Chicago fans have a one-question quiz for the rest of the National Football Conference: Which NFC team was the most consistent the last half of the season?
Answer: The Chicago Bears.
Those growling Bears won seven of their final eight games, finishing with that 42-6 triumph over St. Louis, to sneak into the playoffs as the NFC's final wild-card team.
But Chicago club officials like to think that only a horrible 3-5 start prevented their team from not only winning the Central Division title but also from marching into the postseason footbal tournament with the conference's best record.
That's why the Bears believe their first-round playoff game, against favored (by six points) Philadelphia Sunday at 12:30 p.m. (WDVM-TV-9) will be a lot closer than Eagle rooters or the oddsmakers are forecasting.
If Philadelphia wins, the Eagles will play at Tampa Bay next Saturday. If Chicago wins, the Bears will play at Dallas next Sunday.
Chicago surrendered fewer points, gave up fewer yards and sacked quarterbacks more often than the Eagles and, thanks to the fine play of quarterback Mike Phipps since midseason, the Bears are almost as effective on offense as Philadelphia.
Neither club will put on a flashy display. Philadelphia Coach Dick Vermeil commands perhaps the most conservative offense in the league and for the Bears to be dangerous, they need to control the ball, which means giving Walter Payton frequent carries.
So don't expect much passing, although both Phipps and Eagle quarterback Ron Joworski need to put the ballup enough to take pressure off Payton and Philadelhia back Wilbert Montgomery.
The runoff between Payton and Montgomery should be something to behold. Payton, who moves behind a line comprising mainly first-round draft choices, raced for 1,610 yeards this season; Montgomery did almost as well with 1,512.
The Bears didn't start playing at their current level until Phipps won the three-headed battle of Midway for the starting quarterback spot.
With his short-pass game, mainly directed toward fullback Dave Williams (42 catches), Payton (30) and wide receivers Brian Baschnagel (30) and Rickey Watts (24), Phipps has added another long-needed dimension to his club's stagnant offense.
Not that the Bears are offensive wizards. Until that 42-point outburst against the Cardinals that broke the hearts of the Redskins and their fans, Chicago had been struggling to score the last month.
In three consecutive weeks, the Bears were blanked by Detroit, scored two touchdowns against Tampa Bay and one against Green Bay.
With an aggressive Philadelphia defense led by a front three of Charley Johnson, Claude Hunphrey and Carl Hairston, the Eagles can be particularly effective against the run, something Payton may find out before the afternoon is over.
For Chicago to have any chance of winning and moving to the conference semifinals next week, the Bears must stop Montgomery. When Joworski has been left to carry the offense on his own this season, he has struggled.
Still, not many opponents have controlled the powerful Montgomery. Once he gets rolling, Jaworski then can mix passes to that fine tight end, Ken Krepfle, and angular wide receiver Harold Carmichael.
The Eagles are confident that they can go to the Super Bowl this season. They finished in a first-place tie with Dallas for the East title, splitting games with the Cowboys, and ended the schedule with a victory at Houston.
Last year, they never made it beyoun d this game, losing to Atlanta, 14-13. But Vermeil says this time around, his team will handle the playoffs better.
"I think we can make it to the Super Bowl," he said. "Who else in this conference s better? We've beaten everyone, including Pittsburgh, so I like our chances."