Heading into Week 1 of the NFL season, the biggest underdogs are the Houston Texans (+7), the New York Jets (+6.5), the Pittsburgh Steelers (+6.5), and the Chicago Bears (+6.5). When it comes to betting, if anybody was interested in picking one of these teams, you’d think they’d choose the spread. Any team projected to lose by more than a touchdown is surely a massive underdog, so picking them to win outright would be downright foolish, right? Well, based on how bettors have been betting the Bears-49ers game, that assumption is dead wrong.
Between Aug. 30 and Sep. 6, 75 percent of bets placed on that game have picked Chicago to win outright. Only 25 have chosen the Niners. Now, there are a couple of factors at play. The most obvious is the payout for choosing the outright winner in this game. Bettors will obviously be more inclined to choose the team that will win them the most money should they win. With the Bears being 6.5-point underdogs, the payout should they come away with the victory should be rather large. Why would you spend $100 on a bet for the 49ers that would win you only about $135 when a $100 bet on the Bears could net you $360? That disparity between potential payouts is a big factor in bettors’ minds.
Second, bettors don’t seem ready to believe in Trey Lance just yet. According to OddsChecker US spokesperson Kyle Newman, “There’s just such a small sample size with Trey Lance at this point that bettors just don’t feel comfortable putting money on the 49ers on the road. Lance may very well grow into his own this season and become a star, it’s just a question of whether or not he’ll be ready for Week 1. Bettors aren’t buying it, so they’re backing Fields and the Bears.”
There’s no denying that Fields could wind up being the better quarterback between the two, but we haven’t seen that breakout performance from Fields yet to assume Fields has that X-factor that could make him a superstar. Lance hasn’t done that either though, and Fields has much more actual NFL experience under his belt already compared to Lance. That combined with the fact that 49ers’ star tight end George Kittle will likely miss action in Week 1 means bettors are seeing the potential for a big payout.
While I do trust Chicago’s defense to give the 49ers’ outside zone run scheme some fits — they have a fast front seven with a lot of great tacklers — the 49ers’ passing attack should be able to carry them to victory if Trey Lance can perform at a level anywhere close to what we saw from Jimmy Garoppolo last season. That’s a big if though. Theoretically, Lance provides a much bigger arm and the opportunity for explosiveness that the Niners never had with Jimmy G. However, Lance’s accuracy and game sense are still in question. When Lance had opportunities to play last year, oftentimes we saw him ditch the pocket too early and run the ball himself rather than keep his eyes downfield and try to extend plays. We did see glimpses (lots of them; Lance often kept his eyes downfield until he crossed the line of scrimmage entirely) of improvement in that area from Lance in the preseason, but the preseason and regular season game action are two entirely different beasts.
With that said, both Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk should be healthy for this game, and they outclass most of the Bears’ secondary on their own. As long as Lance can get them the ball, which Kyle Shanahan’s gameplan should make rather easy, then the Bears’ defense will have a very difficult time stopping the 49ers’ offense even without Kittle.
If the Bears want to win, it’s going to come down to two things: The Bears’ defense limiting the 49ers’ run game and Justin Fields taking advantage of a beat-up and underwhelming 49ers’ secondary. Outside of Darnell Mooney and maybe Cole Kmet, Fields won’t have much help in that second department. He is talented enough to make tight-window throws, but without the lack of a true No. 2 receiver (or a proven No. 1 for that matter), Charvarius Ward and Emmanuel Moseley could cause some issues for Fields.
Look, I’m all for going big or going home at your local sportsbook, and based on the unknowns surrounding Trey Lance, I don’t think betting on the Bears is that bad a decision. That said, for 75 percent of bettors to think that’s a wise decision seems a little suspicious. Either they know something I don’t or they looked at the Bears’ +260 line and started salivating, dropping their credit cards on the table instantly without thinking it through. The difference between bets placed on each team should be much closer in my opinion. Then again, I said that for the Bills-Rams game on Thursday and the Bills’ bettors proved me wrong.