How could a team with huge regular season success over the last four years and no playoff success be underrated? Shouldn't they be overrated, you ask?
No, I answer. Let me tell you why the Atlanta Falcons are actually being undersold.
Vegas has them at nine wins. Pundits ignored their draft. No less an expert than Bill Barnwell scoffed at the team's lack of upgrades for their ground game, which is not actually a major need. The tendency to know as little as possible about the Falcons causes analysts to fall back on familiar tropes about the Falcons. They're not good enough. They'll fall short. The Saints are the model franchise and the Panthers and Buccaneers got better. The Falcons are just the other team in the NFC South for some.
It's remarkable what a lack of playoff success will do to your reputation among the chattering classes. If you want proof of that, look no further than this resoundingly idiotic USA Today article on Peyton Manning. Manning will go down as one of the best quarterbacks ever to play a game and has won a Super Bowl, but somehow he—and he alone—has a disappointing playoff history. This is lunacy. Matt Ryan and this entire team have been dinged for their lack of playoff success, as well.
And it's lunacy with the Falcons. The playoff results have been undeniably disappointing, and the Falcons will have to get better. But they're getting there nearly every year because they're a tough team chock full of talent, and whatever you may think of their chances, they don't deserve to be a team relegated to the background.
You don't have to believe the Falcons are a 13 win team. I don't, myself. But you have to acknowledge that with coordinators who should be an upgrade, talent that has won close to 50 games over the last four years and few major personnel changes, there's no reason to believe this team is going to fall off the face of the earth in 2012. In fact, I'd say that with a rocky off-season going on for the Saints, there's a good chance they'll return to the post-season.
That's what I think. How about you?