Even with a little cushion, Falcons not overlooking NFC South

TAMPA, Fla. -- Of course it feels good to be in first place in the NFC South. Julio Jones wouldn't have it any other way through nine games.

However, the Atlanta Falcons' star wide receiver knows having a 6-3 record and being the only team in the division with a winning record still doesn't mean much now. Anything can happen over the course of the final seven games that could shift the balance of power.

That's why Jones, while not looking ahead, has no problem looking around to see what else is unfolding.

"Yeah, we're in a good place, but New Orleans, they're making noise over there,'' Jones said. "Carolina is, too. They just beat a great Cardinals team that we're going to have to play. And New Orleans just beat the Seattle Seahawks, that we lost to in Seattle.

"You definitely have to be aware of those teams. But it's still one game at a time. Right now, it's on to Philadelphia."

Jones hopes his team has re-established some momentum with a two-game winning streak after consecutive close losses. The offense continues to show its diversity, with many players making impacts outside of Jones. Quarterback Matt Ryan continues to play at an MVP pace. And the defense is starting to create turnovers and get sacks (21 for the season, two more than all of last year), which is the exactly the attacking style coach Dan Quinn has preached since Day 1.

Regardless of how promising the outlook appears to be right now, there's no time to relax. The Falcons haven't made the playoffs in the last three seasons. There's simply no reason for them to feel too comfortable.

"You can't get complacent about having breathing room," Jones said. "Every game is important. We can't take anything lightly. Even though we might be leading our division right now, we just have to stay focused and play football the way we know how to play football."

The Falcons should have a little more confidence now after beating Tampa Bay 43-28 on Thursday night. The Buccaneers were the only division team that beat the Falcons in the first half of the season.

"We knew going in as a division game, this was for sure going to be a battle, and it was," coach Dan Quinn said. "As we get ready, we're on to the next one when we get back.

"As far as looking too far ahead, one of the things that I do like about our team is we're able to stay in the present moment and focus on the team that is at hand. I think sometimes when you can look too far ahead, that can jam you up."

It's only natural for outsiders to project how this might all unfold for the Falcons. Right now, they are No. 3 in the NFC behind the Dallas Cowboys (6-1) and Minnesota Vikings (5-2), with the Vikings coming off a terrible loss to the Bears. Three of the seven teams remaining on the Falcons' schedule -- Carolina (2-5), Arizona (3-4) and Kansas City (5-2) -- were playoff teams a year ago. The back-to-back games against the Cardinals and Chiefs in Weeks 12 and 13 are both at the Georgia Dome.

The Falcons' next division game is not until Week 16 on the road against the Panthers. Atlanta closes the season with a NFC South back-to-back against Carolina and New Orleans.

"It's a good division," cornerback Robert Alford said. "You can never go into a game and underestimate your opponent. It's still kind of early of the season, so we still have to finish this thing off."

First and foremost comes next Sunday's game at Philadelphia, with the Eagles and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz currently 4-3.

"They were rolling at one point," Jones said. "I don't know what they're doing now. We'll just have to see."