None of the four teams playing in Sunday's conference championship games would still be alive if it weren't for their defensive units.
The Jets (ranked third in yards allowed and sixth in points in the regular season), Steelers (second, first), Packers (fifth, second) and Bears (ninth, fourth) all have terrific defenses, and the two teams with the best defensive effort Sunday will likely move on to the Super Bowl.
There are obviously some tremendous players littered throughout those defenses, so let's try our hand at ranking the 10 best defensive players in action this weekend.
10. Packers cornerback Charles Woodson
Woodson wasn't the enforcer this season like he was during his Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2009, but the 34-year-old plays with remarkable versatility. He can line up on both sides of the field, outside and in the slot, and deep at safety in some packages. Even with a drop-off in skill, Woodson has that "it" factor in big games.
9. Packers safety Nick Collins
The Packers got hit hard with two key injuries this season — linebacker Nick Barnett and safety Morgan Burnett — and they happened right in the middle of that defense, which made Collins' importance even greater. Because of his strong play and true value, Collins was selected to his third consecutive Pro Bowl.
8. Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher
Urlacher, who missed all but the season opener in 2009, is one of the most active linebackers in the NFL. The throwback can cover, pressure, tackle and make big plays in every situation. He had 125 tackles, four sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and 10 pass defenses in the regular season.
7. Packers cornerback Tramon Williams
Williams is an elite cover corner, and it's remarkable that he didn't get a Pro Bowl nod. He has three interceptions in the playoffs — no one else has more than one — and he is the only undrafted player in the NFL with at least four interceptions in the last three seasons. Don?t feel bad if you've hardly heard of Williams, who hails from Louisiana. His head coach at Louisiana Tech didn't even recruit him.
6. Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons
Timmons' rise this season really helped sure up some of the Steelers' defensive issues, as their scheme can only be successful when the inside linebackers have tremendous awareness. Timmons doesn?t always get the same recognition as his other defensive teammates, but he led Pittsburgh with 135 tackles and also had three sacks and two interceptions.
5. Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews
Any of the top-five players on this list could hold down the No. 1 spot. Matthews is a ruthless pass rusher who adds a serious edge to Green Bay's defense. He ranked fourth in the regular season with 13 sacks, more than any player remaining in the playoffs.
4. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu
Polamalu is the most valuable defensive player in the NFL, as the Steelers are a completely different team when he's in the lineup. He's got 17 sacks in the last three seasons, despite missing 13 games in that span, and he flies through the defense with intelligent reckless abandon, which only makes sense when watching Polamalu play.
3. Bears defensive end Julius Peppers
While trying not to overlook Urlacher's return to health, Peppers signified the true turnaround with Chicago's defense this season. The Bears' defense ranked 17th in total yards and 21st in points in 2009, but Peppers' presence added a natural pass-rushing spark that doesn't need help with the blitz. Peppers had eight sacks this season, and as a result of the way opposing teams overloaded their blocking schemes in Peppers' direction, fellow Chicago defensive end Israel Idonije matched his own six-year career output with eight sacks.
2. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis
Revis was outstanding against the Patriots, just a week after he stifled Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne. While the Jets' defense hasn?t been nearly as dominant as it was in 2009, Revis has played masterfully since getting his hamstring in check.
1. Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison
Harrison is a one-man wrecking crew, and the fully-loaded outside linebacker excels in all situations, which is somewhat rare at his position. His pass drops are fine, even though the Steelers don?t ask him to cover all that often, but there's a bigger reason for that. The 6-foot, 242-pounder has recorded 45 sacks and 25 forced fumbles in the last four seasons, including 10.5 and six, respectively, this season.
Harrison — the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year, as well as the guy who should have been the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII — opens himself up to a lot of criticism with his malicious play on the field and his dumb comments away from it, but his defensive edge adds character to Pittsburgh's vaunted defense.
Who is the best defensive player in action this weekend? Leave your thoughts below.