Considering the recent slate of Monday Night Football games, a showdown between the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears and NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers should give fans everywhere something to celebrate.
However, this is not your typical game between two teams leading their respective divisions. Both teams have a lot of question marks heading into this clash that, depending on how they get answered, will swing the pendulum in one direction or the other.
As the Bears and 49ers make their final preparations for this game, here are the questions to which we are looking to get answers as the showdown unfolds.
What Will The Bears Offense Look Like Without Jay Cutler?
We saw just how dire things can get in Chicago when both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte are out of the lineup with injuries.
This season, Forte has struggled playing behind a bad offensive line and Cutler is out of this game with a concussion. The Bears are in a better position to handle Cutler being out because Jason Campbell is a much better option than Caleb Hanie or Josh McCown were last year.
However, Campbell is still a backup going against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. He is a better athlete than Cutler, with more mobility inside the pocket, but he has to have time to find his receivers.
Brandon Marshall is going to get a lot of looks in this game. It is just a question of Campbell having the accuracy and time to hit his star receiver enough to keep the Bears offense moving the chains.
How Ready Is Alex Smith Going To Be?
Both starting quarterbacks suffered concussions last week. While Cutler didn't progress enough to start this week, Smith is reportedly just a contact test away from being able to line up under center for the 49ers.
In that same report it says that Smith has been able to practice four days in a row, which would seem to indicate business as usual for the 49ers.
But against a tenacious, opportunistic defense like the Bears, Smith has to be at the top of his game to keep the 49ers' offense moving. Before he got hurt, Smith was on top of his game, completing 25-of-27 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns in the last two games.
The Bears have been great at forcing turnovers and getting points from their defense. They lead the NFL with 30 takeaways and seven interceptions returned for a touchdown.
Smith and the 49ers are tied for the second-fewest turnovers in the NFC with nine. If he is on top of his game coming off a concussion, that would give the 49ers a decided advantage in the quarterback department.
Which Defense Is Going To Crack First?
We have spent so much time talking about offenses, but this game is all about what happens on defense. This promises to be one of the most physical NFL games of the entire season. Someone has to break first.
The Bears are the best in the NFL at forcing turnovers and second in scoring defense. The 49ers are the best in the NFL in yards allowed and points allowed per game.
The 49ers did have a lull last week against the Rams, spotting their division rivals a 14-point lead in the first quarter before storming back in the second half to force a tie.
The Bears have allowed 20 or more points just four times this season; the 49ers have allowed 20 or more points just three times.
Honestly, you can't go wrong picking either defense. However, I think you have to give the 49ers a slight edge because their defensive front, particularly Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, should have fewer problems creating pressure against a weak Bears offensive line.
The 49ers have one of the biggest and most physical offensive lines in the NFL. Yards will be hard to come by, but if there is a big play to be had, you have to trust them to get it more than the Bears.
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