The Chicago Bears already are talking about revenge. The Washington Redskins already are worrying about Jim McMahon.
Yesterday, the battle lines were drawn a full week before the two teams meet in an NFC semifinal Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at Soldier Field.
The two division champions, both 11-4, didn't expect to meet so soon in the playoffs. But when the Minnesota Vikings upset New Orleans, 44-10, in the NFC wild-card game yesterday, the third Chicago-Washington postseason game in the past four years was ensured.
Had New Orleans won, the Redskins would have traveled to San Francisco to play the 49ers, whose 13-2 record is the NFL's best.
But Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs doesn't think the Vikings did his team any favor by keeping it from playing San Francisco, at least for another week. In fact, he said he would have liked to avoid playing a team the Redskins upset on the road in last season's playoffs, 27-13, and said he expected his team to be a "tremendous underdog" against the Bears.
"The Vikings did not do us a favor," Gibbs said yesterday at Redskin Park. "I didn't have a preference for either team. For different reasons, you don't want to play either one . . . Obviously, after last year, the Bears are going to be mad. This is a team that has their quarterback there, which last year, they didn't. Obviously, I didn't want to play the 49ers either. They're playing as good as anybody."
The last two times these teams met in the playoffs, the visiting team won. In 1984, the Bears upset the Redskins, 23-19, at RFK Stadium. Last season, with the '84 loss as a rallying cry, the Redskins defeated the Bears at Chicago's Soldier Field.
Two of the principal players in last season's game won't start and another has since been traded.
Redskins wide receiver Art Monk caught two touchdown passes last season, but is not expected to play due to a knee ligament injury. In addition, quarterback Jay Schroeder, who completed 15 of 32 passes for 184 yards and both Monk touchdowns, has been demoted in favor of Doug Williams.
And Bears quarterback Doug Flutie, who was intercepted twice and was largely ineffective against the Redskins, is now a New England Patriot.
McMahon, who missed last year's game and also missed the Bears' final three regular season games this year with a pulled hamstring, is practicing at the team's facility in Lake Forest, Ill., and is expected to start.
He is the quarterback who led the Bears to their Super Bowl championship two years ago.
"He's a playmaker," Gibbs said. "The mark of a great quarterback is to make good things happen when there's not a lot there. He seems to be a winner. He's a tough guy.
"I think it's going to be tough for us. They didn't have McMahon last year. This time they'll have him. We had a lot going for ourselves last year.
"I'm sure we're going in this year as a tremendous underdog. It's going to be a tough, hard-fought game. Last year is going to make it tough on us because we went in there and beat them."
Chicago safety Dave Duerson said last week that if he had a preference, he would want to play the Redskins.
"I'd love to play them," Duerson said. "We've got a score to settle."
There would seem to be a few advantages for the Redskins in a game against Chicago. For one, they receive an extra day to prepare for the Bears. If they had to play the 49ers, they would have played Saturday. And they don't have to travel across the country to play their game.
The Bears and Redskins also come into the playoffs with quite a few questions surrounding their respective teams. Neither team looks as settled as the 49ers.
Chicago Coach Mike Ditka made changes at nine positions for the team's final game, a 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Raiders last week. He said he expects to keep all his new starters in place for the playoffs.
The Redskins also have made many changes and are considering more. Williams will start for the third time this season against a team he faced often as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a Central Division rival of the Bears.
"They're changing quarterbacks and you never know how that will affect them," said Vince Tobin, the Bears' defensive coordinator. "Williams has played extremely well."
Gibbs said he has not made a decision about his playoff kicker, either Ali Haji-Sheikh or Jess Atkinson.
Haji-Sheikh took over after Atkinson dislocated his left ankle in the first game of the season. Haji-Sheikh has missed three of his last five field goal attempts, however, and Atkinson is healthy, so Gibbs is watching them kick in practice to evaluate which one he wants to use in the playoffs.
"Ali really looks strong to me and I think Jess has come back to the point where I think he is kicking the ball well and meeting the ball well," Gibbs said.
Gibbs said the team will practice at Redskin Park this week unless the weather is bad.
In that case, the team will practice under a dome, he said. One of the closest is at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
The Bears probably will work out at the University of Notre Dame's indoor practice facility in South Bend, Ind.