Although the Atlanta Falcons, at 11-2, are tied for the best record in the NFL, there are still many who believe they are not the best team in their conference.
Heck, some say they aren't even the best team in their own division, despite the fact that they beat their biggest competition in the NFC South, the New Orleans Saints, on the road earlier this year.
The Falcons are the least talked about and most overlooked of the NFL's elite teams. Even squads like the Cowboys and Vikings, which are long gone from the playoff race, get more buzz than Atlanta.
That needs to change and in the coming weeks it should.
Here are 10 reasons the Atlanta Falcons are to be feared and are the team to beat in the NFC.
There's no other team with an equal mark in the NFC.
As said before, Atlanta's closest competition, the 10-3 Saints, were defeated by the Falcons earlier this season. The two have a gigantic meeting in two weeks when everything will be on the line and regular-season conference supremacy will be decided.
It's hard to argue, though, that the team with the best record is not the one to beat. There's not much else to say about it.
True, the Falcons have two losses. But consider that they came to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, both on the road.
Outside the state of Pennsylvania, they are undefeated.
Also consider that the other upper-echelon teams in the NFC have had some rather bad losses this season.
The Eagles lost to the Redskins at home. The Bears fell to Seattle and Washington at Soldier Field. The Giants, playing at home, were beaten by Tennessee and Dallas. Cleveland beat the Saints in New Orleans.
You getting the picture?
Atlanta has not fallen into any traps during their games. When facing a team the Falcons should beat, they do so. That looks pretty good on the resume.
All year, Falcon fans have heard the same thing: "The Falcons can't win on the road."
Uh, it seems to me that a 5-2 record in away games means they can. They knocked off the defending Super Bowl champs in their own building and have won three straight games away from home.
This theory that they can't win outside of Georgia needs to be put to rest.
As the regular season comes to an end, what is one of the most prevalent themes when it comes to good football teams and what they must do to close out the season and make a playoff run?
They need to run the football.
The Falcons do this and they do it quite well. They may not be the top team running the ball statistically, but it can very easily be argued that they have the best rushing attack in the league.
In fact, many football insiders believe this is the case.
Atlanta boasts a strong offensive line, an elite back in Michael Turner and another very good runner in Jason Snelling. Ask the Arizona Cardinals about him.
The Falcons' offense routinely wears defenses out and controls the game by winning time of possession. As we enter the final weeks of the season, this is an incredibly important factor.
Let's quickly go through the multitude of ways the Falcons have beaten teams this year.
Against New Orleans they ran the ball 50 times and won. Facing Baltimore they passed the ball 50 times and won.
Hosting San Francisco, Matt Ryan threw a late-game interception, but Roddy White chased down the defender and stripped the ball, setting up the eventual game-winning drive.
In their first meeting with Tampa Bay, the defense held its ground on a goal-line stand with less than three minutes left to win the game.
Squaring off against the Bucs again, this time in Tampa, a fourth quarter, 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown ignited a comeback that was capped off by a Michael Jenkins touchdown grab.
In that same game, Brent Grimes intercepted a pass on Tampa's final drive to seal the win, and they have also won blowouts against Arizona and Carolina.
How many other ways can a game be won?
The Falcons have won seven-straight games, but we still haven't seen them play to their full potential.
Coach Mike Smith harps on his team to play a full 60-minute game. So far, he hasn't seen them do it and is constantly pushing his guys to do so.
They listen, too. After beating Tampa Bay, the players were reportedly upset that the game was so close. They weren't frolicking after a big emotional win. They simply knew they could be better.
What the Patriots are doing right now is amazing. The fear, though, is that they're playing their best ball right now, not in January. It's very hard to keep up that level of play for three months.
The Falcons could very well reach their pinnacle of performance when the games matter most.
Atlanta's defense is in the middle of the pack in terms of yards allowed per game. That would be a nice thing to point out as a weakness, if not for the fact that the D only gives up 18.7 points a game, seventh in the NFL.
All year, the defense has let teams move the ball but not put it in the end zone, which is all that really matters.
Coupled with an offense that scores 25.8 points per game (fifth in the league), it's no wonder they're the only NFC team with 11 wins.
There are teams that can pass. There are teams that can run. I dare say, there are no teams that can do both as well as the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons are the only team in the NFC to have a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard runner and 1,000-yard receiver. That's balance to the highest degree.
Watching ESPN, Tom Jackson says it week after week. The Falcons have the most consistent game plan in all of football.
When it's all clicking, they can do whatever they want on offense. It's a scary thought for anyone who has to play them going forward.
For my money, Atlanta is the best fourth-quarter team in the NFL. When the game is on the line, the Falcons always find a way to come through.
I've already gone through the many ways the Falcons can beat you. Here's something else to think about:
Atlanta has outscored its opponents 104-47 in the fourth quarter. That's a plus-57 point differential. No team in the NFC is really even close.
The only team in the NFL that has scored more fourth quarter points is the Colts with 109, but they've also given up 94 points in those final 15 minutes. San Diego has the next best differential at plus-44.
Games are won and lost in the fourth quarter. No NFL team is equal to the Falcons during that crucial period.
Matt Ryan has lost just one home game in his career and that came back in 2008 when he was a rookie.
This year, the Falcons are 6-0 at home and have looked unbeatable in their building.
They will be favored in all three of their remaining games. If they can handle their business, the road to the Super Bowl will go through Atlanta. No team will be looking forward to taking that trip.
Haters will hate and find ways to sell this team short, but these players love flying under the radar.
Keep discounting them. It's served them well for 14 weeks.