Coming off victories over the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks — both teams fighting for playoff spots — the 49ers will go up against a team that already has clinched a division title.
But the NFC North champion Chicago Bears (11-4) still have plenty for which to play. They remain in contention to earn a first-round bye, and they can’t afford a loss to the 49ers or they surely will have to play on wild-card weekend.
Here are four 49ers players to watch Sunday against the Bears at Levi’s Stadium:
RT Mike McGlinchey
Since arriving with the No. 9 overall draft pick, McGlinchey hasn’t given the 49ers any reason to second-guess their decision. He has started every game at right tackle, while grading out as the top rookie offensive lineman, according to Pro Football Focus.
A couple weeks ago, McGlinchey went up against Broncos linebacker Von Miller. Now, he faces another huge test against Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack, a strong candidate for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“He’s always up for the challenge of whoever he’s going against,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said of McGlinchey. “He’s very prepared. If he gets beat by somebody, he doesn’t panic and overcompensate.
“He thinks of why he did, and he usually gets better as he struggles in a game. So, that’s what a true O-lineman is like and the type that usually, as long as they stay healthy, they get better as their career goes.”
LT Joe Staley
There will come a time when McGlinchey moves to the left side to take over for Staley, but that time figures to be at least one year away. Staley and McGlinchey have formed a bond that seemingly has helped both players.
Both have been studying Mack this week in preparation for Sunday’s game.
Mack has spent a nearly equal amount of time at both defensive end positions. If Mack is having more success against one of the 49ers’ tackles, Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio likely will continue to stick with the better matchup.
Staley still is going strong — he rates as the league’s sixth-best tackle according to PFF. He has surrendered just four sacks this season and has been equally strong in the run game. Yet, Staley wasn’t even chosen as an alternate for the Pro Bowl.
CB Tarvarius Moore
It has been a long process for Moore to get on the field, but that time has come. The 49ers invested a third-round pick in him, and then converted him from safety at Southern Miss to NFL cornerback.
After making progress behind the scenes, Moore received his most extensive playing time of the season Sunday against Seattle when Ahkello Witherspoon went down with a knee injury. Moore will have the opportunity to start the final two games of the season.
Moore has a chance to finish the season strong and insert himself into the competition for a starting job next season.
DT Solomon Thomas
His stat sheet against the Seahawks was unremarkable, but Thomas had the most impactful game of his two-year career. Twice, the offensive linemen assigned to block Thomas were called for holding penalties. One of those penalties wiped out a 32-yard pass play in overtime.
Thomas is seeing more playing time, and he appears to be getting better by the week. His best game in college came against Mitchell Trubisky in the Sun Bowl. He sacked Trubisky once, then threw him to another loss on a game-ending two-point conversion attempt.
The Bears traded up one spot with the 49ers at No. 2 to select Trubisky, while the 49ers selected Thomas at No. 3 in the 2017 draft.
This post was originally posted at http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/49ers-Bears-Week-16-NFL-503409501.html.