Knock the cockiness out of Steve Smith and you've got an undersized receiver who could easily get overshadowed in the NFL's forest of giant pass catchers.
Take away Champ Bailey's inner strength and you'd get another talented cornerback struggling to survive at the league's most hazardous position.
Strip Troy Polamalu of his defensive instincts and you'd wind up with a safety who receives as much punishment as he delivers.
Subtract Shaun Alexander's ambition and you'd get a running back who'd likely settle for something less than he's capable of.
There's a reason these are the four most dangerous playmakers in tomorrow's conference championship games. All four have extraordinary physical skills, but they are defined more perhaps by the intangibles that set them apart.
If the playoffs represent a place to make provocative statements, these are four players who could speak most eloquently on the NFC and AFC championship stage.
Smith is suddenly the most feared wide-out in football, a 5-foot-9 dynamo the Carolina Panthers look up to for big plays and touchdowns. Bailey is an accomplished cornerback the Denver Broncos count on for game-turning interceptions.
Polamalu is the ace in the Pittsburgh Steelers' secondary with the ability to affect a game in a number of ways - rushing the passer, smacking the ball carrier, hounding the receiver. And Alexander is the guy who makes the Seattle Seahawks' diversified offense work.
No one means more to his team than Smith, however. He has been the most dominant player in the first two rounds of the playoffs with 22 catches, 302 receiving yards and a total of four touchdowns. His average of 117.7 receiving yards over six career playoff games is the highest in NFL postseason history (minimum five games).
Five years after he entered the league as a third-round draft pick, Smith is still fueled by the perception he is too short to come up big.
As his coach, John Fox, said in a news conference this week, "I've seen him do some incredible things and I'm sure I'll see him do more incredible things. ... It's not how big the wand is. It's how much magic is inside, and he's got a lot of magic. He's a guy that gets it done."
Smith has had cornerbacks fall down trying to defend him this postseason. He has scored on passes covering 22, 39 and 58 yards, with a 12-yard reverse tossed into the mix. On a team that has no other receiving threat and lost its top two running backs to injury, Smith remains the one constant.
"I've seen him improve over the years, [but] I've never seen him play at this high level," defensive end Julius Peppers said in a national conference call. "I'm not surprised because he always has the potential for big plays. He's playing at an extremely high level right now. He has us on his back and he's carrying us."
In the wake of Sunday's 29-21 win over Chicago, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher told reporters Smith is the best offensive player in the league. That includes Alexander, who is this season's Most Valuable Player.
Even without Alexander, who suffered a concussion, the Seahawks beat the Washington Redskins in their divisional playoff to advance to the NFC championship game against Smith and the Panthers.
What impressed Jim Schwartz, defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, in a December loss to Seattle was the balance the Seahawks possess on offense.
"They don't chicken out from running the ball, whether you put seven, eight, nine guys in the box," Schwartz said. "They rely on the offensive line and Shaun Alexander to grind it out. That's sort of their definition of playmaker. Their whole offense is based on controlling the ball. They don't have one guy that's a weak link."
Alexander's ambition is such that on the day that Seattle clinched a playoff berth a year ago, he complained bitterly about not being allowed to win the rushing title. He refused to sign this year's contract until the Seahawks stipulated they would not use the franchise tag to retain him in 2006. Then he delivered the best of his six pro seasons, rushing for a league-high 1,880 yards and a league-record 27 touchdowns.
Drafted 14 spots after the Ravens' Jamal Lewis in the first round in 2000, Alexander has adopted a team attitude this season while he awaits his personal payday.
Asked on a conference call to account for his success this year, he said: "I think it's Matt [Hasselbeck] playing better than he has all of his career. Our offensive line has been healthy. We've stayed with the same offensive line all year. It normally doesn't happen like that."
In the AFC championship game, the key playmakers are on defense. The Broncos' defense relies heavily on turnovers and Bailey contributed a career-high eight interceptions this season at left corner.
He made the biggest play in Denver's 27-13 victory over the New England Patriots a week ago when he intercepted Tom Brady in the end zone. His 100-yard, non-scoring return turned into a 17-6 lead in the third quarter.