If you're a devoted fan of the New Orleans Saints, it's only natural to get offended when a fan of another team tells you that "your team sucks".
And when your team has finished 7-9 for 3 straight years in a row, it makes it even harder to defend them against such comments.
That's why it seems that no matter what the Saints organization does to improve the team this off-season through Free Agency and the 2017 NFL Draft later this month, it's not going to change the minds of people who view New Orleans as being among the "lower tier" teams of the NFL right now.
And based on a recent NFL Division Power Rankings index put together by ESPN.com, it's only about to get much worse from the perspective of Saints fans.
ESPN took those rankings, assigned a point value for each team (the No. 1 Patriots received 32 points, all the way down to one point for the 32nd-ranked Browns) and created a division-by-division power index .
Here's how they view the #3 rated division of the League -- the NFC South -- and take note of how the Saints are viewed as the team heads forward into 2017:
Atlanta - 31 points
Tampa Bay - 16 points
Carolina - 15 points
New Orleans - 9 points
3. NFC SOUTH: Before that epic Super Bowl collapse, the Falcons were the NFL's breakout team of 2016 (a trend that should continue with their addition of disruptive defense tackle Dontari Poe. A year earlier, the Panthers were the breakout team. Now it seems like the Buccaneers are a popular pick for 2017 -- thanks in part to the arrival of dynamic free-agent receiver DeSean Jackson. The Saints traded away their own dynamic deep threat in Brandin Cooks, but they have sleeper potential, too, if they can finally fix the defense.
Now I'll just remind you of the old saying that "opinions are like a--holes, because everybody has one".
And it's no great secret of the "dislike" that Saints fans have with the national media's coverage of the team, in comparison to all of the writers (myself included) that cover them on either a daily or exclusive basis.
But the thing to remember is that perception becomes reality at some point, and the only way for New Orleans to change the narrative that's currently out there about them being a "lower tier" team (or that "they suck", as fans from other teams like to say) is a pretty simple solution: WINNING games.
Unfortunately for the Saints and their fans, winning isn't something that the team has done enough of in recent years.
Since their last division title in 2011, the Saints (counting the Playoffs of the 2013 season) have gone 40-38 (.513) in the past 5 years. That's barely "break even" in the 5 years since the last time that the Saints were considered to be a "great" team or among the "upper tier" of the 32 teams in the NFL.
By comparison, the current defending Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots? They've gone 70-21 (.769) during that exact same period of time and that's counting all of their Playoff wins (they've played 13 more Playoff games than the Saints), which include having won 2 World Championships (Super Bowls 49 and 51).
So that means in just the last 5 years alone, the Patriots have won 30 MORE games than the Saints have, including those 2 Super Bowl titles.
So it's easy to see what the Saints haven't done much of in recent seasons, which is not only making the NFL Playoffs every year, but then also winning Playoff games and getting to (and then hopefully winning) a Super Bowl.
Sure, the Saints have done it before, but that was SEVEN YEARS AGO now.
Which means that the 'statute of limitations' has run out for the Saints and their fans as far as getting respect from elsewhere across the country and from the people within the media that cover the NFL.
As another old saying goes: "Respect is for those who earn it, not for those who demand it".
When you develop a reputation for winning in the NFL, you get a lot of respect. But when you develop a reputation for losing or not winning enough, respect can be fleeting -- as the Saints and their fans have quickly found out.
But you can't be mad at them for a lack of trying, especially in these last few weeks.
The Saints have been one of -- if not THE most -- aggressive teams in the NFL in Free Agency, filling several "needs" at offensive guard, linebacker, safety, and defensive line. And with 5 out of the first 103 picks in the Draft later this month, the Saints are poised to improve dramatically in 2017, in comparison to recent seasons.
But for now, the thought among people that cover the NFL is that while the Saints have had a nice off-season thus far, they still have to go out and PROVE to everyone that they're a "better" team, by going out on the field later this year and winning more games than they lose.
And until they can show that they're capable of doing that?
Then the Saints won't be getting any "love" from anyone --- except from their own fans --- in 2017........