For weeks, Atlanta Falcons fans have bristled at the perceived lack of respect they've been getting from the national media. Now, after a 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers, those skeptics aren't going to get any quieter.
Look, Falcons faithful: I get it.
For years, the Falcons were good but not great. Now, with the best record in the NFC, it's time for some respect, right? It's like the sports equivalent of a bad Rodney Dangerfield set.
Matt Ryan is putting up elite numbers in the passing game, and his weapons are playing as well as anyone. Who's supposed to stop Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez? Sure, the defense and running game have been sketchy, but other teams with a similar build have won Super Bowls in recent years.
On top of that, the Falcons don't get to pick who they play. Sure, the schedule has been easy this season, but it isn't like Atlanta scheduled Savannah State in a Week 1 tune-up. This is the NFL's age of parity, right? There's no "Directional State Polytechnic" to pick on. These are professionals!
I'm not sure anyone disagrees with any of the above. It's just not the entire story.
No one is making the argument that the Falcons aren't good. The question is: Are all records created equal? To take that question to its logical end: If every team in the NFL somehow ended the season 8-8, would we all just throw up our hands and say each team is equally talented? No, probably not.
That's not the case here, however, and the argument gets dicey when a team like Atlanta is numerous wins ahead of the closest competition. A team with nine wins can't possibly be better than the team with 11 wins, right?
Well, no, that's not quite true, either.
In the most extreme of circumstances, no one would try to claim that a win against the Houston Texans and a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars are equally impressive. A team with 16 wins against the Jaguars might not be as good as a team with 16 losses to the Texans. Again, that scenario is absurd, but it illustrates a valid point.
If, overall, a team has a ridiculously easy strength of schedule, it's worthwhile to ask if their wins are as impressive as the teams around them in the standings—even the teams below them.
Look at the teams the Falcons have beaten this season. Their only convincing win was over the Denver Broncos, and even that was during the beginning of the season when that Broncos team barely resembled the finely tuned machine taking the field late in the season.
Meanwhile, the Falcons have split with the New Orleans Saints and the Carolina Panthers. Worse yet, their toughest stretch of the season is ahead of them with games against the New York Giants, Detroit Lions and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team they only beat by a point a few weeks ago.
Sure it's the worst-case scenario, but 11-5 seems feasible and is a lot less impressive than 11-1.
Through this week, the Falcons had seven wins with a margin of seven points or less. It's a game of inches, and a couple of inches the other way could've made the Falcons a .500 team.
So, while the Falcons get credit for winning all of those games, the skeptics certainly have a leg to stand on. It isn't that the Falcons aren't getting any credit, it's just that they're not getting as much credit as their fans might like.
Perhaps the biggest issue is a confusion in semantics.
"Which team is the best in football?" is a completely different question than, "Which team is playing the best football right now?"
"Which team has a best shot at winning the Super Bowl?" is another question entirely.
Of course, none of those questions are, "Which team has the best record in the NFC?" Right now, the answer to that question is, objectively, the Atlanta Falcons. There can't be any debate about that. It's a black-and-white question with a right-or-wrong answer.
However, if we're asking which team is the best, an answer might be more subjective.
Right now, in Week 14, after an embarrassing loss to the Panthers, it's harder than ever to claim they're the best team in football.
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.