With a chance to gain traction in a tough NFC to get a first-round playoff bye, here are three things to watch for in tonight's Monday Night Football matchup between the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers.
1. The Backups vs. Two of the Best Defenses in the NFL
Starting quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Alex Smith are both out of this game with concussions. So it’ll be veteran Jason Campbell against second-year Collin Kaepernick. Campbell has been a decent starter in the past, and obviously has the upper hand heading into the match up. Kaepernick is definitely at a disadvantage tonight. Starter Alex Smith was able to practice this past week before being ruled out of the game earlier today. Smith not only practiced, but took a majority of the first-team snaps. Kaepernick played about 75 percent of last week’s game, but is ill prepared going into this match-up. The play of both of these quarterbacks will go far in determining tonight’s winner. The Bears and 49ers both have ferocious defenses and can force opposing QB’s into bad decisions. Campbell and Kaepernick will need to bring their “A” games in order to win. Just like….
2. Matt Forte vs. Frank Gore.
With the starting quarterbacks out and playing against physical and talented defenses, both teams should rely heavily on their Pro-Bowl running backs. Forte and Gore are backs that are constantly banged up, but both appear to be ready to handle a big workload tonight. Both the Bears and the 49ers are stingy against the run, but can be beaten down with a heavy dosage of running. Expect over 30 carries for both teams, with Michael Bush and Kendall Hunter spelling Forte and Gore on occasion. This game will be a slugfest, a type of game Hall of Fame Bears linebacker and former 49ers coach Mike Singletary would enjoy (go to the 1 minute mark). Ball possession will be huge tonight, so the running back that is more successful will be a key factor in determining the winner of this game. But a possibly equal key will be….
3. Bears Special Teams vs. 49ers Special Teams
Both teams have very good kickers. Both teams have excellent return-men. And both teams will have to execute to win. With possession a big story to watch for, Devin Hester and Ted Ginn Jr. will have to succeed in giving their respective teams quality field position. Both players are more than capable of breaking a punt or kickoff into a big play or a touchdown, so the opposing coverage teams must shut them down before they can get going. By putting their teams in good field position, they’ll be helping set up kickers Robbie Gould and David Akers. Gould has hit 18 of 21 field goal attempts this season, almost exactly in line with his career average. Gould has an above average leg and can hit from 50+ with accuracy. Akers has been in a funk as of late. After hitting 44 of 52 attempts last season (84.6 percent), he’s down to 15 of 21 (71.4 percent) and has missed three field goals over his last four games, including a game-winner against the Rams. This will be a defense and special teams game, so Gould, Hester, and punter Adam Podlesh (who has been injured and in a slump) need to be big for the bears like Ginn Jr, Akers, and punter Andy Lee will need to be for the 49ers.
This will be a hard fought, slug it out, physical game. Both teams will beat each other pretty well, and points will be somewhat hard to come by. Whichever team minimizes their errors will surely win this game.
Final Score prediction: 49ers win 17-13.