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Bold trades keyed offensive jolts for 49ers and Eagles

Running back Christian McCaffrey helped turn the 49ers into one of the most diverse offeneses in the NFL.Godofredo A. Vásquez/Associated Press

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The 49ers got a jolt offensively when they made the bold decision in October to trade four draft picks to add Christian affrey to an already deep group of playmakers.

The Eagles made an aggressive trade of their own to supercharge their offense when they added game-breaking receiver A.J. Brown in a draft-day trade.

The two moves by the NFC powerhouses are big reasons the Niners (15-4) and Eagles (15-3) are set to meet in the conference title game in Philadelphia on Sunday with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line.

“It’s what we expected and he’s only exceeded all our expectations,” 49ers tight end George Kittle said of the trade that brought affrey to San Francisco.

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affrey was languishing in last place in Carolina and the Niners were sputtering a bit on offense when they sent four draft picks to the Panthers to add affrey.

affrey got back to performing at the star level that made him one of the league’s most dangerous players and the Niners turned into the NFL’s most diverse offense with versatile players such as affrey, Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Kyle Juszczyk.

“He’s a guy that if you leave him one-on-one with a linebacker, good luck: He’s going to tear you apart,” Kittle said. “You have to put two guys on him. And then if you pressure at all, you’re bringing a linebacker, and every other guy on the field has a one-on-one. Whether that’s Deebo, Brandon Aiyuk, me, Kyle Juszczyk. Those are a lot of one-on-ones where I’m going to take my guy over anybody else. And if you double anyone else? Good luck on Christian affrey.”

Since inserting McCaffrey into the starting lineup in Week 8 against the Rams, the 49ers have won 12 straight games. During that span, the Niners rank second in the NFL in scoring at 30.4 points per game and second in yards per play with 6.10.

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“It’s a force multiplier,” general manager John Lynch said at the time of the trade. “It makes everyone around him better.”

McCaffrey leads the NFL with 1,341 yards from scrimmage in the 11 games since he became a starter and is tied for the most touchdowns with 12, including at least one in the last eight games.

But he is far from satisfied.

“What makes it so fun is that constant pursuit for perfection," he said. “I think everyone on this team has that.”

Brown has had a similar impact on the Eagles after being acquired from Tennessee during the draft for a first and third-round pick and immediately getting a $100 million, four-year deal with $57 million guaranteed.

The move helped Jalen Hurts develop into an MVP finalist and lifted a team that got knocked out in the wild-card round a year ago as the seventh seed into the top team in the NFC.

“I thought we had a lot of pieces to try and make a potential run," Brown said. “We’ve just got to put it together and execute. I think things are going well, of course. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. It’s not really a time to self reflect.”

Brown had 155 yards receiving in his Eagles debut and kept on rolling all the way to 88 catches for 1,496 yards and 11 touchdowns. He topped Mike Quick’s 1,409 yards in 1983 for most in a season in team history.

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AJ Brown has been everything the Eagles hoped for when they traded for him in the offseason.Patrick Smith/Getty

Brown's addition alongside DeVonta Smith has given the Eagles a much more difficult offense to slow down than the one San Francisco faced in Week 2 of the 2021 season.

“The first thing is his size and strength,” Niners defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “That’s the one thing that separates him from a lot of receivers, but not only that, when he catches the ball he turns it to a different gear. His run after catch, it’s been pretty dynamic to watch this year.”

The Eagles see the difference McCaffrey has made on the 49ers offense as well.

“You just add in another really, really good player into your organization, and that shows up,” defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. “He can beat you a lot of different ways, and we’ll have to have a plan for all the ways that he’s beating people.”