Bears vs. 49ers preview: Who has the advantage in Week 1?

·9 min read

The Chicago Bears (0-0) will host the San Francisco 49ers (0-0) in the season opener on Sunday, where Chicago will kick off the Matt Eberflus era. There aren’t many who believe the Bears stand a chance in this game, but Chicago could surprise a lot of people with an upset.

When it comes to determining who wins football games, there are a number of factors that contribute to a victory. Solid quarterback play, winning the line of scrimmage, protecting the football and taking it away, controlling important situations and overcoming or taking advantage of an injury situation.

In our weekly preview series, Alyssa Barbieri from Bears Wire and Kyle Madson from Niners Wire went deep into the matchup to determine who has the advantage at the five key factors for winning football games in the NFL.

Quarterback play

AP Photo/David Richard

Bears Wire: Justin Fields had a rocky rookie season, but considering he was under the care of Matt Nagy, it was to be expected. Now, Fields gets a fresh start in Luke Getsy’s new scheme, where we’ll get to see a lot more of Fields on the move and a downfield passing attack with his deep-ball accuracy. He’ll also benefit from a strong run game with David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert. Fields had an impressive preseason performance where he showed poise, accuracy and decisiveness. Last year against the 49ers, Fields had a flashy 22-yard touchdown run. Now, Fields will be looking to string together several impressive plays to help give his team a chance to pull off the upset.

Niners Wire: Honestly, who knows?! “How good is Trey Lance?” is the single biggest question for the San Francisco 49ers this season. There’s not a big enough sample size for Lance in college or as a pro, so a lot of what we do with him right now is projection. He’s big, fast, strong-armed and very smart, and he’s playing for perhaps the brightest offensive mind in football in head coach Kyle Shanahan. There’s a chance he’s not very good, but all signs point to him being at least competent. For now though it’s just a guess.

Advantage: Bears

Line of scrimmage

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Bears WireThere are plenty of questions on both sides of the ball for Chicago. Starting with the offensive line, it’s an unproven group going against a potent San Francisco pass rush. Cody Whitehair is the lone veteran mainstay, but there are new Week 1 starters compared to last September across the board. Rookie left tackle Braxton Jones faces a tall order going against Nick Bosa, but he’s certainly benefited from facing Robert Quinn all summer. Lucas Patrick was brought in to be the center, but he’s recovering from a broken right thumb and could be shifted to right guard. That would mean Sam Mustipher, who started all 17 games at center last season, would replace him. Larry Borom, entering his second season, doesn’t have a wealth of experience at right tackle.

On defense, there’s plenty of change up front as Chicago transitions to a 4-3 defense. The edge rushers are the strength of this defensive front. Robert Quinn is coming off an 18.5-sack season and will be tasked with going against Trent Williams. Newcomer Al-Quadin Muhammad will anchor the other side for this defense with Trevis Gipson, who was impressive in replacing an injured Khalil Mack last year, rotating in. The biggest question comes from within the interior where newcomer Justin Jones will serve as the 3-technique, one of the most important positions in Matt Eberflus’ defense. The question is can Jones be that disruptive 3-tech this defense needs? Angelo Blackson will get the starting nod at nose tackle, and it’ll be interesting to see how new waiver wire addition Armon Watts fares as he’s rotated in.

Niners WireThis answer for San Francisco is significantly different depending on what side of the ball we’re talking about. Their defensive line should be dominant. DE Nick Bosa is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and he spearheads a deep group that could wind up leading the NFL in sacks this season. DE Samson Ebukam will start opposite Bosa, and rookie second-round pick DE Drake Jackson figures to be a factor as an edge rusher as well. Inside the 49ers are led by DT Arik Armstead who’s moved permanently inside where he thrives as a pass rusher. 2020 first-round pick DT Javon Kinlaw is also healthy and should be featured prominently in the middle.

On the other side of the ball, the 49ers are a bit of a disaster. LT Trent Williams is perhaps the best all-around player in the NFL. After that it’s questionable at best. LG Aaron Banks was a second-round pick last year but saw just three snaps on offense. C Jake Brendel has started three games in his career and they were all back in 2018, and RG Spencer Burford was a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft. RT Mike McGlinchey is a pretty good player, but he’s never excelled as a pass blocker and he’s coming off a torn quad that cut his season short last year. It’s Williams and four question marks, and there’s a real chance this is a disastrous unit. 

