Final Word: NFC South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

Get the milestone out of the way. If I’m Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey, I’m throwing to tight end Tony Gonzalez on one of the first three offensive plays, probably even the first. Gonzalez needs one catch to reach 1,000 for his career. Gonzalez will get his 1,000th catch sometime on Sunday against Pittsburgh. But the Falcons can do him and themselves a favor by getting it out of the way early. Once that mission is accomplished, Gonzalez can start shooting for career catch 1,100 and the Falcons can focus squarely on the Steelers.

Lucky break. Remember last year when it seemed like everything that could go wrong for the Falcons did go wrong? They had all sorts of injuries and still managed to go 9-7. The Saints went 13-3 and were very good, but also very lucky along the way. Maybe things are turning in a better direction for the Falcons. It’s only one omen, but, come on, drawing Dennis Dixon as the starting Pittsburgh quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger is suspended and Byron Leftwich is hurt) on opening day is a sign that the Falcons might not be abiding by Murphy’s Law this year.

Growing pains. The Bucs have sold out every home regular-season game since they’ve been playing in Raymond James Stadium. For the record, that facility opened in 1998. For the record, Josh Freeman was 10-years-old when the stadium opened. Sunday’s opener with Cleveland is not a sellout and won’t be seen on local television. All indications are that Freeman has grown immensely since his rookie season. Tampa Bay fans better hope that’s the case or else they’ll be watching a lot of out-of-town games on television this fall.

Curb your enthusiasm. A lot of folks in the Carolinas are all fired up because the defense looked very good in the preseason. That’s all very encouraging, but let’s keep things in perspective. Before we go saying this defense is better off without Julius Peppers, let’s see how August superstars Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy fare against Eli Manning and a team with an actual game plan.

Anybody up for some flag football? Through the years, Carolina receiver Steve Smith has crossed the line many times. The Panthers always have been willing to forgive and part of the reason for that is Smith usually makes up for his mistakes when given another opportunity. Well, the next opportunity comes Sunday when Smith plays in his first game since the one at the Siskey YMCA in Charlotte, where he broke his arm in a flag-football game in June. I’m guessing Smith will come back very motivated and may look like he’s playing flag football against the Giants.