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Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers Game Preview and Prediction

Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh

San Francisco will christen brand-new Levi’s Stadium by facing off with Chicago tonight on NBC. The 49ers (1-0) look to continue the momentum from their convincing 28-17 win in Dallas last week by breaking in their new building with a victory in front of what’s sure to be a raucous home crowd. The Bears have the difficult task of heading to the West Coast to face a championship-caliber team while also attempting to rebound from a disappointing 23-20 overtime home loss last week to the Bills.

This will be the 60th all-time regular season meeting between these two proud and historic franchises. The series is tied at 29-29-1, but the 49ers have won the past two games as well as the last eight played at home, although this will be the first at Levi’s Stadium.

Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NBC

Spread: San Francisco -7

Three Things to Watch

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1. Introducing Levi’s Stadium

After 43 seasons and 205 regular season victories, the most by any team in its home stadium, the 49ers have bid a fond farewell to Candlestick Park. Tonight’s game will mark the debut of Levi’s Stadium, a state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly, forward-thinking facility in Santa Clara, Calif., that seats approximately 68,500 and cost $1.2 billion to build. The first NFL stadium built in California since 1967, Levi’s Stadium has already made a name for itself by becoming the first NFL venue to receive LEED Gold certification, a recognition of commitment to environmental sustainability in design and construction. The stadium’s other amenities and features are equally top-notch, even if the turf has already been replaced. The site of the Pac-12 Football Championship Game in December and Super Bowl 50 in February 2016, Levi’s Stadium is sure to get its share of coverage during tonight’s broadcast. On the field, the 49ers’ focus will be on making themselves comfortable in their new surroundings with the goal of ending the night 1-0 at Levi’s Stadium.

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2. Bear-ing Down on the Ground

Chicago had trouble stopping the run last season and that’s putting it lightly. The Bears were dead last in the NFL at 161.4 rushing yards per game allowed. The defensive line was beset by injuries and a lack of depth in 2013, something the team focused on fixing this offseason. A trio of veteran defensive ends in Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young were brought in and the team also drafted a pair of defensive tackles in Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. Unfortunately, as Week 1 showed, coordinator Mel Tucker’s defense is still a work in progress. Buffalo rushed for 193 yards on 33 carries (5.0 ypc), including a 47-yard run by Anthony Dixon and a pivotral 38-yard run by Fred Jackson that set up the Bills’ game-winning field goal in overtime. Things won’t get any easier tonight against San Francisco, a team that loves to run the ball. Frank Gore has put together three consecutive 1,100-yard rushing seasons and the 49ers have added second-round pick Carlos Hyde to their backfield. This duo combined for 116 yards on 23 carries (5.0 ypc) in the Week 1 victory in Dallas, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s running ability can’t be overlooked either. To put it simply, Chicago’s defense needs to gel and quickly if it doesn’t want to get run over by the home team. One thing that could help the Bears’ defense is support from its running game. DeMarco Murray piled up 118 yards rushing last week on a depleted San Francisco defense and Chicago has its own Pro Bowl-caliber running back in Matt Forté, who had 82 yards on the ground against Buffalo.

3. Quality Quarterback Play

Last season, Chicago’s offense under first-year head coach Marc Trestman developed into one of the NFL’s most productive and explosive units. The Bears finished among the top eight in the league in total, passing and scoring offense. The triggerman for this attack is Jay Cutler, who needs to make smart decisions for this offense to be most effective. Case in point: Cutler threw two interceptions in last week’s overtime home loss to Buffalo. He has now thrown at least two picks in 29 career games. In those games, his teams are 6-23 compared to 50-25 when he limits his throwing miscues to one or fewer. The team showed its trust in Cutler when it signed him to a seven-year, $126 million extension. Now he needs to show that it was money well spent. On the other side, Colin Kaepernick is in his just his second full season as San Francisco’s starting quarterback, but the expectations are just as high as they are for Cutler, if not higher. That's what happens when come on the scene as a relatively unheralded rookie in 2012, take over for a concussed Alex Smith and lead your team to the Super Bowl. The 49ers made it back to the NFC title game last season and the goal remains the same in 2014. On a team that’s dedicated to running the football and playing tough defense, Kaepernick’s not asked to do too much, but if the 49ers want to become that much more dangerous, and likewise tougher to defend, on offense they will have to open up the playbook some. In 24 career regular-season starts, Kaepernick is 18-6 with a 33:11 TD:INT ratio. Kaepernick also has had success against the Bears before, as his first career start came against them in Week 11 of the 2012 season on “Monday Night Football.” In that game, Kaepernick threw for 243 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in an easy 32-7 win. If he plays that well tonight chances are he will run his career mark to 2-0 against Chicago, especially if Cutler’s ball-security issues continue to make an appearance.

Final Analysis

Football fans are in for a real San Francisco treat tonight as the 49ers unveil their brand spanking new stadium. The home team will no doubt be fired up and focused on breaking in Levi’s Stadium the right way – with a win. Chicago is reeling after last week’s disappointing overtime home loss to Buffalo, a defeat that opened up some old wounds from the 2013 season. The Bears’ offense, when healthy, is good enough to give any defense problems, especially a 49ers unit that’s missing some key pieces. However, Chicago enters this game missing two starters on the offensive line and with both of its top wide receivers dealing with injuries. Momentum is squarely on San Francisco’s side, as well as the added excitement, energy and emotion that’s associated with this being the first game in its new stadium. Chicago puts up a fight, but the 49ers make enough plays on both sides of the ball to make the first-ever game at Levi's Stadium a happy memory for the home fans in attendance.

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Prediction: San Francisco 37, Chicago 20