Advantage: 49ers

Turnovers

AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski

Bears WireFields was clean in the preseason with no interceptions or fumbles, which was an area of his game as a rookie that he’s since improved upon. Protecting the football on offense will be key if the Bears stand any chance in this game. On defense, this Eberflus defense thrives on taking the ball away, and it’s something that could help swing things in Chicago’s favor. The Bears will have their two ballhawking rookies in cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker looking to make an impact right out of the gate. 

Niners Wire: Of all the issues Lance may have in Year 1, turnovers shouldn’t be one of them. He struggled with touch and accuracy in the preseason, but he never put a ball in danger of being taken away. San Francisco did a nice job with takeaways in the preseason with rookie CB Samuel Womack, who will start at the nickel, generating three interceptions by himself. The 49ers defense should generate a ton of turnovers this year. If Lance can avoid giving the ball away it should put San Francisco in a spot to win a ton of games.

Advantage: Draw

Situational

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Bears WireIt’s hard to use last year’s situational stats to predict how this new-look Bears roster is going to fare. The Matt Nagy era was a mess, especially for the offense, where they ranked last in third-down conversions (34.72%) and near the bottom in fourth-down conversions (41.67%) in 2021. Chicago was a mess in the red zone last season, where they ranked 30th in the NFL (47.92%). The Bears defense was decent on third down (38.39%) and fourth down (50%) conversions. They were middle-of-the-pack when it came to red-zone defense (55.56%). During the 2022 preseason, both units showed noticeable improvement in areas of need. The offense converted on red-zone opportunities and on third down. The defense was able to get off the field on third down, and they were solid in the red zone. But just as it’s hard to judge the offense and defense based on last year, it’s also hard to read too much into the preseason.

Niners WireThe 49ers were first in the NFL in red zone conversion rate last year and they should continue that level of success even with Lance at the helm. His legs will give them an added dimension in that area that makes things easier for Shanahan from a play-calling perspective. The same goes for third and fourth down where San Francisco was less successful. On third down they were a respectable 40.2 percent (No. 14 in the league), but Lance’s mobility and ability to push the ball down the field should make things a little easier in third-down situations. Decision-making will definitely matter, but the physical traits make it easy to see where they could have success in moving the chains on third downs. Fourth down is where things get interesting. Shanahan had some interesting (read: not good) play calls in some fourth-and-short situations last season and the 49ers converted just 50 percent of their fourth-down tries. The same elements that should make them better in third downs apply to fourth down as well. 

Advantage: 49ers

Injuries

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Bears WireChicago got some good news on the injury front with the return of two key offensive starters in offensive lineman Lucas Patrick (right thumb) and receiver Byron Pringle (quad) this week. Both had missed significant action since the start of training camp. Rookie defensive end Dominique Robinson has been limited, but he’s on track to play. Although, it certainly sounds like they could be without rookie wideout Velus Jones Jr., who’s nursing a hamstring injury.

Niners Wire: San Francisco got through the preseason relatively healthy, but starting free safety Jimmie Ward is on IR with a hamstring injury which will hurt the 49ers secondary a ton. He’s a very good player and a big reason the 49ers don’t give up a ton of big plays and long touchdowns. TE George Kittle is also dealing with a hamstring injury he sustained the Monday before the season opener. Shanahan said Kittle’s status for Sunday in Chicago is uncertain.

Advantage: Bears

Verdict: Draw

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

While there aren’t many giving the Bears a chance in this game, this figures to be a competitive matchup to kick off the season. Chicago will need to play efficient and mistake-free football in order to pull off the upset, but this game couldn’t have come at a better time for the Bears. Trey Lance is making his first NFL start as the 49ers’ bonafide starting quarterback, and Chicago can take advantage of his inexperience. Justin Fields and the offense have a chance to surprise a lot of people, and the defense can set the tone for the season. This game could ultimately come down to the line of scrimmage, which is where the Bears are going to need to hold strong to try and slay Goliath.

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Story originally appeared on Bears Wire