It can never be too early to discuss who will face the San Francisco 49ers in the team's second year under Jim Harbaugh. Throughout the offseason, we'll take a team-by-team look at the 49ers' 2012 opponents and the storylines for each team. Up next are the Chicago Bears, who are scheduled to visit the 49ers on "Monday Night Football" in Week 11, as the 49ers will face all four teams from the NFC North in 2012. View the 2012 schedule.
Team: Chicago Bears
When: Week 11 (Nov. 19)
2011 Record: 8-8 (3-5 Road)
All-Time Series:31-29-1 49ers
2011 Recap: Through 10 games, the Chicago Bears looked poised for the postseason with a 7-3 record, but a season-ending thumb injury to quarterback Jay Cutler derailed the team's playoff aspirations. With a mix of Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown under center, the Bears stumbled to a 1-5 finish to close out the season with an 8-8 mark. Running back Matt Forte once again proved to be the workhouse out of the Chicago backfield, amassing 997 yards rushing, 490 yards receiving and four total touchdowns, but sat out the final four games of the season with a knee injury. Johnny Knox was the team's leading receiver with 37 catches and 727 yards, but he also missed the last three contests of the year due to injury. Defensively, the Bears were led by their Pro Bowl linebacker duo of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and Pro Bowl cornerback tandem of Charles Tillman and Corey Graham. But following the disappointing finish to the season, longtime general manager Jerry Angelo was relieved of his duties and replaced by Phil Emery.
2012 Outlook:Aside from the high-profile front office change, there will be several notable new faces on the Bears sideline this season. Chicago engineered a draft day trade to acquire Brandon Marshall from Miami and signed free-agent running back Michael Bush, while adding Boise State linebacker Shea McClellan and South Carolina wideout Alshon Jeffery with its first two draft picks. Mike Tice was also promoted from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator after Mike Martz resigned, as head coach Lovie Smith enters his ninth season at the helm of the club. Ex-49ers Blake Costanzo and Chilo Rachal joined the Bears via free agency this offseason, but the club lost running back Marion Barber to retirement and Graham signed a free-agent deal with the Ravens. However, all eyes will be on Forte as training camp nears. The running back seeks a long-term contract and has reportedly been absent from the team's voluntary workout sessions thus far in the offseason. Cutler's health in 2012 will be key to the Bears, who signed former Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell to be the team's second-stringer.** Three to Watch
DE Julius Peppers: Though he didn't garner any All-Pro accolades, Peppers still racked up 11 sacks and maintained his status as one of the game's top pass-rushers by earning his seventh Pro Bowl selection. Peppers, 31, enters the third season of his six-year deal with the Bears ranked No. 4 among active sack leaders with 100 for his career. Despite playing in the NFC since being drafted in 2002, Peppers has only played the 49ers once, coming in 2004 when he had a two-sack performance at Candlestick Park. WR Devin Hester: **Perennially one of the NFL's elite return men, Hester is trying to carve out a bigger role in the Chicago offense as he enters the seventh year of his career. He had 26 catches for 369 yards last year, but Marshall recently told reporters he expects Hester to have a breakout year on offense. Still, Hester's biggest value lies in the return game and he will be a stiff test for the vaunted 49ers special teams units. He returned two punts and a kickoff for touchdowns last year, bringing his career total and NFL record to 17 return touchdowns.
LB Brian Urlacher: Urlacher has put together a Hall of Fame-caliber career in his 12 seasons with Chicago, but 2012 marks the final season on his current contract. The 34-year-old stalwart, who has eight Pro Bowls and five All-Pro selections to his name, said he would like to play his entire career with the Bears but that he is also intrigued by free agency. Urlacher had 86 tackles, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries before being sidelined in the season finale with a knee injury.