With half the season in the books, the NFL’s series of Thursday night games begins with two struggling teams trying to stay in the playoff race.
The 49ers, who are 3-point favorites over the Bears, have lost four in a row. Another loss and they might lose sight of the first-place Cardinals in the NFC West.
Chicago (4-4) has seen its once-fearsome defense turn toothless without linebacker Brian Urlacher, who broke his wrist in the opener, and several other key players.
Maybe they could use the guy coaching the 49ers right about now: Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, one of the greatest of all Bears. He’s not getting nostalgic.
“Obviously this is not the most exciting time in the world right now,” Singletary said after the loss to Tennessee. “I will not compromise. I hate losing, it’s as simple as that. No one loves losing, but I hate losing. Absolutely hate it, especially when you’ve got a team that can win.”
The Bears have won the last three meetings, all at Soldier Field, outscoring San Francisco 81-32. But they could be vulnerable to the runs of Frank Gore because Chicago ranks 21st against the rush.
The Niners handle the run well but struggle against the pass, which means Jay Cutler might be airing it out all night.
Chicago has looked a bit more vulnerable and a lot more fragile.
Dallas (pick ’em) at Green Bay
Having found their pass rush, the Cowboys could cause more sack havoc for Aaron Rodgers.
BEST BET: Cowboys, 21-17
New England (plus 3) at Indianapolis
Time for Bill Belichick to toy with Peyton Manning’s mind again, and for the Patriots to prevent Indy from chasing their unprecedented 16-0 of 2007.
UPSET SPECIAL: PATRIOTS, 24-20
Cincinnati (plus 6 1/2) at Pittsburgh
We have been wrong on the Bengals all year, but we’re starting to believe in them — at least enough to cover.
Philadelphia (plus 1) at San Diego
Two teams that epitomize the up-and-down nature of the NFL. Philly’s time to be up.
Jacksonville (plus 6) at N.Y. Jets
Two teams that epitomize not being too good or too bad, thus their 4-4 marks.
Detroit (plus 15) at Minnesota
Fresh from a bye, this should be easy for the Purple Favres.
Denver (minus 4 1/2) at Washington
Denver’s mini-slide ends here, or its sensational early season comes into serious question.
New Orleans (minus 14) at St. Louis
Been searching for hours for a reason this will be close. Still searching …
Seattle (plus 7 1/2) at Arizona
Enigmatic Cardinals need to bring their road temperament to their dome.
Buffalo (plus 6 1/2) at Tennessee
From 0-6, Titans have decent shot at seven wins. Here’s No. 3.
Atlanta (minus 2) at Carolina
Panthers can be tough if they don’t make errors. Falcons have been mistake-prone recently.
Baltimore (minus 10 1/2) at Cleveland
The Monday night massacre, although the Ravens really are struggling. Not nearly as much as the Browns, of course.
Tampa Bay (plus 9) at Miami
Does anyone outside of Florida really care?
Kansas City (plus 2) at Oakland
Does anyone anywhere really care?
Versus spread, 6-7 (57-65-2 season); Straight up, 7-6 (87-42 season)
Best Bet: 4-5
Upset Special: 6-3
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