The Atlanta Falcons have done all they can do. The NFC South champions have the best record in the NFL and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Yet when the best teams in the league are discussed, the Falcons are rarely mentioned.
When they are mentioned, they are treated with the dreaded "yeah, but..."
Why is it so hard for the winningest team in the NFL to garner respect?
Sins of the Past
When assessing the Falcons, the easiest fall-back position is their previous playoff woes. This has been a theme since literally the first regular season game. During the FOX broadcast of the Week 1 match-up between the Falcons and the Kansas City Chiefs, Brian Billick was the first to jump on the no-playoff-win train.
With the Falcons leading 20-17 at the half, Billick predicted that neither team would slow down the other's offense. With the Falcons leading 40-17 midway through the fourth quarter, Billick acknowledged his earlier prediction. He then quickly added in that the Falcons were 0-3 in the playoffs since Matt Ryan's arrival.
As the Falcons kept racking up the wins, the playoff card was played early and often.
Disrespect vs. Disinterest
The Falcons might make it hard on themselves. Matt Ryan is a squeaky-clean face for the franchise. The team is devoid of train wrecks needed to keep the 24-hour news cycle running. In fact, the closest thing the Falcons have to a prima donna is Roddy White. White may make a tiny splash off the field with his mouth or Twitter account, but rarely on the field.
The Falcons do not have the sizable fanbase of teams like the Dallas Cowboys or Pittsburgh Steelers. This makes pushing the Falcons into the national discussion a rather tricky one. It is an easier sale to say that the New York Giants are better than their record than to say the Falcons are as good as their record.
The Falcons walked away with a division that left more brand-name players like Cam Newton and Drew Brees sitting at home. The demise of the New Orleans Saints has far more sizzle than the rise of the Falcons.
Scheduling Ain't Easy
The ease of the Falcons schedule has been repeated ad nauseam. Still, there is validity to the point. Although, many who point to the schedule often do not understand how scheduling works. The Falcons only faced two teams, the Detroit Lions and the Arizona Cardinals, based on where they finished in 2011.
The schedule is an interesting reason for those who doubt the Falcons. Despite football being a very contextual game, there is only one game detractors point to with added context: the Falcons' win over the Denver Broncos.
Detractors will often point to the game being Peyton Manning's second game of the year. This is their explanation for his failure in the game. The number of teams the Falcons have faced with the opponent in a must-win situation is completely disregarded.
Respect is a Moving Target
While some players like Tony Gonzalez have been quite vocal about a perceived lack of respect, the benchmark for respect is constantly on the move. The game that will earn the Falcons respect has always been the next one. Despite having swept the NFC East and AFC West, there is no singular game that accomplished the task.
Heading on to the match-up with the New York Giants, many analysts did not give the Falcons a chance to win. Many said that the Giants were closers and did not lose in December. So when the Falcons embarrassed the Giants 34-0, one might have expected the Falcons to finally gain the respect their fans have been searching for.
Not so much.
ESPN's Mike and Mike opened their show that following morning talking about the Giants. Not about how they were dominated by the Atlanta Falcons, but rather wondering if the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., had weighed too heavy on the heads and hearts of the Giants.
Once Bitten Thrice Shy
The simplest explanation is that analysts have hitched themselves to the Falcons wagon before. The Falcons have always left them wanting. After three trips for one-and-done, betting one's credibility on the Falcons seems risky. Only one team out of 32 will win the Super Bowl. This is pretty good odds that any one team will fail on the way.
And explaining why a team is a fluke is much easier than defending your stance on a loser.
So it is hard to fault any individual for being hesitant with throwing his weight behind the Falcons.
Do They Deserve Respect?
It is hard to find a legitimate reason that a 13-win team would be referred to as a fraud, but the Falcons have on more than one occasion. The different reasons for a mistrust of the Falcons' record have been questionable to say the least.
Some point to the number of close wins this season. Yet when the Carolina Panthers racked up close wins in 2003, they were celebrated as the "Cardiac Cats."
There is the erroneous idea that the Falcons have not dominated anyone. Six of their wins in 2012 have been by 10 points or more.
Undefeated at home, they also finished with an away record of 6-2. This makes them a formidable opponent no matter where they play.
Which only leaves their past playoff performances. Despite having replaced both coordinators who had a hand in the previous defeats, this argument is impossible to defeat in the regular season. And that is why it was the first and the last "yeah, but" the Falcons faced. The Falcons have three weeks before they can face down that demon.
Do the Falcons deserve respect for their regular-season accomplishments? Yes.
Will they get any prior to a postseason win? No.