can be physical with speedy DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, they can limit the Eagles’ quick-strike capabilities.
Keys for the Eagles
• There is a good chance LeSean McCoy (broken rib) will join Vick on the inactive list. That deprives the Eagles of their two leading rushers at a time when a ground game is desperately needed to take some of the pressure off Kolb. Someone — Mike Bell? — must come up big.
• Along with a remarkable time-management gaffe at the end of the first half Sunday, Reid didn’t cover himself in glory with a game plan that failed to get the ball to the dangerous Jackson. One way or another, the team’s best player has to have an impact if the Eagles are going to win.
The more desperate team usually has the advantage in a game like this. That would be the 49ers, playing at home with one last chance to get back in the NFC West race. 49ers 20–16.