It's not too often that you get a game in Week 11 between two teams with four combined losses. It's even less often in today's NFL that the offenses for those two teams leave you running for the hills out of fear.
However, with Jay Cutler already ruled out for tonight's game and Alex Smith poised to join him as one of America's highest-paid clipboard holders, the Niners-Bears game looks to be a defensive struggle. Patriots/Colts, this is not.
So which team do we think will come out ahead? For our official predictions, you'll need to check out our numberFire premium selections. But for a sneak peek into our thought process and the stats we're looking at for this game, read on.
It's like I always say: it's not a real Monday Night Football humdinger until you get Jason Campbell and Colin Kaepernick involved. The only thing missing here is another Byron Leftwich appearance, and the Cowboys fan in me would never, ever complain about Tony Romo again.
But which QB can actually be expected to perform? For that, we turn to numberFire's favorite analytic tool: the Net Expected Points (NEP) formula. As I explain in my weekly MVP watch article, NEP measures how efficient a certain player is when compared to the average play a team would run if given the same situation.
Both Campbell and Kaepernick have been horribly inefficient throwers so far this season; Campbell's averaging -0.26 NEP per pass attempt while Kaepernick sits at -0.13 NEP per pass attempt (but 0.64 NEP per rushing scramble). However, both of those sample sizes are extremely small, as neither one has thrown for more than 31 passes so far this season.
Looking back even further, however, Campbell may just have the edge. Despite being run out of both Washington and Oakland, he was actually efficient in both locations. He never averaged less than 0.03 NEP per pass in his previous six NFL seasons, and he finished each year adding at least 18 total points over expectation to his particular team. In fact, Campbell's 2011 season with the Raiders might have actually been his best: his 0.15 NEP per pass average was the best of his career, and he gained 25.53 points over expectation despite only attempting 172 passes. Kaepernick, meanwhile, only attempted five passes last season for the Niners and does not have as much of a solid base to go on.
Run, Run, and Run Some More
With the expected terrible offensive showing in this game, the Vegas odds-makers have responded in kind: the current 37.0-point totals line is the lowest for any single game this week, even lower than the 39.5 points given to the Jets/Rams game. They never like to make it easy, do they? It's like they're in the business of making money or something...
But will the final score actually get that low? For the answer, it might help to take a close look at our projections for the two players expected to see the ball the most in this game: Frank Gore and Matt Forte.
Despite playing highly-efficient defenses (the Bears are our No. 1 defense while San Francisco is at No. 6), both players ranked in our top 11 fantasy plays entering the weekend. We have Frank Gore as the slightly better option: we've projected him to have 14.21 carries and 66.00 rushing yards. Forte, meanwhile, looks to add 13.82 carries and 52.78 rushing yards of his own to go along with an expected 24.88 receiving yards.
The important figure for our purposes, though, is the projected TD total. And there, Frank Gore may just be the key to sending this game over the totals limit. His 0.61 projected rushing TDs was the fifth-highest projected total for any running back entering Week 11, behind only Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Doug Martin, and C.J. Spiller. Each one of those backs received at least 20 carries in their respective games, although, amazingly, none scored a touchdown. Gore looks poised to break that trend. Forte, meanwhile, projects to have 0.51 total touchdowns on the game, placing him 11th among all running backs.
Fighting the Spread
Most people think San Francisco has the best shot of winning this game. Vegas sure does; they currently have the line set at the Niners being favored by 3.5 points, even after Alex Smith was ruled out for this game. That could very well change as the day drags on. We think that the Niners have the best chance of winning too; all five of our most similar games to this particular battle have the San Francisco 49ers coming out ahead.
When measuring against the spread, however, you see a different, less conclusive pattern begin to emerge. These numbers are taken from an earlier, higher line from today, and with the spread rapidly changing, these numbers may change. But as it stands, the Bears and 49ers are just about even in historical, comparable games taking the win ATS. Just look at the top five most-comparable games from the past 12 seasons.
||PIT 18, NYJ 7
||NE 24, BAL 3
||NE 17, CHI 13
||PIT 20, BAL 7
||TB 13, TEN 10
While the 49ers would be favored to win based off of all these comparable games, the Bears still keep it close in many of them. For those sold on the Niners' brand of football, just be warned of the close game factor when looking at the spread for tonight's game.