When the Chicago Bears host the San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field this Sunday, both teams will be very eager to get back into the win column. The Bears (3-4) have lost their last two games in embarrassing fashion, while the 49ers (2-4) have lost four straight after a promising 2-0 start. Both teams have dealt with injuries, have issues on both sides of the ball, and they're in a race to keep their postseason hopes alive. Here's how this one breaks down.
San Francisco (2-4) at Chicago (3-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 31 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: 49ers -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Picking up the pieces...
Both teams come into this game hurting for a victory. The Bears have lost their last two games against Green Bay, and Tampa Bay, respectively, by a combined score of 62-17. They've been outplayed, outclassed, and outworked on both sides of the ball, and their injuries and COVID-19 issues only exacerbate their problems. The Bears are set to be short-handed again this week.
The 49ers aren't in much better shape, as they are in the midst of a four-game losing streak. During this stretch they've lost close games at home to both Green Bay and Seattle, they were outplayed by the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals, and blew a five-point lead against Indianapolis during a heavy rainstorm this past Sunday night. San Francisco was considered a playoff contender leading into this season but has played like anything but these last few weeks. The 49ers won't be at full strength either.
2. Who will be available?
That is a very important question for Chicago heading into this game. Head coach Matt Nagy, offensive lineman Germain Ifedi (who is currently on injured reserve), and tight end Jimmy Graham are all on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Nagy remained in the NFL's COVID-19 protocol on Saturday and the team said he would not coach on Sunday with special teams Chris Tabor serving as head coach.
It also was announced on Friday that outside linebacker Kahlil Mack will be held out of this game due to his nagging foot injury, and could even be put on IR. The injury has limited Mack on the field, as he's only posted five tackles and one sack over the last two games.
Defensive end Akiem Hicks (groin), safety Tashaun Gipson (hip), wide receiver Jakeem Grant (ankle), linebacker Sam Kamara (knee), and tight end Jesper Horsted (knee) are all listed as questionable. Also on this week's injury report are wide receivers Allen Robinson (ankle), tight end J.P. Holtz (quad), nose tackle Bilal Nichols (knee), and offensive lineman James Daniels (knee), but they don't carry any designation so they should be able to play.
Outside linebacker Robert Quinn has been removed from the COVID-19 list, which will be a huge boost to this team given Mack's absence. Offensive tackle Elijah Wilkinson also has been removed from the COVID-19 list and there are reports that he could start at right tackle on Sunday.
San Francisco is already without tight end George Kittle, running back Raheem Mostert, linebacker Dre Greenlaw, cornerback Jason Verrett, and kicker Robbie Gould, all of whom are on IR. Additionally, defensive lineman Maurice Hurst (calf) and safety Jaquiski Tartt (knee) have been ruled out for Sunday's game. Javon Kinlaw (knee) also is officially out, but he underwent surgery this week and he will soon go on IR, ending his season. Defensive end Dee Ford and linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair are both in concussion protocol and listed as doubtful, so neither will likely be cleared in time to play. And the 49ers' lengthy injury report rounds out with defensive end Samson Ebukam (ankle) and left tackle Trent Williams (ankle, elbow), who are both questionable. Williams missed last week's game so his return would be one piece of good news.
Other 49ers who were on this week's injury report but are expected to play include wide receiver Deebo Samuel (calf), linebacker Marcell Harris (thumb), and quarterback Trey Lance (knee). Lance's potential return is definitely worth watching given how poorly Jimmy Garoppolo played on Sunday night, although the wet and windy conditions at Levi's Stadium were somewhat responsible for his performance.
3. Fields vs. Garoppolo and/or Lance
Depending on what San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan's game plan is, Sunday could feature two of the quarterbacks taken in the first round of this year's draft. Justin Fields (11th overall pick) will make his sixth start hoping for better results after back-to-back rough outings. In losses to Green Bay and Tampa Bay, Fields went 38-for-59 for 350 yards with just one touchdown and six total turnovers (four interceptions, two fumbles). The offensive line can certainly play better (eight sacks allowed in the last two games), but it's clear that Fields is still learning how to play quarterback in the NFL.
For the 49ers, Garoppolo is expected to get the start but Lance (third overall pick) will likely get some snaps as well. The veteran Garoppolo won the starting job in training camp but Lance was getting reps in specific packages or situations. He started in Week 5 against Arizona after Garoppolo injured his calf the previous week, but that also was the game in which Lance suffered his knee injury, which caused him to miss the team's most recent game.
Garoppolo and Lance have different skill sets and playing styles, which has only added to the attention paid to their situation. Collectively, they have completed 62 percent of their passes for 1,460 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. Garoppolo is the better passer right now and has a firmer grasp of Shanahan's playbook, but staying healthy has been a problem for him and he didn't play well in his return on Sunday night against Indianapolis, throwing a touchdown pass while turning it over three times (two INTs, one fumble lost). Lance is much more athletic and his mobility adds another element to this offense. But it's clear that his head coach isn't ready to turn over the reigns to the rookie just yet. Assuming Lance's knee is healthy and he's not limited, it will be interesting to see how the snaps are divvied up between the two on Sunday.
Both teams could use a win in the worst way. One key to this game will be which team manages the personnel absences better and turnovers also will likely play a big role. Even though both teams will be short-handed, San Francisco appears to be in better shape and doesn't have as many glaring issues compared to Chicago. Specifically, Mack's presence on defense will be sorely missed. It probably won't be pretty, but look for the 49ers to put an end to their losing streak with a close win in the Windy City.
Prediction: 49ers 21, Bears 17
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.