While the offense gets the glory in the NFL, the defense is what ultimately comes through to win the games. The later in the season we go, the more true that becomes.
These are the defensive players that will come through for their teams. It may come in the way of a 60-minute domination, or it may just be a few plays. But either way, these will be the defensive MVPs for Wild Card Weekend's winners.
Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals
Atkins is a big man in the middle of the field that's going to give the Texans trouble all game long. When a team runs as much as Houston is going to have to, that's going to be problematic. The Texans' linemen will have a hard time getting off of Atkins, and Cincinnati's linebackers will thrive as a result.
Atkins is also not bad at inflicting his own damage. He recorded 7.5 quarterback sacks on the season. Look for him to give T.J. Yates trouble throughout the game. Don't be surprised to see him cause a game-changing turnover, either directly or indirectly.
Roman Harper, New Orleans Saints
Harper is the poster child of the Saints' defense. He's a defensive back by name, but spends as much time in his opponent's backfield as anyone. The Lions and Saints will both score plenty of points. The winner of this game will be the team that comes up with the timely big plays on defense.
That will be New Orleans, and Harper is a big reason why. Matthew Stafford will have to keep his eyes on Harper all game. It won't take a many big plays, but when one is made by the Saints' defense, Harper will be in the middle of it.
John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons
This game will not be far off from the other NFC game. We're going to see plenty of points from the Falcons and Giants. But the Falcons' offense is a little less predictable, which will help keep the Giants' pass rushers at bay.
That's not true for the Falcons. Their overall defense is better, and will keep the Giants off schedule more. That will allow Abraham to pin his ears back and attack Eli Manning. When he does, he'll make a few big plays that dramatically alter the result of the game.
Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
As great as the Steelers' defense is, Polamalu is far and way the most important player on the unit. But that's especially true in this game. The reason for that is Tim Tebow's unique skills, that emphasize run more than pass.
If he needs to, Polamalu has the speed and strength to shadow Tebow. That will go a long way in taking the run away. When that happens, the game will turn into Tebow's arm against the rest of the Pittsburgh defense. That's a huge advantage to the Steelers.