CHICAGO (AP) – Sometimes, Brian Urlacher is not the best linebacker on the field. He’s not even the Chicago Bears’ best linebacker on the field.

It isn’t so infrequent that Lance Briggs on the outside outshines Urlacher in the middle for the NFC North champions. Both will be starting in the Pro Bowl next month.

Obviously, both will be starting today at Soldier Field when the Bears host the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game. Considering how well the New Orleans offense has performed this season, ranking atop the league, Urlacher and Briggs could be very busy.

“I think it’s a showcase for everyone, just the stage it’s on,” said Briggs, who could showcase his skills so much he turns them into big money as a free agent this offseason. “It’s an opportunity for everyone to be on the national scene, everyone to see what you’re capable of. But more importantly, if you do your job along with the other 10 guys on the defense, we’ll be successful. As long as we’re successful, yes, it is a showcase for every person that’s on that field.”

Urlacher almost is expected to dominate on defense, and most opponents gear their offense toward neutralizing him as much as possible. That, however, leaves more opportunities for Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer to make plays from the other linebacker spots.

According to Bears statistics, Urlacher led the team with 185 tackles this season, followed by Briggs with 176. Hillenmeyer had 68, sixth on the team.

But there’s no question who leads the unit – and the entire defense for that matter.

“Brian has been teaching me since the moment I got out here,” Briggs said. “The one thing I can remember, you know, is when I was out there, there are things I wasn’t thinking about on the field. Right before the play Brian would spit it out. He would say, “Watch out for the short pass,’ and first thing I would do is think, “OK.’ I wasn’t thinking about that and the ball was snapped and I was jumping on top of it. And besides that, I think the one thing that me and Brian do well is we keep things relaxed.”

We keep things kind of candid out there on the field. You don’t want to get too uptight. When it comes game time, “Lach’ is good about coming into the huddle, tells a joke, everybody gets light. It’s fourth-and-1, it’s the most important play in your life, don’t get too uptight. We know what we’ve got to and we’re going to do it.”

The Saints’ three new linebackers – Scott Fujita, Scott Shanle and Marc Simoneau- don’t have nearly the impact of Chicago’s group. New Orleans’ strength is up front with ends Will Smith and Charles Grant and tackle Hollis Thomas.

But Fujita, who came to New Orleans this season from Dallas as a free agent, has made a slew of critical stops in this turnaround season. Fujita was in on 119 tackles, according to the team, and had 31/2 sacks, more than Urlacher (zero) and Briggs (one) combined.

“One of the things we talked about as a defense, especially throughout the course of the season, just being able to make the play when you’re nervous,” said Fujita, a five-year veteran. “When guys on defense need to make a play, they make them.

“I think it comes down to guys playing their role. It was kind of an interesting offseason, especially at that (linebacker) position, because from the point that I got here there was a lot of criticism that I was hearing, and especially during the preseason, through training camp and the preseason games. There was still a lot of moving parts. And obviously that’s not an ideal situation where you’re trying to build the right 53 guys for your roster.

“But credit to our scout staff and the coaches and everything for finding the right guys to come in and to fit into what they want to do.”

What they want to do is go to the Super Bowl. The linebackers on both sides might have a big say in which team heads to Miami.

AP-ES-01-20-07 0405EST