So many Patriots fans have been dogging the Denver Broncos for their extremely easy schedule. Include me in that bunch. However, when you take a closer look you'll find that the Patriots and Broncos really weren't all that different. And really, that it doesn't matter.
The average record of the Patriots' opponents was about 8-7-1. They were an even .500 (3-3) against teams with winning records, all of which are playoff teams.
The average record of the opponents the Patriots beat was 7-8-1 while the average record of those they lost to was 9-6-1. So, the Patriots obviously got most of their wins against sub .500 teams and their losses against good teams (except the Cardinals).
The Patriots outscored their opponents 557-331, or in other words, by about two touchdowns (14.2 points/game).
Against teams with winning records, the Patriots scored 36.5 points per game while allowing 25.8 per game. It's interesting to note that they outscored their opponents by about 10.7 points per game, despite having the 3-3 record.
The average record of the Broncos opponents was just about the same as the Patriots, an even 8-8.
The Broncos wins came against teams with an average of about a 6-10 record. Their losses against teams with an average record of about 12-4. So essentially both top seeds got to where they are by beating up on lesser teams and limiting the losses to the good ones. Neither the Broncos or the Patriots had a winning record against playoff teams, as Denver went 2-3 against those teams. For what it's worth though, only the Indianapolis Colts had a record over .500 against playoff teams (3-2).
The Broncos outscored opponents 481-289, or by exactly 12 points per game. Against teams with winning records, the Broncos scored 26.4 points per game while allowing 25.8, so they just barely outscored their competition. The key take away here being that this appears to really be the only major difference between the Broncos and Patriots. The Pats scored more points on the better teams.
Also let's look at last year's Super Bowl champion, the Giants.
Their average record of opponent in 2011 was also about 8-8. The average record of opponents they beat was around 7-9 and they lost to opponents with about a 10-6 record. The Giants were also only 2-2 against playoff teams. These are virtually the same numbers as the Patriots and the Broncos this year.
I think it's tempting and very easy to look at a team's schedule and use it as an indicator of what they are going to do in the post-season. However, I think it can be misleading. Sure, logically, if a team has only beat up on bad teams and lost to the good ones, you could assume they would struggle against good opponents in the post-season. You would think the same result for a team with a .500 or below record against playoff teams in the regular season. However, the evidence doesn't really support that. After all, the Patriots didn't beat a team above .500 all of last season and they made it to the Super bowl.
If the playoffs have taught us anything the past few years, it's that the regular season doesn't matter. It doesn't matter how poorly you do in it, or how great you do. It doesn't matter who you've beaten or who you haven't. The only thing that counts is how these teams do in the next three to four games.