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Falcons coach Mike Smith not ready to stake claim to NFC South

Mike Smith

Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith conducts NFL football practice, Thursday, June 21, 2012, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/David Goldman)


With the Bucs rebuilding, the Panthers building, and the Saints potentially disintegrating, many think the Falcons could easily capture the NFC South title.

Falcons coach Mike Smith isn’t among the many.

During a conference call held in connection with the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in Lake Tahoe (which will be televised, by the way, by NBC), Smith said that the division is wide open.

“I know that the NFC South has been one the most competitive divisions for a number of years,” Smith said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Most certainly before I got to the Falcons, there was the worst-to-first story for three or four years. It’s very competitive.”

Making it more competitive is the presence of a quartet of top-notch quarterbacks.

“In the division, we have three outstanding quarterbacks that have proven themselves and then there is the young one in Josh Freeman that is going to be a great quarterback as well,” Smith said. “It’s a fun division and I don’t think the offseason is any different. We all will prepare and get ready to go play.”

Smith realizes that, whether the Falcons get to the postseason by winning the division or via the wild-card route, they won’t be taken seriously until they win a playoff game.

“I think ultimately we are both going to be judged on success in the postseason,” Smith said. “There have been a lot of teams and a lot of players that have broken through and gotten that first win. That’s why we are doing everything in our power to figure out how to get that done. . . . We know that we’re doing it the right way. We just have to figure out how to play better at the end of the season.”

At the end, middle, and start of the season, Smith has high hopes for second-year skill-position players Julio Jones and Jacquizz Rodgers. “They were at a big disadvantage in my opinion last year in terms of coming in on the 25th of July and not really having an opportunity to spend time with the coaching staff and understand the actual sequencing of what a work week should be like,” Smith said. “Julio had a very good year for us last year and so did Jacquizz. I think they’ll be integral parts of the success we have this year.”

The Falcons likely will have success. But it won’t really be success until they win a playoff game. The last postseason win came eight years ago, when Mike Vick and company thrashed the Rams, 47-17.