There unfortunately is an awful lot of gloom and doom in Chicago these days when it comes to the city’s beloved Bears, but here’s what all the doubters are missing about Sunday’s showdown with the San Francisco 49ers.
For the first time in 12 games this season, the Bears come in pretty clearly as the better team.
It was absolutely goofy three weeks ago when the Bears were five-point favorites over the Packers. No one in their right mind would take this Bears roster over the Packers’ even without Aaron Rodgers.
But this week is about more than the Bears having three times as many wins as the 49ers. Scouts and front office folks I’ve talked to around the league say they’d have to take the Bears’ 53 over San Fran’s 53.
One spot that isn’t clear is at quarterback, where Jimmy Garoppolo will make his first start as the 49ers’ quarterback of the future, but the Bears’ Mitch Trubisky was a more highly rated player coming out of college, and as strange as it may seem, Trubisky, with his seven starts as a Bear, actually is quite a bit more experienced than Garoppolo.
Certainly Arlington Heights’ favorite son’s three-plus years in New England with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels have real value, but the facts are Garoppolo – although he has played in 18 NFL games – has only two starts, and all but six quarters of his action have been in garbage time.
We also must note all but two of Garoppolo’s 96 career pass attempts were in New England.
Lining up with this 21st-ranked offense that is 23rd rushing, 17th passing, 33rd in time of possession and 28th in points scored will be a whole new challenge.
Carlos Hyde is a nice running back, but he is not Jordan Howard; and rookie Matt Breida, out of Georgia Southern, has been interesting but nowhere near as exciting as Tarik Cohen.
While the Bears have one of the weakest receiver groups in the NFL, the 49ers can’t cede that title lining up Marquise Goodwin, Kendrick Bourne, Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor and Louis Murphy with George Kittle, Garrett Celek and Logan Paulsen at tight end.
On the offensive line, Joe Staley no longer is the perennial Pro Bowler he once was, and the rest of the group is extremely pedestrian.
On defense, the 49ers’ 40 front includes a 17th overall pick two years ago in Arik Armstead, the seventh-overall pick last year in DeForest Buckner and this year’s third-overall pick, Solomon Thomas, but Armstead has been out with a broken hand, and none of them is playing anywhere near his ceiling.
This year’s second first-round pick, linebacker Rueben Foster, is an exciting prospect, and Eli Harold on the other side is supposed to give the Niners some push, but only veteran Elvis Dumervil has created consistent pressure with
In the secondary, only safety Eric Reid is an occasional difference maker when he’s not busy as one of the league’s more visible and vocal national anthem protesters.
The Bears claim at least a slight advantage in most statistical categories on both sides of the ball, and the difference in the game could be Howard and Cohen if the Bears commit to run against San Fran’s 30th-ranked run defense.
Even the idea that San Francisco has at least been competitive is shaky. From Weeks 2 to 6, the 49ers had five straight losses by three, two, three (OT), three (OT) and two points, but since then, they are 1-4 with a win over the 2-9 Giants, who were accused of flying from New York to San Francisco and quitting. The four losses have come by an average of 18½ points.
This is a game the Bears can and should win, but which Bears team will show up is never a certainty, either.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.