We may have treated them as such, but we couldn't play them as such. We couldn't chose the opposition, we couldn't play all the players we wanted. We couldn't play without pressure, and so on.
There are other reasons too, obviously. But it can't be ignored the fact that all teams that start their season so early struggle for the remainder of their campaign.
And all clubs who win the FA cup that aren't a top club get relegated.
The trick is to buck the trend. An extra 4 games really shouldn't make all that difference.
Do I like the format? Nope, but we can't change that. I'd rather be in it than not.