This should be a showdown of two of the defensive elite in the NFL. Both of these teams recently have looked like legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Instead, though, the Monday Night showdown between the Bears and the 49ers has unfortunately morphed into the “Concussion Bowl”.
In a rare display of bad luck and bad timing, both starting quarterbacks got their bells rung on Sunday. Jay Cutler’s injury was enough to keep him out this week — shocking in that most times it’s not obvious he has a brain to get injured. Alex Smith has been practicing in a non-contact jersey the last couple of days and, as I write this, is expected to start on Sunday. His status still isn’t certain, though, and against Chicago’s physical defense a start doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll finish the game.
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This matchup was going to be a challenge to handicap if both teams were at their best. Now, though, it just gives me a headache — and I’m far from the only one with that problem.
Bears at 49ers Betting Storylines
With Cutler on the sidelines, the next man in line has to step up. Thankfully, in the offseason the most intelligent thing the team did was realize that they needed a better option than Caleb Hanie. Jason Campbell starts after playing the second half last week. If there is one thing we learned in his time last week it’s that there is a good reason why, despite having plenty of starting experience, Campbell is no longer a starter. He was never a quarterback that particularly impressed me, and last week he was far from his best. This week he has had the advantage of practicing with the first team and preparing as a starter. He’s still Jason Campbell, though, and he’s up against a defense that is skilled at terrorizing opposing quarterbacks who are vulnerable. I find it hard to have many positive expectations for Campbell in this spot.
If Smith isn’t able to play any or all of the game then Colin Kaepernick would get the nod. That concerns me far less than Campbell. He has been solid in limited action this year — he’s patient and efficient. He also is a real threat to run the ball, and that adds an extra dimension to playing against the Niners. He’s a backup with starter potential, so on the second string debate — if it comes to that — San Francisco scores a decided victory.
Smith’s health isn’t the only major medical storyline for San Francisco coming into this one. On Wednesday coach Jim Harbaugh wasn’t feeling well, and he was forced to go to the hospital. That led to a minor procedure on Thursday to deal with an irregular heartbeat. He was back in practice on Friday, and he is expected to coach on Monday, but it’s unquestionably a distraction for a team that probably doesn’t need any. Harbaugh preaches toughness, and he is well known for his relentless commitment to his work, so this has the potential to be a bigger issue surrounding this game than you might think.
Now that we have covered what isn’t right with these teams, let’s look at the biggest thing that is right. The Bears have allowed the second fewest points in the NFL this season — a mere 14.8 per game. The only team that has done better? The Niners, with 14.1. They are both Top 5 in yards allowed, and Top 10 in most major defensive categories. While the quarterback situations are a concern, then, it’s not likely that this was ever going to be a shootout in the first place.
The key matchup to watch — the one that will give us an early sense of how the game is likely to turn out, is how San Francisco can run the ball. They have the top rushing offense in the league — 170 yards per game. Chicago is fourth best in the league against the run — 92.3 yards per game. It’s strength against strength, and something has to give. You can bet that San Francisco will look to establish the run early — especially if Smith is at less than full effectiveness. If they can’t then they could be in trouble.
Bears at 49ers Monday Night Football Odds and Betting Trends
The only books that opened this game during the week were a couple of the Las Vegas books. They set the number at -4 for the Niners, and that jumped to -6 when Cutler was officially ruled out. Online books have held off on setting a line until at least Friday night — by far the longest they have waited all season. This is yet another reminder — as if we need it — of just how crucial a role quarterbacks play in how the lines are set and how they move. The same Vegas books that have set a line have the total set very low — at 38 and slowly falling.
The Niners have one big edge here — the home team has won at least the last 10 meetings between teams, dating all the way back to 1989. The favorite is 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings. San Francisco is 6-0 ATS in their last six Monday night contests.
Bears at 49ers Predictions and NFL Picks
The Niners were flat last week, but they have bounced back well from each of their last two disappointing performances. I trust them here. Trust isn’t a word I would use in combination with the Bears. I don’t like Campbell, and I think the team has generally overachieved. The Niners will make a statement here, and they are my pick at any price below a touchdown. The total as it sits now is too low to be interesting, but there are too many concerns to go “over” with confidence.
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