It’s that magical time of the year: the start of the NFL season.
In preparation, let’s take a look at each team’s position group, as well as the coaching staffs, and determine which team has the advantage in their groups.
Players to Watch: Justin Fields (CHI), Trey Lance (SF)
A battle of two second-year QBs looking to bring some stability to their franchises under center. Plenty of noise will be made (and already has been made) of Lance being picked eight spots ahead of Fields and if that was actually the right pick for the Niners at the time.
Both QBs still have a while to go before they become the franchise players they were expected to be coming out of college, and neither particularly stood out last season despite some flashes of brilliance here and there. For now, the edge at quarterback goes to Fields; he’s got more NFL experience under his belt, looked fantastic in the preseason, and doesn’t have an extremely well-paid backup breathing down his neck.
Players to Watch: David Montgomery (CHI), Khalil Herbert (CHI), Elijah Mitchell (SF), Jeff Wilson Jr. (SF)
Mitchell is silently a fantastic backfield option, nearly putting up 1000 rushing yards in his rookie season last year but ending just shy of that mark with 963yds. In only 11 games. Should he stay healthy this year, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him join the 1k club by season’s end. The rest of the Niners’ RB depth chart isn’t anything to marvel at, though, or at least it isn’t until better looks are gotten at rookies Tyrion Davis-Price and Jordan Mason.
The Bears on the other hand, are once again depending on Montgomery to do a lot of the heavy lifting offensively. When Montgomery’s healthy (he hasn’t played a full season since his rookie campaign in 2019), he’s been one of the better backs in the league, acting as a good complete package (good hands, hole recognition, speed, physicality, the works). Herbert looked good last season when he took over during Montgomery’s injury and then provided a nice change-up when Montgomery was back.
Mitchell could turn in a really good season, but Montgomery’s got the experience and proven track record, and the Bears’ depth at RB is just better.
Players to Watch: Darnell Mooney (CHI), Equanimeous St. Brown (CHI), Deebo Samuel (SF), Brandon Aiyuk (SF)
Both Mooney and Samuel had fantastic 2021 campaigns, but Samuel has been the one receiving more of the hype (to be fair, he did put up more yards while also bringing a uniqueness to the field not often seen in WRs). While Mooney is looking to establish himself as a WR1 to the general NFL public, Samuel has already done that in the eyes of many.
The rest of the WR depth chart gets a bit iffy for each team after their stud number ones. Aiyuk quietly had a solid campaign last year and could be on the verge of reaching his round one potential. Meanwhile, the Bears are relying on career depth chart guys to show what they got given more opportunities (or in Velus Jones Jr.’s case, just have a good rookie year).
While the overall difference in talent may not be that big, the 49ers probably have 1.) the better WR1, 2.) more proven depth, and 3.) an offensive coaching staff who can make just about any group put in front of them work. Receiving edge goes to the Niners.
Players to Watch: Cole Kmet (CHI), George Kittle (SF - QUESTIONABLE)
At first, this category was a gimme to the Niners. Kmet had a solid second season in 2021, and his chemistry with Justin Fields looked even better during the offseason/preseason, but George Kittle, when healthy, is one of the league’s premier TEs. It wasn’t all that long ago that Kittle was up there with Travis Kelce in being considered the best tight end in the NFL.
“When healthy” is the key phrase here though, as multiple reports are saying that Kittle could end up missing Sunday’s game. If this holds true, advantage Bears, thanks to Kmet and his breakout potential being much more appealing than whoever San Francisco chooses to throw out. If Kittle does play, the advantage goes to him and his history of elite play.
But we’ll give it to the Bears for now as Kittle suiting up is looking less and less likely.
Players to Watch: Braxton Jones (CHI), Lucas Patrick (CHI), Trent Williams (SF), Mike McGlinchey (SF)
Unless the Bears’ o-line starts proving otherwise, it’ll be hard to find another squad in the NFL that can be considered worse. The Niners are not one of those squads. The Niners have Trent Williams, who is towards the top of the NFL o-lineman pyramid. The Bears’ line does have plenty of youth and potential, and Lucas Patrick being healthy should help a lot, but until they start proving something, the Bears remain towards the bottom of the league’s o-line hierarchy.
