Ray Lewis is The Man at middle linebacker in the NFL. Zach Thomas is The Next Man.
But if anyone dares peek at the Atlanta-Chicago game Sunday, they will be entertained by a duel between the two best middle linebackers in the NFC -- the Bears' Brian Urlacher and the Falcons' Keith Brooking, two explosive play-makers against the run and pass.
True, there is no challenge to Lewis' claim as the dominant man in the middle, but Urlacher (6-3, 248) and Brooking (6-2, 245) are physically imposing in their own right. Both are former first-round picks, Brooking in '99 and Urlacher in 2000.