The winner of Super Bowl LI will have undoubtedly beaten two great quarterbacks in the final two games of the season. MVP favorite Matt Ryan already dueled Aaron Rodgers' Green Bay Packers in Week 8, but Ben Roethlisberger missed the big clash with Tom Brady's New England Patriots in Week 7. Backup Landry Jones started the 27-16 loss for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In fact, New England's No. 1 scoring defense has caught a lot of breaks this season with the schedule, which ranks as the easiest in the league. The caliber of opposing quarterbacks has a lot to do with this, and it is part of why the Patriots defense ranks only 16th in DVOA, Football Outsiders' main efficiency metric (explained here) that adjusts for opponent strength.
One could argue that Russell Wilson was the only good quarterback the Patriots faced this season, and they lost at home in a 31-24 final. However, even Wilson was not on top of his game this season; he finished 15th in passing DVOA among qualified quarterbacks (minimum 200 pass attempts). The Patriots did not face a single quarterback who ranked in the top 12 in DVOA in 2016, so Roethlisberger (ranked ninth) will be their first, while Ryan (first) or Rodgers (eighth) would be a second should the Patriots advance to the Super Bowl.
On the other hand, the 2016 Packers have played the eighth-toughest set of quarterbacks based on average passing DVOA among the 108 teams to reach conference championship games since 1990. Atlanta's schedule of quarterbacks ranks 36th, while Pittsburgh's ranks 77th.
As for the 2016 Patriots, we have them firmly among the top-10 easiest quarterback schedules since 1990, which are outlined below. Only games in the regular season against quarterbacks who threw at least 10 passes in the game were included. We also noted the top quarterback faced that season in terms of highest DVOA ranking, the team's regular-season record in games against top-12 quarterbacks and which quarterbacks the teams faced in the postseason, with their DVOA rank for the season in parentheses.
1. 1992 Dallas Cowboys (minus-14.1 percent DVOA)
Result: Won Super Bowl XXVII vs. Buffalo Bills
Top quarterback faced: Jim Everett (6th)
Games vs. top-12 quarterbacks: 5 (3-2 record)
Postseason quarterbacks faced: Randall Cunningham (15th), Steve Young (1st) and Jim Kelly (5th)
The first of three Super Bowl winners for Dallas in the 1990s, the 1992 Cowboys pounced on the likes of Will Furrer (Bears), Stan Gelbaugh (Seahawks) and a young Tommy Maddox (Broncos) when John Elway was out for the Broncos. This Dallas team played only eight games against quarterbacks who threw at least 300 passes over the regular season.
Dallas had an impressive run in the playoffs, taking down Randall Cunningham's Eagles before winning a 30-20 classic in San Francisco against that season's league MVP, Steve Young. Dallas dispatched Jim Kelly's Bills in the Super Bowl, but Kelly did leave that game injured after throwing two interceptions on seven pass attempts. Dallas played most of the game against Frank Reich, the backup who engineered a record 32-point comeback against Houston that postseason but was unable to save the Bills from a 52-17 Super Bowl blowout.