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TAMPA -- Having met practically every challenge, the Tampa Bay Bucs defense has remained the NFL's No. 1 unit for most of the season. Which is why Tampa Bay, on the strength of its 10-3 record and top ranking, is almost sure to produce the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
It's a safe bet that the winner will be either Buc defensive end Simeon Rice or linebacker Derrick Brooks.
Rice had been making his case, with 14 1/2 sacks and an NFL record five straight multi-sack games, a streak which ended when he was shut out Sunday against Atlanta. He leads the NFL in fumbles forced with six and NFL linemen in passes defensed with 10.
Brooks re-emerged as the favorite this week after …