Because America has Bears on the brain, perhaps you may not realize this, but there is something called the American Football Conference.

Just maybe, the Chicago Bears ought to stop preening in front of the mirror, dancing their Super Bowl shuffle and maybe all you Bearwagon members ought to look at the sensible truth:

Although the Bears must be considered the prohibitive favorite to reach the Super Bowl as representatives of the National Conference, the AFC has two teams called the Miami Dolphins and the Los Angeles Raiders. And if you don't think they can beat the Bears in Super Bowl XX, you better think again.

Remember when the Redskins went 14-2 during the 1983 regular season, then struck bottom in a 38-9 loss to the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII?

"We lost the Super Bowl for three reasons: E-G-O," Redskins special teams captain Pete Cronan said at the time.

Cronan, who is now out of football and living in Massachusetts, says he sees a similar trapping with these Bears. The Redskins of '83 blew down the NFL house and had the Hogs, Fun Bunch and Smurfs. The Bears are blowing down the NFL house now and have the Fridge, a punk-rock QB and the Super Bowl shuffle dance-away video.

"Your self-esteem grows through the course of the season and as it grows you think you become more powerful," Cronan says. "Late in the ('83) season, when we went 14-2, we felt we could just go out to the field and beat anyone. It was an intangible, just something, a phenomenon.

"The Bears can do that now. Just their presence is a one-touchdown advantage. The trouble with that is they've been going full-steam all year. What happens is you lose something in the excitement. The danger is that there are some teams -- the Raiders come to my mind -- who have a knack for pouring it on late in the season."

The Dolphins (12-4) already beat the Bears once this season, 38-24, at the Orange Bowl. Since wide receiver Mark Duper returned from the injured list in early November, Miami is 7-0 and the passing game has returned to the level of frightening.

There's an old football theory that's as true as any Dan Marino spiral: A defense will get you to the playoffs and a quarterback will win you the Super Bowl.

Miami's Marino, who already has one Super Bowl failure strapped to his belt, threw 30 scoring passes this season. That may be down from his ozone-breaking total of 48 of last year, but it still rated as the league high. Marino has shown the quintessential cool in two-minute offense drills this season, too.

Although it's true the Dolphins had everything go their way against the Bears on that Monday night in early December -- they were playing at home, they got an early lead, they blocked a punt and Jim McMahon, the Bears' No. 1 quarterback, didn't play until the fourth quarter -- the Dolphins proved, at the very least, that the Bears can be beaten.

The Raiders (12-4), meanwhile, have the man who should be named the league's most valuable player, running back Marcus Allen, and a defense that is good enough to pressure McMahon, intimidate receiver Willie Gault and bite off Walter Payton's fingers when he tries that stiff-arm move.

Playing at home, the Raiders should erase whichever team wins Saturday's AFC wild-card game (either the Jets or New England). Then, the Raiders would play host to Miami (assuming it can polish off 8-8 Cleveland in the other semifinal) for rights to go to the Super Bowl.

Back to the second part of that theory: Quarterbacks win Super Bowls. The Raiders like to say that, even though quarterback Marc Wilson has completed just 48 percent of his passes this season (worst among NFL starters), they have an 11-2 record with him as their starter.

In truth, you could say with justification that Allen and the Raiders' defense chalked up the 11 and Wilson the 2. At his best this season, Wilson has been mediocre. The Raiders beat Denver, 17-14, in overtime a few weeks ago despite Wilson, who threw four interceptions and fumbled two snaps.

Furthermore, only six quarterbacks have ever won at least two Super Bowls: Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach, Bart Starr, Bob Griese, Joe Montana and Jim Plunkett.

Recognize that last name? Plunkett injured his shoulder for the umpteenth time in the third game of this season against the 49ers and has been ready for reactivation from the injured list for several weeks. But the Raiders, who still have three re-activations left, have stayed with Wilson so far.

Knock Plunkett for all you want: limited mobility, a shot-put release, a relic of 38, etc. Still, he is renowned for his ability to win big games and for his ability to exploit the kind of blitzes that have made the Bears' defense a highlight-film regular.

The Dolphins showed that one way to beat the Bears' defense is to use the maximum pass protection approach: deploy your running backs and tight ends as blockers, maybe add in the option of a floating pocket, and trust your receivers to match up one-on-one with the weakest link of the Bears' otherwise impregnable defense, cornerbacks Mike Richardson and Leslie Frazier.

The Miami receivers are first-rate. Against the Bears, Duper caught five passes for 107 yards, Mark Clayton five for 88 and Nat Moore four for 75. No passes were caught by a tight end or running back, which makes sense, since they were too busy blocking.

The Raiders have swift, capable receivers in rookie Jessie Hester and Dokie Williams and, of course, in Allen, who caught 67 passes from out of the backfield this season.

This brings us back to the Bears. Sure, it's possible they might lose to the 49ers, who should defeat the Giants in the wild-card game Sunday to set up an NFC semifinal against the Bears at Soldier Field on Jan. 5.

The 49ers do, after all, have an inordinate amount of recent postseason experience as well as one of the six quarterbacks to win two Super Bowls (Montana) on their side.

But you better look again at the 49ers. Injuries are catching up to them: all-pro guard Randy Cross is out for the postseason because of a knee injury (Guy McIntyre fills in); running back Wendell Tyler (knee) is listed as doubtful for Sunday's game, as is all-pro cornerback Eric Wright (abdomen). Replacement cornerbacks Dana McLemore and rookie Tory Nixon, the Redskins castoff, aren't exactly the types to put fear in a receiver's heart.

If the Bears slide past the 49ers, and either the Rams or the Cowboys in the NFC title game, they could fall through the same trap door the Redskins fell through two years ago. Stranger things have happened.

Says Cronan: "There's another scary similarity between the Bears and us. Little things are creeping out of Chicago, things that I understand (Bears Coach Mike) Ditka has done a lot to try to curtail.

"The Refrigerator (rookie William Perry) is in all of those national television commercials and is getting all of that attention. I see that some of his teammates are unhappy about that.

"We had the same thing (in 1983) with maybe the Hogs or Theismann. Sure, there was some unhappiness about that among some of our other players. That was a real problem. Some of the coaching staff was the same way. So was I. It's human nature. Everything is going so well, you think you are better than you are.

"When we got to the field," Cronan said, speaking of the Super Bowl in Tampa, "there were just so many different things going on and we were playing the best team the AFC has to offer.

"If I had had a phone booth next to my locker before we played the Raiders, I might be independently wealthy right now."

You listening to all this, Bears?