For the record, I do believe that the Denver Broncos are one of the best teams in the AFC and I do believe that they're a very talented team—but they certainly had some help along the way. Denver's road to the AFC's top seed was much easier than you think.
With the NFL's regular season over, we can now look back and analyze each team's schedule—and let's just say that Denver's schedule was a bit easier than New England's.
Denver's opponents combined record was 104-104 while New England's was 107-99-2. Granted, the difference in wins might only be three, but three is still three games in the NFL.
Also, Denver's division was far easier than New England's. Despite what the general consensus of the AFC East this season and how it's one of the league's weaker divisions, the same could be said about the AFC West.
If you take Denver's 13-3 record out of the AFC West, the division's combined record is now a pitiful 13-35. As for the AFC East, outside of New England's 12-4 record, the division's combined record is 19-29.
Don't get me wrong, the AFC East was very weak this season, but clearly the AFC West was just that much worse than the AFC East.
Let's take this yet another step further: Denver had to play against the AFC North and the NFC South while New England played against the AFC South and the NFC West.
The AFC North was less competitive than it has been over the years. The Pittsburgh Steelers had a down year, the Cleveland Browns were let's say just the Cleveland Browns, the Cincinnati Bengals were streaky and the Baltimore Ravens stumbled into the playoffs.
The only true threat that Denver had to play against in that division were the Ravens, but they faced them in the later half of the season, as Baltimore dropped four of their final five games. So you could say that the Broncos lucked out when they played against Baltimore.
As for the NFC South, well outside of the Atlanta Falcons, I'm pretty sure that none of those teams play defense in that division. Both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints finished near bottom in team-defense while the Carolina Panthers were in the middle of the pack. So out of the four teams in the NFC South, the only competitive one was the Falcons, as the Broncos lost that match-up.
Now onto New England.
The AFC South wasn't anything special, but two of the teams in that division made the postseason: the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts—and New England was able to pull off blow-out victories against both of them.
As for the NFC West, the Patriots posted a putrid 1-3 record against that division—but believe it or not, the NFC West is a pretty competitive division. Both the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers made the playoffs while the St. Louis Rams were just average and the Arizona Cardinals, despite their hot-start, finished as one of the worst teams in the NFL.
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that the Patriots are superior than the Broncos or visa-versa.
All that I'm saying is that Denver does deserve credit as being the best team in the AFC, but it needs to be acknowledged that they did in fact have a very easy road to achieving the top seed.