One of the nation's great inferiority complexes comes to a test Sunday at 12:30 p.m. EST at Soldier Field.

Can Chicago beat New York? Can the Second City ever come in first? Can a Chicago sports team win anything?

This weekend, there is fear in the city where two practically identical, bruising football teams -- the 11-6 New York Giants and the 15-1 Chicago Bears -- meet in an enticing NFC playoff game, with the winner likely to be favored to go to the Super Bowl.

There is real concern here that the darlings of the National Football League, the Bears, might have taken themselves too seriously too soon, and Chicago-style results might now follow.

After wrapping up their division title almost two months ago, the Bears haven't even played a postseason game, yet already there are two books about their glorious season in the shops along gleaming Michigan Avenue.

There also has been a national fast-food commercial; a video and record called "The Super Bowl Shuffle," featuring 24 Chicago players, including William (The Refrigerator) Perry, is a best-seller here. You can't turn on the radio without hearing it.

In 1969 and 1984, the Cubs cut records, and you know what happened to them.

"If we don't go all the way, we'll be thrown in with the De Pauls and the Cubs," said safety Gary Fencik, one of the "Shufflers."

Fans, observers and teammates are wondering if the hype might not be three games too early.

"If they lose Sunday, or next Sunday, people will say it was because they did too many commercials," said Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers.

"I think of the '69 Cubs," said Hall of Fame middle linebacker Dick Butkus.

But if things go as planned Sunday, there should be nothing but joy here. The Bears are big favorites to win their first home playoff game since 1963, when they beat the Giants, 14-10, for the NFL title.

"I don't think we fear anything, especially losing," Coach Mike Ditka said defiantly.

But as the Bears sat back and watched others play, the Giants peaked. They earned a wild-card spot the last weekend of the season, then looked positively Bear-like in a 17-3 battering of 1985 Super Bowl champion San Francisco last week.

These teams are so alike, it's scary. Chicago has the best defense in the league; the Giants have the second-best. Their linebackers, led by Mike Singletary of the Bears and Lawrence Taylor of the Giants, are perhaps the best in the NFC. Four are going to the Pro Bowl.

Behind two promising offensive lines, they rely on young quarterbacks (Jim McMahon and Phil Simms) who seem to get better week to week and two of the most elusive running backs in the NFL, Walter Payton and Joe Morris.

"Both Mike and I believe pretty strongly in the physical aspect of the game first," said Giants Coach Bill Parcells. "The esthetic things are second."

It's hard to find esthetics in blitzing, but this might be where the game is decided.

McMahon, who appears to be as healthy as he ever has been during his tough, punk pro career, is at his best when he has to ad lib.

The Bears have won 23 of the last 27 games he has started, and although they have had only four touchdown passes in their last eight games, McMahon is liable to burst loose Sunday.

"We're ready for their blitz," Ditka said. "If they do it, we may get a touchdown."

Last weekend, the Giants sacked injured Joe Montana four times, pinching him inside the pocket throughout the day. They don't expect to be able to do that to McMahon, although Ditka says the Bears' pass protection has "dropped off" in the last three games.

"I think McMahon's a little more active than Montana, if that's possible," Parcells said. "As far as being a touch passer, I don't think McMahon's quite like Montana in that respect. But he really does have some great scrambling ability and some great improvisation ability."

The Giants have an answer for that. They led the league in sacks with 68.

The Bears and Giants might as well be tied for the league lead in confidence, too.

"I've got to think that the team that wins this week will win the Super Bowl," said New York linebacker Harry Carson.

The Giants, who last won an NFL championship in 1956, bear the same burden of broken promises as Chicago does. They have blown their share of chances over the years, especially in a two-decade championship drought. Even in 1985, they scored more than 30 points in four games, and lost three of them.

"They probably won't say we can't win the big one until we win it all," said Simms, who hasn't had to throw as much this season as last with the emergence of Morris, the Giants' all-time single-season rusher.

But Morris' darting running doesn't worry the Bears.

"We are the best at stopping the run, so I don't see any problem," said Chicago linebacker Otis Wilson.

In their last 12 games, only one team has run for 100 yards on the Bears.

The Giants need a repeat of their San Francisco performance if they are to win, but the Bears are better and healthier than the 49ers. The Giants also need Eric Schubert, their substitute teacher-turned-kicker, to do better than last week, when he missed three of four field goals.

It's also widely believed the Giants would need some big break early to stem the Bears' momentum. The Giants benefited from a huge, vocal crowd last week at home; the Bears undoubtedly will get the same Sunday at Soldier Field.

"They are blue-collar towns," Parcells said of New York and Chicago. "The people get into the game."

Here, it's out of devotion for their Bears -- and fear of losing.

"It would be terrible," said Bears fullback Matt Suhey, "if we let them down, or let ourselves down."