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Falcons dream of Super Bowl

Will the Falcons rise to a Super Bowl appearance?

Is this the Atlanta Falcons’ year?

Some NFL prognosticatorshave dubbed the Falcons as a legit contender as a Super Bowl XLVIII participant. The Falcons fell five points short of reaching last season’s big game. There are some holes that must be filled, but the enthusiasm of last season’s playoff run has risen the hopes for a promising 2013 season.

Much of the Falcons’ offseason has been consumed with negotiations for a new stadium. But the season is final here.

The Falcons open on Sunday in New Orleans against the rival Saints, who are two seasons removed from their Super Bowl championship. Here are five questions that await an answer for the team for the season:

1. Can Matt Ryan live up to expectations? The sixth-year quarterback is certainly getting paid the money to be among the elite signal-callers in the league. During the offseason, Ryan was signed to a hefty $103.75 million dollar contract extension during the offseason. During his tenure, the 28-year-old has guided 56 wins, which is the most by any quarterback in his first five season in NFL history. Over the last five years, he has proven to be a late-game playmaker as he has guided the Falcons on 22 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, which also includes the postseason. The ultimate accomplishment for Ryan would be a NFL championship. The players known as “Matty Ice” will have the spotlight on him as the team pushes towards a title. One of the biggest challenges will be operating behind a revamped offensive line. A healthy and protected Ryan could equal the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.

2. How will the rookie cornerbacks do? That question can be answered right away in Sunday’s game. Rookies cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will get tested early against one of the league’s top passser in Drew Brees. Trufant will get the start at the right corner spot as he takes over for Dunta Robinson, who was released in the offseason. Both safeties, William Moore and Thomas DeCoud were Pro Bowl alternates last season. They will have to have help as Trufant learns. The secondary will have to do their job without the luxury of one of the team’s best pass rushers. During the offseason, defensive end John Abraham was released in March.

3. What will Steven Jackson bring to the team? Some believe he is a better fit for the team than former running back Michael Turner. Jackson has better pass catching skills than Turner. A former first-round pick (24th overall), Jackson has rushed for 10,135 yards and scored 56 touchdowns during his career. He also has caught 407 passes for 3,324 yards and eight touchdowns. He is 30, and the Falcons are hoping to get plenty of mileage to boost the running game. The Falcons seem to have formidable running game to compliment a standout cast of wide receivers.

4. Can the offensive line hold up? For any chance at another playoff run, the unit will have to gel fast. Plus, the team has over $100 million dollars invested in Ryan, who has remained pretty healthy throughout his career. Peter Konz takes over at center for the retired Todd McClure. Last season, Konz started 10 games at guard. The Falcons will rely on left tackle Sam Baker and left guard Justin Blalock to be the line leaders. They have the important task of keeping the defenders off of Ryan and helping a talent core of skill players make the plays.

5. Are the Falcons a Super Bowl contender? The team wasn’t exactly impressive in the preseason with a 0-4 record. No team has gone 0-4 in the preseason and won the Super Bowl in a full 16-game season, according to footballgeography.com. But the Falcons usually doesn’t emphasize preseason games under coach Mike Smith. Last season was a perfect example as the team went 1-3 during the preseason and finished 13-3 and won the NFC South championship. The year before, Atlanta was 0-4 before going 10-6 and earning a wild-card berth. Now is the time for the team to turn it on, and keep the momentum going.