SHOWDOWN IN CHICAGO

The Game of the Week in the NFL this Sunday? If you're going by the two teams with the best records facing each other, then it's the 49ers versus the Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago.

If you're going by the two teams with the best records facing each other, then it's the 49ers versus the Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Come again?

That's right. It's showdown time already for the Niners as they return from their bye week with a game that could be pivotal in the course of their season. They put their surprising 4-1 record on the line against the only other NFC team with a 4-1 record - the equally surprising Bears.

"There's going to be a little hype about this game," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said. "It's going to be one of those games that gets all the five stars to watch, I guess."

That the 49ers are playing in a contest of this magnitude in only their sixth game says something about their season. With a victory, they would take another huge step towards the playoffs - this time against a team that is attempting to position itself for the same sort of thing. A victory would leave the 49ers as the only 5-1 team in the NFC. The Rams (6-0) are the only team in the NFL with a better record than San Francisco and Chicago entering Sunday's games. It's a big change from where the Niners and Bears were at this time last season. Chicago was 1-4 after five weeks and the Niners were 2-3 - and about to embark on a season-worst five-game losing streak. But times have changed.

"It makes the game interesting because we were two teams that were non-playoff teams last year that are right in the thick of things right now with young, exciting teams and high hopes and that sort of thing," Mariucci said. And that's not all. As their records would indicate, the Niners and Bears are playing some of the best football in the league right now, even though many observers still are waiting to see if either team is for real. Their equally strong starts make for some interesting statistical matchups. The Niners are second in the NFL in rushing. The Bears are second in the NFL against the rush. The Niners are sixth in the NFL in scoring. The Bears have allowed the fewest points in the league. The Bears have allowed three touchdown passes through the air this season. Niners star receiver Terrell Owens has six TD catches this year by himself.

 "It's a great opportunity for us to continue building on what we've started," Niners quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "It's not going to come easy. Chicago is playing very well and they've proven to be an excellent defensive team. It's going to be a situation where it's going to be a battle. We're excited about it, we're looking forward to it. We're anxious to get this one on on Sunday." So is everybody else.


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