When Tom Brady attempts to guide the high-powered Patriots offense through… (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images )
Reporting from Denver -- What's more desirable in the NFL, a great offense or a great defense?
This year's Super Bowl might answer that.
In an unusual twist, these playoffs follow a noteworthy pattern: Most of the NFC participants have top offenses; most of the AFC teams are more defense-minded.
Five of the six NFC teams had offenses that finished in the top 10 in yards, but only San Francisco has a top-10 defense.
Four of the six AFC teams have top-10 defenses, but only New England has an offense in the top 10.
What's more, every team except Denver ranks in the top 10 in either offense or defense, but none in both. The Broncos, whom Las Vegas views as the longest shot to get to the Super Bowl, finished the regular season ranked 23rd in offense and 20th in defense.
Even though Denver players are quick to point out their support of Tim Tebow, it's clear their defense will have to play a big role Sunday to give the Broncos the best chance of upsetting Pittsburgh, which is favored by nine. And that's with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger nursing a badly sprained ankle, Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey out with an ankle injury, and Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall out for the postseason because of torn knee ligaments.
"We've got to play better," said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, whose team finished the regular season with three consecutive losses. "I mean, we played better in the second half last week [in a 7-3 loss to Kansas City], but we still didn't get any turnovers. We've got to do things like that to help our offense."
It won't get any easier for Tebow & Co. on Sunday, as the Steelers have the league's top-ranked defense, finishing No. 1 against the pass and No. 8 against the run.
Which Steelers defenders have impressed Tebow on tape?
"Take your pick," the quarterback said. "There are so many guys that you could name that are great players, and they all step up and make plays. That's one of the reasons they're always a great defense."
At the opposite end of the Pittsburgh-Denver spectrum is Saturday night's game between Detroit and New Orleans. Detroit has the league's fifth-ranked offense, and the Saints are No. 1. The Lions are fourth in scoring at 29.6 points per game, and the Saints are averaging 34.2, second to Green Bay's 35.0.
That game pits Detroit's Matthew Stafford and New Orleans' Drew Brees, the first time in NFL history two 5,000-yard passers have met in the postseason.
Lions Coach Jim Schwartz isn't focused on those statistical nuggets this week.
"It doesn't matter if you throw for 140 or you throw for 340 or 440," Schwartz said. "The only thing that matters is advancing and scoring one more point than your opponent. . . . Stats don't matter. Maybe they matter for Pro Bowls, maybe they even matter for the Hall of Fame and things like that, but the only way you can get to championships and advancing in the playoffs is to have [at least] one more point than the opponent."
Statistics and rankings don't come close to telling the whole story. For instance, San Francisco, which earned a first-round bye, is ranked fourth on defense and 26th on offense. But one of the main reasons the 49ers have gotten this far is the suddenly reliable play of quarterback Alex Smith, who has 17 touchdowns and just five interceptions. In his previous two seasons, he averaged an interception per game.
Similarly, most of the talk in Cincinnati concerns red-hot rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, the quarterback and receiver who have made so many good plays for the Bengals this season.
But that's not necessarily reflected in the rankings for the Bengals, who play Saturday at Houston. Cincinnati is 20th in offense and seventh in defense.
Houston, meanwhile, has the second-ranked defense and the No. 13 offense, although that offense was more of a threat with the now-injured Matt Schaub at quarterback rather than rookie T.J. Yates, who has six career starts.
Like the Broncos, the Texans are heading into the postseason on a three-game losing streak.
Not that they're letting that bother them, especially because their most recent victory was, coincidentally, at Cincinnati.
"We're ripping off the rearview mirror," tight end Joel Dreessen said. "The regular season is over with, and the Texans are officially invited to the postseason. We open up at home . . . and that's our focus right now. It's a whole new season, and we have to play at our best."
Besides, considering this is the first Texans team to make the playoffs, it's No. 1 in team record books.
And that's a ranking everyone can appreciate.