BEARS // 49ERS OVERVIEW
The 10-4 Bears (7-1 at home // 3-3 on the road) will travel to San Francisco this week to take on a suddenly white hot 4-10 49ers team that has won back-to-back games against the Broncos and the Seahawks, with Kyle Shanahan’s squad doing just enough to close out the season looking strong for the second consecutive year. The Bears’ inconsistency on the road and the 49ers’ strong play across the last two weeks has been accounted for by Vegas, with the Bears installed as only 4.0 point favorites. This game carries a low Over/Under of only 43.0.
BEARS PASS OFFENSE
The Bears’ passing attack has been hit-or-miss this year, with Mitchell Trubisky topping two passing touchdowns only three times this year and cracking 300 yards only once since Week 7, but with Trubisky also posting four legitimately week-winning scores this year in which he has combined his rushing upside with the big yardage totals that this well-schemed offense can produce. San Francisco ranks 10th in yards allowed per pass attempt on the strength of the fourth lowest catch rate allowed in football — though with a league-low two interceptions all season (not a typo), the 49ers have been unable to shut down opponent drives as consistently as they need to, which has led to this team allowing the second most passing touchdowns in the league. Trubisky will have opportunities this week for another one of his Upside games.
While it is easy enough to isolate Trubisky as an Upside option this week, it has been far more difficult this year to find a pass catcher to pair him with, as this team spreads volume fairly thin among Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Tarik Cohen, and Trey Burton. Recent target counts among these four in Trubisky’s last five games under center look like this:
:: Robinson — 5 // 8 // 7 // 8 // 7
:: Gabriel — 5 // 3 // 9 // 7 // 3
:: Cohen — 2 // 7 // 5 // 4 // 6
:: Burton — 3 // 4 // 1 // 5 // 7
With Trubisky topping 31 pass attempts only once since Week 4, it is difficult for any of these guys to pop for big volume games, and with this team largely scrapping downfield passing since their hot mid-season stretch, it is tough for any of these guys to pile up big yardage. Robinson is the most consistently-targeted player, and he has the best shot at floor in the event of a swing-and-miss on ceiling, though with an xYAC/R of only 3.8, he’ll likely need a volume spike or a broken play in order to hit for a big game without a touchdown. Cohen is the player in this group likeliest to post a big game, with explosive ball-in-his-hands ability and a solid role in the run game. Gabriel and Burton are simply dart throws at the moment.
Largely disappearing from this offense lately has been Anthony Miller, with three targets and one catch across his last three games. Miller played only 26 snaps last week as the Bears have shifted to more two tight end sets with Adam Shaheen healthy. Shaheen is a touchdown-reliant play as the number two tight end in this offense.
BEARS RUN OFFENSE
The 49ers have continued to play solid run defense this year, allowing the 10th fewest yards per carry while ranking middle of the pack in rushing yards allowed to running backs in spite of a 4-10 record that has put them in consistently negative game scripts. This is certainly a matchup that can be beat, but it is not a matchup that raises expectations for a running back in Jordan Howard who has still topped 82 rushing yards only once all year, and who has only 17 catches on the season. Boosting Howard’s outlook is the Bears’ standing as favorites in this spot, which could create enough opportunities for him to matter. He’s a modest-floor, decent-ceiling back at the lower ends of the price range.
49ERS PASS OFFENSE
Only six teams have taken more sacks this year than the 49ers, creating a difficult spot for Nick Mullens against the Bears and their ferocious pass rush. Chicago has allowed the second lowest catch rate in the NFL, and they are shaving over 6% off the league-average YAC/R rate — leading to the second fewest yards allowed per pass attempt in the league. The one boost in this matchup comes in the volume department, as the Bears — while frequently playing with a lead and shutting down opposing rushing attacks — have faced the fourth most opponent pass attempts in the NFL this year. Teams have thrown the ball 65.59% of the time in this matchup (the second highest rate in the league), while San Francisco’s 56.68% pass play rate on offense ranks 24th in football. If the 49ers are forced to throw the ball more often than normal, there could be some volume-driven production that comes from this side of the ball.
In the “volume” department, there are two guys who stand out on the 49ers — with each of these guys carrying a consistent role and a decent connection with Mullens. Across the last four weeks, targets for George Kittle and Dante Pettis have looked like this:
:: Kittle — 13 // 9 // 9 // 8
:: Pettis — 7 // 7 // 7 // 5
Mullens has topped 33 pass attempts only once in that stretch (on average, Chicago is facing 38.9 pass attempts per game), so there is room for target totals to grow a bit for these two. Each guy has been heavily reliant on YAC for ceiling, with Mullens only throwing one pass more than 20 yards downfield most games (while primarily sticking to passes within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage) — making it difficult for either guy to reach his ceiling this week against a disciplined, assignment-strong Bears defense that is great after the catch; but the matchup against the Bears is also likely to scare away ownership, which makes these guys attractive in tourneys for the big upside they carry, in a matchup that has been less fantasy-scary than most realize.
Behind these two, this passing attack has been bone bare, with Marquise Goodwin seeing his playing time cut since returning from injury, and with Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor seeing limited volume on primarily short-area routes. This offense is flowing through Kittle and Pettis at the moment, with other options simply “hope for outlier production” plays.
49ERS RUN OFFENSE
The Bears have been lights out against the run this year, ranking fifth in yards allowed per carry while allowing the fewest rushing touchdowns in the league. The Titans are the only team that has allowed fewer total touchdowns to the running back position, and with the Bears clamping down on receiving production from running backs as well, there are only three teams in the NFL that have allowed fewer scrimmage yards to enemy backfields than the Bears. Any way you slice it, this is one of the toughest running back matchups in football.
Further dampening expectations in this spot is the not-fully-healthy return of Matt Breida, who played through his season-long ankle injury last week to see 22 touches, which he turned into 96 total yards (17-50-0 on the ground // 5-46-0 through the air). Breida once again aggravated his ankle injury toward the end of the 49ers’ Week 15 win, though as long as he experiences no setbacks, he should be out there this week as the starter once more. Breida should be a touch-secure back with a solid floor (he has been a virtual lock for 3-30 through the air when healthy, with rushing yardage added from there), though the matchup and the persistent ankle injury will make it tough to reach ceiling.
Behind Breida, Jeff Wilson touched the ball seven times last week. He’ll step back into the lead role if Breida misses once again.
The Bears are an inconsistent offense with a modest Vegas-implied team total playing on the road — but they also boast blowup potential with quality scheming and quality weapons. It has been a long time since any of these players have joined the floor/ceiling discussion, but Trubisky, Cohen, and (to a lesser extent) Robinson can all be considered in tourneys for their week-winning upside. I’ve picked up six tickets to the Main Event on DraftKings this weekend, and it won’t surprise me if I find a Trubisky/Cohen stack anchoring one of those teams, with neither of these players locked into a strong game, but with potential for 60 combined points between these two if everything goes just right. Outside of these guys, I’ll be ignoring the Bears, but Gabriel, Burton, and Howard all carry outside shots at upside as well.
I likely won’t have interest in the 49ers’ backfield (though the 20-touch expectation on Breida does make him at least somewhat tourney-attractive if his ankle is indeed ready to hold up to a full game of work), but I have a bit more interest in Pettis // Kittle than I expected to have. Neither of these guys has a particularly secure floor, but the ceiling is nice, and I expect ownership to largely miss them in a game against the Bears. It should also be noted that Pettis and/or Kittle can produce without Mullens posting a big game himself. There are different ways to take a risk on the upside available in this spot in tourneys.