By kickoff Sunday, the Bears will have made at least 10 lineup changes since their next-to-last game of the regular season; the Redskins switched quarterbacks, again, in the second half of their most recent game -- and were holding tryouts for place kicker as recently as Monday.

Is this any way to start the playoffs?

It's exactly the proper encore for the strangest National Football League season ever.

The Bears seem to have more advantages, including confidence in bitter-cold weather and a more versatile offense. Make it Chicago, 21-13.

For the Redskins, one problem suddenly is finding a way to run against a defense that usually halts even the most imposing ground attacks.

"What they give you is an eight-man front that you can't run against," said an NFC assistant coach familiar with the Bears' defense. "What they make you prove is that you can throw the ball -- and in a hurry."

Jay Schroeder did exactly that last postseason, during Washington's 27-13 comeback at Soldier Field. The recently elevated Doug Williams will be trying to match that, but without the receiver who helped key Schroeder's long-ball success -- Art Monk.

Without the injured Monk, the Redskins will be a critical player short in emphasizing the more open, spread-the-field game the Bears insist is necessary to beat them.

The combination of cold and wind also would seem to be advantageous to the Bears, effectively cutting the Redskins' passing chances in half -- to two quarters instead of four.

"I'm not sure what their numbers {on blitzes} were this year," the NFC assistant said, "but last year they rushed at least one extra man 93 percent of the time inside their 20."

The back of the end zone acts as an extra line of defense in those situations; it negates speed, for the offense no longer has a deep-pass option.

Poking through statistics is not always useful during a season that featured replacement players for three games. Still, the Bears mustered a league-leading 70 quarterback sacks, two shy of the record they set in 1984.

Coach Mike Ditka has done some high-intensity thinking these last few weeks. His defense was the most sack-happy in the league; it was second overall in the leauge and first against the rush.

So Ditka made six lineup changes before the season-ending game against the Raiders, including packing The Refrigerator (William Perry) in cold storage by the bench.

With a coach such as Joe Gibbs, change usually benefits a team, for the coach has given the matter long and rational thought. With Ditka, one is never quite sure how heavily to weigh emotion.

The changes may well mean that Ditka has lost some of his edge in intimidation, and must resort to more drastic measures to shake his troops into playing angry.

Even more than the defense, in whatever state of flux and intensity, the major difference between the Bears team that lost to the Redskins last year and the one that meets them today is quarterback.

Jim McMahon is a presence.

"Something like Riggo," Redskins middle linebacker Neal Olkewicz said, referring to the near-unique style of John Riggins on and off the field.

In the Redskins' Super Bowl years, Riggins could get away with stunts that would have had lesser players on waivers in 30 seconds; that was because Riggins performed so splendidly come game day.

Same with McMahon.

The last time McMahon faced the Redskins, in the 1985 regular season, he had one touchdown catch (a 13-yarder from Walter Payton) and Washington receivers had none.

That game also was the first time Washingtonians realized Schroeder often thrives under immense pressure. He was the hurry-up punter, after Jeff Hayes was hurt and Joe Theismann boomed his only effort for a net gain of one yard.

"I took my shot," Schroeder recalled the other day in Redskin Park. He averaged 33 yards on four kicks, with his longest being 44 yards.

That 45-10 defeat was more than balanced by some positive developments for current Redskins in Chicago. It was there that Gibbs scored his first victory as an NFL coach, six games into the 1981 season.

On that historic day, Olkewicz scored a touchdown.

"An 18-yard romp," he said, smiling at a memory that lasted eight more yards than he actually ran. "Got in the way of a screen pass."

Even more rare, defensive tackle Dave Butz also got in the way of a pass (Vince Evans was the starter) but could only lug the ball 26 of the 27 yards necessary for a touchdown.

Each team has a possible story line today that would warm the chilliest neutral soul in Soldier Field. Williams has a chance to rise farther from the quarterback depths than anyone since Jim Plunkett seven years ago.

Given up as too old and too damaged, Plunkett helped lead the Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XV. Nobody but the Redskins were much interested in Williams when the U.S. Football League folded in the summer of 1986.

It would be a mistake for anyone to look too far ahead for Williams, because the Redskins lost each of his two earlier starts this season. Still, he is the critical offensive player.

But Gibbs this season has shown an inclination to treat quarterback as any other position, hustling in a relief pitcher when he feels a change is necessary. With the Redskins this game, arms will be more valuable than legs.

Except for one leg, that belonging to Ali Haji-Sheikh. His strategy is formed, although not set, for kicking in the anticipated Soldier Field gusts.

Like many golfers, Haji-Sheikh is a hooker. Most of his kicks have a right-to-left trajectory. Unless the wind is fierce coming from his right, however, he will not aim the ball outside the right crossbar on anything inside the 25-yard line.

"I've seen the wind die down too many times once the ball's in the air {and stayed wide right}," he said. "I try not to give away the {right} pole unless I have to."

On the other side of the ball, the Bears' Payton has the opportunity to run in glory to the end of his matchless career, what with Neal Anderson out with a sprained knee. The Bears have bragged about being able to generate an effective ground game against the Redskins.

If form holds, the pattern of the game will be similar to that of the season -- and what nobody figured could possibly happen, in fact, will.