"Concussion" is the word of the day when talking about the Monday Night Football matchup. Alex Smith is technically listed as "questionable", but his status is much closer to probable given how his week went. Jay Cutler wasn't so lucky, so Jason Campbell takes over the reigns. Let's take a closer look at why I think the Bears are getting overlooked in this game.
The look ahead line for this game had the 49ers as -5 favorites. Keep in mind this was before the concussions suffered by Alex Smith and Jay Cutler. The game has remained off the board up until now, where it re-opens at -6.5/-7 (odds from SBRforum). I thought the original line was inflated to begin with, so adding two more points up to a key number is even more enticing.
The 49ers are a top team, but I see some glaring weaknesses in the advanced stats that don't seem to be accounted for in the line. This number is an overreaction to the Jay Cutler-to-Jason Campbell situation. If I was setting this line, I'd put it at -4.
Perception is Reality?
At what point did people start ignoring the 49ers flaws? It seems they've been anointed as this unstoppable force to be universally feared. Last season they steamrolled through the season and were monsters against the spread. At home, Jim Harbaugh only lost one game against the number heading into this season. They opened the season with a convincing win in Lambeau Field. The rest is history?
Not so fast my friends.
What if I told you the 49ers offensive line was just as pathetic as the Arizona Cardinals? While it's not a perfect stat, the 49ers adjusted pass protection sack rate ranks dead last with Arizona.
San Francisco's defense is great at getting off the field on third down, but when they allow opponents inside their 20, they are just average at keeping them out of the end zone.
Their special teams that was so dominant last season are nothing more than pedestrian this year - and that included David "Green" Akers.
Alex Smith has made improvements, but the offense as a whole is still very inconsistent - including a below average ranking on third down.
Are they still a contender? Sure. They do a lot of things at a high level, but let's not pretend that they are the dominant force that they were last season.
League Leading Bears
One of the primary reason I like the Bears getting a full touchdown in this game is the fact that they lead the league in four important categories after 10 weeks of the season.
They rank right at the top defensively against the run, the pass, and drive success rate. No other defense in the NFL has disrupted more drives than the Chicago Bears. The best thing about these stats? They didn't come from a soft schedule.
The other category they lead the league in is in special teams. Normally this is a highly variable metric, but it's safe to say that it's part of the Bears identity at this point.
When you consider that the 49ers offense is largely made up of Frank Gore and an efficient, safe ball control approach, I think the Bears are licking their chops at the opportunity to show their mettle. There's not a single category on the board where the 49ers offense has an edge.
Jay Cutler = Aaron Rodgers?
I'm not sure why people are making such a big deal about Jay Cutler being out. Before this week he ranked near the bottom in QB efficiency and the passing game wasn't something opponents feared. How much worse can Campbell be? Is it a bigger dropoff than Big Ben vs Leftwich? Absolutely not. I see it more as a Vick-Foles situation, except the Bears aren't falling apart at the seams like the Eagles are. In fact, the biggest strengths of the Bears lies in every area outside of the offense.
I expect the Bears to simplify the game plan on offense. Jason Campbell might be prone to mistakes and very well could blow the entire game. It also can't be good that he's making his first start against the 49ers defense on the road in prime time, That said, what's more likely is that he's going to get a ton of support from his surrounding cast. He might even surprise us and put together a good game. He was playing quite well in Oakland before his season ended due to injury after all.
San Fran should win this game, but asking them to win by two scores is a lot - especially when you take a closer look at the X's and O's. I can't pass up on this value and I won't even be surprised if Chicago find a way to pull off outright upset.
NFL Pick: CHI +7.