The way most AR owners actually use (or don't use) them, does it really matter which of the manufacturers' guns one buys?
Unless it's really going to get a steady workout, at matches, or training sessions, wouldn't any brand name do?
Barrel length, gas system, sights, trigger....,'etc.
Is any of this of great importance for the casual use that most ARs will get?
That may a way of justifying an AR you've already purchased and have some history with ... but why would anyone buying a new rifle want to get less for the same money?
The OP says he wants "something that is reliable, dependable, easy to maintain and I can count on to fire when I need it to".
That's exactly why research is so important as it will dig up quality ARs for the same money as lesser ARs. Just like shopping for a HDTV or computer, you actually can
get more for your money if you put some effort into it.