Unlocked: Pro Football Weekly’s Bears-49ers predictions

December 23, 2018

PFW: Chicago’s predictions for Bears-49ers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California:

Hub Arkush (season record: 11-3):

Yes, this is a really difficult trip for these guys to make and it would be a perfectly logical spot for the Bears to relax their way into an upset, but it just doesn’t feel right with this bunch.

I do think this one could be sloppy and the 49ers will probably hang around longer and closer than they should, but two factors tell me the Bears will prevail anyway.

As slim as their chances may be to claim a first-round bye in the playoffs, Matt Nagy and Co. have to know how much it would mean if they could. So as long as it’s on the table, I think they’ll be focused enough to knock off a clearly inferior team.

Forget all the other statistical mismatches the Bears own over San Francisco on both sides of the ball, the one that will dictate the outcome of this game is turnover differential.

The Bears are the NFL’s best at plus-13 and runaway league leaders in takeaways with 35 — five more than their closest competitor in Cleveland.

The 49ers are the NFL’s worst at minus-22, minus-10 more than everybody but No. 31 Tampa Bay (minus-16), with 27 turnovers, including 16 picks and only five takeaways.

Both the Bears and 49ers would have to play completely out of character for the Bears to lose. Bears 33, 49ers 24

Bob LeGere (season record: 10-4):

The last time these two teams met, last December, PK Robbie Gould came back to Soldier Field to haunt his former team, making five of five chip-shot field goals, including the game-winner with four seconds left. The Bears were outgained 388-147 in a stunningly inept display of offense.

But things change, most notably the Bears’ head coach and their offense. Matt Nagy’s team has won seven of its last eight games and, at 10-4, is playing to improve its playoff seeding. But there is cause for concern here. The 4-10 49ers are actually a winning team – at Levi’s Stadium, where they’re 4-3 and have defeated teams with better records in each of the past two weeks, including the 8-6 Seahawks last week.

Former No. 3 QB Nick Mullens has done a superb job keeping the 49ers’ offense relevant, but he’s facing a Bears defense that is arguably the NFL’s best. It has dominated the Rams’ Jared Goff and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers in back-to-back weeks by quashing the run game and then flustering the quarterbacks with a combined eight sacks and five interceptions. Bears QB Mitch Trubisky has been up and down, but he’s coming off one of his best games and could thrive against a banged-up San Francisco secondary. Bears 24, 49ers 16

Arthur Arkush (season record: 12-2):

Matt Nagy’s team won’t spend much time reading its clippings this week, not with the outside chance of a first-round bye looming.

Kyle Shanahan’s game Niners haven’t packed it up for the winter yet, either. San Francisco is embracing its role of potential late-season spoiler for a second consecutive season, having knocked off contending clubs at home in back to back weeks.

However, former UDFA QB Nick Mullens hasn’t seen a defense like Chicago’s since taking the starting reins, and he’ll be rudely welcomed to the NFL by Khalil Mack and Chicago’s band of thieves. What’s more, several Bears offensive players recalled in the celebratory locker room Sunday getting held out of the end zone by the Niners last December at Soldier Field, so there’s clearly added incentive for Mitch Trubisky’s unit to put its best foot forward, something we haven’t seen in a month and a half.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Trubisky also is motivated to stick it to the team that opted to trade down rather than make him its franchise guy. Look for a big performance out of the Bears QB1, helping hang a 30-spot on a decimated pass ‘D’ in a comfortable win. Bears 30, 49ers 20

Eric Edholm (season record: 11-3):

Very quietly, the 49ers have played well at home. Did you realize that this 4-10 football team has a point differential of zero at Levi’s Stadium? They’ve won two straight there the past two weeks and will be in good shape with their third straight at home as the Bears come to town.

The Bears’ defense overall hasn’t been as good on the road as at home, clearly, and defending TE George Kittle and WR Dante Pettis will be interesting challenges to start. QB Nick Mullens has impressed after being pressed into duty as a third-stringer, throwing for at least one TD pass in each of his six starts (the 49ers are 3-3 with him) and completing more than 60 percent of his passes in five of those six games.

Can the Bears make enough plays to win? Absolutely, even against a slightly improved 49ers defense. But don’t be surprised if this one is a bit of a struggle early. This is by far the best defense Mullens has faced to date, but he’ll open some eyes with his competitiveness.

This won’t be Mitch Trubisky’s best game, but he’ll avoid mistakes enough to help deliver a narrow Bears victory. Bears 23, 49ers 20

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