We’re just hours away from kickoff between the Chicago Bears and the San Francisco 49ers to open up the 2023 NFL regular season. As we inch closer to game time, analysts and experts are making their final predictions as to what might happen Sunday afternoon on the lakefront.
The 49ers are coming off an impressive season that saw them nearly make it to the Super Bowl, but are undergoing a major change at quarterback. The Bears, meanwhile, have made sweeping changes to their front office and coaching staff and are set to begin a new era with a young roster.
Though the 49ers are the favorite to win by nearly a touchdown, strange things can happen in week one. Here are our bold predictions for Bears vs. 49ers.
1. Justin Fields gets his first 100 quarterback rating
Oct 31, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) during the second half against the San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
I’m not expecting Justin Fields to light the world on fire in his first regular season game in a new offense, especially if weather conditions are less than ideal, but I believe he’s going to play effective and efficient football. Fields had mixed results during his rookie season, but even with his highs, he never eclipsed a quarterback rating of over 100.
Now working with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, I expect him to take care of the football and make smart decisions to move the ball down the field. He’s not going to be reckless and should still get opportunities to make a big play here and there. He’s not going to throw for five touchdowns, but Fields will show promise against a strong 49ers defense to have a quarterback rating of over 100.
2. Trestan Ebner out touches Khalil Herbert
Chicago Bears running back Trestan Ebner (31) rushes against Seattle Seahawks linebacker Tanner Muse (58) during the first half of a preseason NFL football game, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Caean Couto)
Heading into training camp, it was widely assumed that David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert would enter into a timeshare of sorts in the backfield, with both players receiving plenty of carries. But after seeing what rookie Trestan Ebner can do, coupled with Herbert struggling at times in the preseason, I think we’re going to see more from the rookie than initially anticipated.
Ebner is a back who can carry the rock in between the tackles and burn defenders in the pass game. He possesses a unique mix of strength and speed that showed itself multiple times this summer. He may not have the immediate impact that a player like Tarik Cohen had during his rookie debut in 2017, but I expect Ebner to be involved early and often.
3. Cole Kmet scores the first touchdown of the season
Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kmet (85) tries to evade Cleveland Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki (44) as he runs in the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Richard)
All of the talk this offseason has been the connection between Fields and Darnell Mooney and for good reason. The two players have bonded off the field and spent hours upon hours training together. But you know who else was there and has also built a solid rapport with the quarterback? Cole Kmet.
The Bears tight end had a solid preseason and looks leaner, faster, and quicker entering his third year. Kmet improved steadily from his rookie season to last year and now is a popular breakout candidate in 2022. He and Fields have been connecting throughout all of camp and that showed during two preseason games. Expect that to continue as Kmet finally breaks his touchdown drought by getting the first score on Sunday. He’s going to be targeted a lot in the passing game and it will yield results.
4. Justin Jones gets the first sack of the season
Chicago Bears defensive tackle Justin Jones (93) celebrates after making a tackle against the Cleveland Browns during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)
The Bears edge rushers stole the show last season when it came to sacking the quarterback. Robert Quinn set a new team record of 18.5 sacks in a single season and Trevis Gipson had a mini breakout of sorts with his seven sacks and five forced fumbles. Both players are set to play significant roles again this season, but given the 49ers strength at tackle, I’m betting on the newcomer at defensive tackle to get the team’s first sack of the season.
Justin Jones is one of the biggest (figuratively and literally) newcomers on the defensive line, coming over from the Los Angeles Chargers. Jones is playing the 3 technique position on the Bears new defense, giving him a chance to terrorize the 49ers interior offensive linemen. That area of San Francisco’s offense is vulnerable, considering there’s a lot of uncertainty with young and inexperienced players. Jones is coming off a career year where he notched three sacks as a defensive end. But he should see more opportunities in this defense and I’m predicting a big game.
5. Eddie Jackson creates a turnover
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – AUGUST 13: Eddie Jackson #4 of the Chicago Bears in action against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of the preseason game at Soldier Field on August 13, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
The Bears secondary has been revamped this offseason, primarily thanks to their two rookies. Cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker are tasked with lifting up both position groups that struggled mightily in 2021. But while everyone is focused on the hotshot rookies, a few holdovers from the previous regime remain such as safety Eddie Jackson.
There isn’t a player left on the Bears roster that truly encapsulates the Ryan Pace era quite like Jackson. He was a star for a short period of time, then was paid and turned into a pumpkin. Now he’s a stark reminder of what can happen when you invest in players too quickly. But Jackson has an opportunity to turn his career around and play as a true free safety once again now with Brisker on board. The rookie is going to make his fair share of plays but going against an inexperienced quarterback back in his old position, I’m looking at Jackson to finally break through and create a turnover in the first game of the season. He knows he needs a strong season and I expect to see him start out on the right foot.