Players to Watch: Robert Quinn (CHI), Al-Quandin Muhammad (CHI), Nick Bosa (SF), Javon Kinlaw (SF)
Kinda like the WR rooms discussed above, it’s the story of the studs at the top of the corps, and then the depth is TBD for now. Bosa and Quinn are both beasts, with both putting up 15+ sacks last season. However, there’s a decent reason to lean towards Bosa. Quinn’s 2021 year was a bit of a renaissance year after a lackluster 2020. It’s yet to be seen if the 32-year-old can repeat that success in any way. Bosa, on the other hand, is only 24 and still has his best years ahead of him.
In terms of supporting staff, neither corps stands out. Kinlaw might finally break out after two seasons of waiting on the former 14th overall pick. Meanwhile, the Bears will be relying on a grab bag of journeymen, new acquisitions coming off career years and getting expanded roles and some youngsters trying to establish themselves. It’s hard to bet on the Bears when their corps consists of a 32-year-old and a bunch of relatively unknowns, while the Niners’ group largely consists of young players who have their best years to look forward to.
Players to Watch: Roquan Smith (CHI), Nicholas Morrow (CHI), Fred Warner (SF), Azeez Al-Shaair (SF)
What Smith and Warner do for their respective teams will be the real show to watch amongst all the linebackers. Statistically, Smith has the edge over Warner, but Warner gets more attention/accolades between the two (he’s got that First Team All-Pro nod Smith has been hunting), so the race between the two is too close to call, especially before we see any of the 2022 versions of them.
As for the rest of the LB corps, the 49ers get the edge…for now. The winning factor is continuity; Al-Shaair is back for his third year with the team after a career season in ‘21. Dre Greenlaw has been with the team just as long but is also listed as questionable (and he did only play in three games last year). The Bears on the other hand, are welcoming a new supporting cast around Smith, featuring offseason acquisitions like Morrow, Matthew Adams, and preseason standout Jack Sanborn. With Smith and Warner canceling each other out, the edge goes to the chemistry that is likely already in place in the Niners’ unit.
Players to Watch: Kyler Gordon (CHI), Jaquan Brisker (CHI), Charvarius Ward (SF), Emmanuel Moseley (SF)
Neither squad’s secondary was great last year but should take a step in the right direction this year. For the Niners, they’re hoping for the continued improvement of players like Ward and Moseley, as well as waiting for Jimmie Ward to get healthy and help anchor this group.
For the Bears, outside of Eddie Jackson, who is in serious need of a career revival, the plan is to let a plethora of young guys get their shots and show off their potential. Two rookies starting day one (Gordon and Brisker) highlight this plan.
The Bears’ group might have more potential in the long run (seriously, their secondary should be killer in a season or two), but the Niners are just a little more proven at this point and were already a better unit back in 2021, even if some pieces from that iteration of the secondary are no longer with the team or are on the IR.
Players to Watch: Velus Jones Jr. (CHI), Trenton Gill (CHI), Ray-Ray McCloud III (SF), Robbie Gould (SF)
It’s the proven vs the not-so-proven. It’s always fun to see Robbie Gould back in his stomping ground, and the Bears’ all-time leading scorer just put up his best FG% since 2018 last season. McCloud has also turned into one of the more dependable returners in the league.
Jones flashed some potential in his returning skills during the preseason, so it’ll be fun to see what the speedster can do come the real deal. Gill also didn’t look to be that far off from replicating his predecessor, Pat O’Donnel’s, production. Still, outside of kicker Cairo Santos, the Bears can’t really compare to the experience found in their opponents.
Until Matt Eberflus goes up against another rookie coach (looking at you, Giants game on 10/2), it’s gonna be hard for the Bears to win the coaching category. This week is going to be especially tough, being matched up with one of the best offensive minds in the league.
While Kyle Shanahan does have the baggage of his playoff history (he is still a respectable 4-2 as head coach), he has also been the mastermind behind five top-ten offenses (in terms of points produced) during his time in the NFL (two as Atlanta’s OC, two as the Niners’ HC). His run with the Niners, in particular, has been noteworthy because his quarterback, a.k.a. the most important position to running an elite, modern offense, has always been under scrutiny. This isn’t a knock against Eberflus, who we haven’t even seen coach his first regular season game yet, but Shanahan seemingly always makes whatever is put in front of him work.
Bears: Three Advantages
- Running Backs
- Tight Ends
49ers: Seven Advantages
- Wide Receivers
- Offensive Line
- Defensive Line
- Special Teams