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Las Vegas knows all about the Polamalu effect. When it became known he wouldn’t play Dec. 19 against the Jets, the Steelers immediately went from being 6-point favorites to 4-point favorites.

According to Richard Gardner, the sports book manager for, only a few NFL defensive players of recent vintage _ including the Jets’ Darrelle Revis and the Ravens’ Ed Reed _ could move a line.

“His presence on the field not only affects the defense, but it seems to also affect how the Steelers offense plays _ more poised and confident,” Gardner said. “Even though it is rare, a defender can move a line from time to time.”

Polamalu often moves an entire defense to play better.

When he missed 11 games last season because of two knee injuries, the Steelers made 12 interceptions. This season, Polamalu has seven of the Steelers’ 21 interceptions by himself; the most they’ve had since 1996. The Steelers are second in turnover differential at plus-17, with 35 takeaways and 18 turnovers. Only the Patriots, at plus-28, are better.

Going into the playoffs, the Steelers also are No. 2 in total defense and No. 1 against the run, allowing 28 yards rushing per game fewer than any other team.

“I don’t know if it’s been my best year, but it definitely has been the most challenging year given the circumstances that we’ve had on defense,” Polamalu said.

Polamalu was referring to defensive end Aaron Smith’s long layoff with a triceps injury, defensive end Brett Keisel’s lengthy midseason injury layoff, the furor over the multiple fines assessed linebacker James Harrison for some punishing hits and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s four-game suspension.

Having Polamalu for nearly a full season compensated for some of those setbacks.

“From a defensive standpoint, I think he’s the top guy,” McFadden said. “Time after time he makes plays, and a lot of people don’t realize the plays he’s been making for us. And he’s not even healthy. He’s been battling through some injuries and he’s been able to play at a high level still. That speaks a lot of him. He’s the MVP of our team and no question he should be MVP of the NFL.”