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Falcons not too impressed with NFC South title

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Falcons not too impressed with NFC South title

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) The Atlanta Falcons aren't too impressed with winning their second NFC South title in three years.

In fact, the latest division championship hardly stirred excitement when coach Mike Smith congratulated the players on Tuesday.

``We've won the division before, so it's not that big of a deal, you know what I mean?'' receiver Roddy White said. ``When coach said, `Congratulations,' nobody was woo-wooing or nothing like that, which is good.

``We've got our eye on the big prize.''

First among those goals is to earn the top playoff seed and secure home-field advantage through the conference title game.

The Falcons are mindful, however, that their 2.5-game conference lead is no guarantee, particularly after earning the No. 1 seed two years ago and collapsing in a second-round blowout loss to Green Bay at the Georgia Dome.

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon believes the entire team knows that there's too much at stake to feel complacent.

``You have to be happy with where you're at right now, but ultimately it's all about finishing it,'' Weatherspoon said. ``We set our goals high. That's just part of the step, so now it's on to the next part.''

Smith did his part to keep players energized by giving the team four days off following last Thursday's home win over New Orleans. The mini-bye week, as Weatherspoon calls it, marked the second time this season that Smith rewarded his team for winning.

After an Oct. 14 home victory over Oakland that improved the Falcons to 6-0, Smith gave the players an entire week off. Center Todd McClure, now in his 14th season, credits the fifth-year coach with having a good feel for knowing when to motivate his players and when to back off.

``Smitty knows this locker room,'' McClure said. ``He's down here a bunch. He knows how everybody's feeling physically. He knows when we need rest. He knows when we need to turn it on and when we need to go harder and keep the pads on in practice. He's got a great vibe of the locker room, and I think that's what's making him successful as a head coach.''

On Tuesday, Atlanta's first workout on the field since the win over New Orleans, Smith and his staff sent the team through a session he calls ``Falcons on Falcons.''

Smith took the same approach after the bye week, and Atlanta responded on Oct. 28 with a 30-17 victory at Philadelphia a few days later.

The goal is to remind players of the rudimentary importance of technique and timing. Coaches keep the focus on one-on-one matchups, scheme assignments and third-down efficiency as offensive starters practice against defensive starters.

``You're getting the best in-season work, except on game day, because you're going against one another and not working off cards,'' Smith said. ``You're actually getting a crisper play run when you're working against yourself. I think it gets the guys focused, and it gives them an opportunity to come out and compete.''

Third downs were a significant problem against New Orleans. The Falcons' offense, which ranks second in third-down efficiency, went just 1-for-11. Defensively, Atlanta dropped to 29th against the run and 15th on third down, but still stayed in the top five in scoring.

``In this league, you have to understand those guys on the other side are getting paid just like we do,'' cornerback Dunta Robinson said. ``So they're going to make some plays, but it's about how you strong you stand ultimately, and I think we do a good job.''

Extra rest could help over the next four games as cornerback Asante Samuel (shoulder) and nose tackle Peria Jerry (quadriceps) try to rehab their way back.

Though Smith said that Jerry might practice on Wednesday as the Falcons (11-1) install their game plan for Sunday's visit to Carolina (3-9), he added that it was too early to predict Samuel's status.

The Falcons were encouraged, however, that Christopher Owens played one his better games after Samuel lasted just three snaps against the Saints.

Running back Michael Turner believes having backups like Owens compete at a high level fuels confidence of the entire team and keeps Atlanta on track to keep winning.

``The last couple of years it's come down pretty tight at the end (of the regular season), but to get that part out of the way - that first step - is pretty good,'' Turner said. ``Now, with so many different contributing to the team's overall success, we can finish out the regular season strong.''

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Follow George Henry athttp://www.twitter.com/georgehenryAP

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Who could win the Conn Smythe Trophy?

The Stanley Cup is not the only trophy that will be awarded at the end of the Stanley Cup Final series between the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights. The Conn Smythe will also be given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team during the playoffs.

Who will that player be?

It's not hard to figure out who the frontrunner is right now. Marc-Andre Fleury hasn't just been the best goalie in the playoffs, he's been the best player with a dominant postseason in which he has posted a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. He has been so dominant, he could win it even if Vegas loses the series.

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

The last player from the losing team to win the Conn Smythe was Jean-Sebastian Giguere from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2003.

But what about the Caps?

Alex Ovechkin is the leader of Washington and has been absolutely dominant throughout the postseason. He even scored the series-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Surprisingly, however, Ovechkin does not lead the team in points through the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov holds that edge with 24 points to Ovechkin's 22.

Will their offensive dominance propel them to win the Cup and the Conn Smythe? Will a different player emerge as the hero of the series?

See the top contenders for the Conn Smythe heading into the Stanley Cup Final here.

MORE CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS:

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Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

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Associated Press

Need to Know: A closer look at Alex Smith's contract with the Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, May 26, 17 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space, I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Contract makes Alex Smith a Redskins for at least three seasons

This post was originally published on March 19. 

When the Redskins traded for Alex Smith on January 30, news also broke that he had agreed to a four-year extension with Washington in addition to the one year left on his contract with the Chiefs. While we got some top-line numbers on the deal, we have gone since then without any details. 

Until now. 

The details show a deal that has a slightly higher cap hit in 2018 than was on his original Chiefs contract and the numbers rise gradually over the life of the deal, which runs through 2022. 

Smith got a $27 million signing bonus and his salaries for 2018 ($13 million) and 2019 ($15 million) also are fully guaranteed at signing making the total $55 million (information via Over the Cap, which got data from a report by Albert Breer). 

But there I another $16 million that is guaranteed for all practical purposes. On the fifth day of the 2019 league year, his 2020 salary of $16 million becomes fully guaranteed. He almost assuredly will get to the point where that money will become guaranteed since the Redskins are not going to cut him after one year having invested $55 million in him. So the total guarantees come to $71 million. 

His 2021 salary is $19 million and it goes up to $21 million in 2022. There have been reports of some incentives available to Smith but since we have no details we’ll set those aside for now. 

The cap hits on the contract are as follows: 

2018: $18.4 million
2019: $20.0 million
2020: $21.4 million
2021: $24.4 million
2022: $26.4 million

The Redskins can realistically move on from Smith after 2020. There would be net cap savings of $13 million in 2021 and $21 million in 2022. 

The first impression of the deal is that the Redskins did not move on from Kirk Cousins because they didn’t want to guarantee a lot of money to a quarterback. The total practical guarantee of $71 million is second only to Cousins’ $82.5 million. It should be noted that Cousins’ deal runs for three years and Smith’s contract is for five. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler