Their coaches are volatile, their quarterbacks are backups, forced to fill in for injured starters. Both teams rely on the running game, both have big-play return men capable of breaking a game open in the time it takes to say Dave Meggett or Johnny Bailey.

And as the Chicago Bears take on the New York Giants at Giants Stadium today (12:30 p.m., WUSA-TV-9), both know the stakes: the end of a season of promise for one, a trip to the NFC title game in San Francisco in seven days for the other.

The Giants (13-3) are 6 1/2-point favorites to take a step closer to the Super Bowl, mostly because of the home-field advantage and a defense that yielded the fewest points in the NFL (211), the fewest first downs (245) and the fewest touchdowns (23).

Of course the Bears (12-5) were no slouches either, with the league's sixth-rated defense, and an offense built around Neal Anderson, perhaps the most versatile running back in the game.

New York fully expects Chicago's grind-it-out game plan to feature Anderson right, Anderson left and Anderson over the middle on those short routes quarterback Mike Tomczak seems most confident throwing.

The Giants have an Anderson of their own, 12-year veteran Ottis, and he is expected to be a vital part of Coach Bill Parcells's strategy. Parcells said all week he would decide between Anderson and rookie Rodney Hampton as his starter, though both should see considerable playing time.

Neither Parcells or Bears Coach Mike Ditka has much choice at quarterback. Both teams' starters -- Phil Simms of the Giants and Jim Harbaugh -- were injured on the league's wild and wounded weekend of Dec. 15-16. Simms severely sprained his right foot; Harbaugh separated his right shoulder.

Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler has a 4-0 career record as a starter and has played well since replacing Simms, completing 34 of 62 passes for 410 yards and two touchdowns. He's also mobile, scrambling for 136 yards on 24 carries, an average of 5.6.

"Let's be realistic," said Bears defensive tackle Dan Hampton. "It's not like Dan Marino has gone down for them. Hostetler's not expected to throw for 400 yards. He's the guy who takes the snaps, gives it to the big back, lets the offensive line do what it has to do and converts on third down. He's not supposed to wear an S on his chest. He's just supposed to win."

The same probably could be said of Tomczak, who's been in Ditka's doghouse so long he's probably served Milk Bones at the pregame meal. And yet, he's the feisty fellow who also led the Bears to a 16-6 decision over the New Orleans Saints last week in a first-round playoff game, and the same quarterback who completed 20 of 34 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-19 Bears victory the last time these teams met, the 1987 season opener in Chicago.

"I'm sure he's been waiting three years for a chance to get up against us again," said Giants defensive coordinator Bill Belichick.

Still, no one expects this game to be filled with fancy footwork or daring downfield passes. It's going to be basic block-and-tackle football between two teams that can look in the mirror and see each other plainly.

That even holds true on special teams, where both clubs have huge-play capability. Chicago rookie Bailey barely edged New York's Meggett for the NFC punt return title, 11.1 yards per return to 10.9, passing him on the regular season's final weekend. Meggett had to take consolation in leading the conference in kickoff returns, averaging 23.4 yards.