The big question: Can QB Matt Ryan lead the Falcons to a Super Bowl title?
The 2016 MVP, entering his 12th season, sounded pretty optimistic this summer, telling ESPN the Falcons have the right people in the building to give them a "great chance" to get back and, hopefully, win the Lombardi Trophy. The skeptics believe the Falcons might never overcome the Super Bowl hangover from 2016 after their 28-3 implosion and eventual 34-28 overtime loss to the Patriots. Ryan has to prove otherwise and keep his teammates focused on that mission, with the window of opportunity closing. -- Vaughn McClure
Offseason in a nutshell
Falcons coach Dan Quinn put a lot of pressure on himself by parting ways with Marquand Manuel and taking over as the defensive coordinator, so how the unit performs will have a lot to do with how he calls the "multiple'' defense and uses the personnel at his disposal, particularly pass-rushers Vic Beasley Jr. and Takk McKinley.
The Falcons also shored up their offensive line, drafting right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary in the first round and signing guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown in free agency. So an emphasis was placed on protecting Ryan and opening more holes in the running game with bigger, athletic bodies up front -- provided those linemen remain healthy. Injuries truly wrecked the Falcons' season a year ago, so adding quality depth on both sides -- particularly on the offensive and defensive lines -- was a must to avoid a significant drop-off when a starter unexpectedly misses time. -- McClure
Most important game: Nov. 10 at New Orleans. Sure, the Falcons could get off to a shaky start through the first eight games. But even if they do, they can start to salvage matters by beginning the NFC South slate in Week 10 with a victory over the rival Saints. All of their division games come after the Week 9 bye, and coach Dan Quinn preaches taking care of winning the division first to make the playoffs.
Toughest stretch: The first three games of the season, starting with a trip to Minnesota in the opener, could say a lot about whether the Falcons are contenders or pretenders. The Vikings and Eagles are both considered playoff-worthy teams, and the Week 3 matchup at Indianapolis changed dramatically with Andrew Luck's retirement, leaving the Colts' success in Jacoby Brissett's hands. The Vikings (ninth) and Colts (10th) boasted top-10 scoring defenses last season, while the Eagles were 12th.
Over or under 8.5 wins? Over. Their offensive talent gives the Falcons a chance to legitimately score 30 points a game, and they made it to the Super Bowl in 2016 by averaging a league-best 33.8 PPG. The defense should be much improved with the return of safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, and with speedy linebacker Deion Jones back at full strength. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has to be creative in the red zone so the Falcons don't have to settle for field goals. -- McClure
Early games at Minnesota and then home against Philadelphia are the product of last season's second-place finish; three games against the AFC South follow. The Falcons somehow ended up with all their division contests coming after their Week 9 bye, including five consecutive weeks against division opponents from Week 10 to Week 14. At least that stretch with two Saints games is broken up by a home game against Tampa Bay. Both Atlanta and New Orleans will be coming off bye weeks when they play in Week 10. -- Football Outsiders | See the full 1-32 ranking
Ridley is positioned for a larger role this season after finishing his rookie campaign 22nd in fantasy points while working behind both Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. The first-round pick caught 70% of his targets and scored 10 touchdowns. He is an obvious bet for touchdown regression this season, but that figures to be offset by a boost in targets in Atlanta's high-volume pass offense. -- Mike Clay | More fantasy coverage
Super Bowl odds: 30-1 (opened 30-1)
Over/under: 8.5 (O -140/U +120)
Playoff odds: Yes +155, No -175
Odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook as of Sept. 2.
Over/under 1,470.5 receiving yards for Julio Jones:
McClure: Over. He's hit 1,500 or more yards in three of the past five seasons, including 1,677 last year -- but here's the catch (no pun intended): If Jones for some reason doesn't play a full 16 games due to contract issues/injuries, then maybe he'll fall short.
Bold prediction: Ryan will lead the NFL in passing yards
Ryan will reach 5,000 passing yards for the first time in his career. Now that he's reunited with Koetter, Ryan should have his share of attempts. Having an arsenal that includes arguably the NFL's best receiver in Julio Jones, second-year gem Calvin Ridley, sure-handed Mohamed Sanu, Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper and dual-threat back Devonta Freeman makes Ryan's job that much easier. In the process of reaching 5,000, Ryan will reach 50,000 career passing yards, becoming the 10th player in NFL history to accomplish that feat. -- McClure
No. 7: WR Julio Jones
No. 37: QB Matt Ryan
No. 84 LB Deion Jones
No. 88 DT Grady Jarrett