New England led the league in points allowed, at 250 in the regular season. That was far in front of 2nd place Seattle, at 292. Atlanta, meanwhile, gave up 406 points, the most of any playoff team this year and the sixth-most all-time. (Coincidentally, four of the top eight in points allowed reached the Super Bowl in the last decade).
However, there’s reason to believe that large chasm between the two defenses in raw number of points allowed is a lot smaller due to schedule. As Chase Stuart notes, the Patriots are a very unusual top defense, not dominating in pass defense. And as we noted during the season, they’ve drawn a particularly vulnerable lot of opposing quarterbacks.
Here’s one illustration. The teams have played five common opponents: Arizona, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.
In the regular season games against those teams (Atlanta also held Seattle to 20 in the playoffs), New England gave up 82 points, going 4-1. Atlanta gave up 88 points, also going 4-1. Atlanta actually has the much better point differential against the common opponents, winning by an average of 13.3 points. New England was +6.6.
The difference between the two teams, then in record and points, comes in the other opponents. Atlanta’s defense has played better recently, even adjusting for opponent, but early on they got torched by the likes of Drew Brees, Derek Carr, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, and Philip Rivers.
New England should have the advantage on the defensive side, but it’s not nearly as pronounced as the points allowed this year would indicate.