It’s hard to tell exactly what the ceiling is for the New Orleans Saints in 2022 because there are just so many questions surrounding their roster and coaching staff. Regardless of the answers to many of those questions, the Saints need to make the playoffs this season—either as division winners or a wild card team—to consider it a success.
For the first time in a decade—and longer if you don’t include his one-season suspension—the Saints are going forward without Sean Payton as their head coach. That obviously raises questions about how well the team will perform under new head coach Dennis Allen, but it brings up some other interesting factors as well.
Payton has been the Saints’ offensive play-caller for essentially his whole, 16-year tenure. Even though offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael is sticking around for his 14th year in that role, 2022 will be the first year he’ll have to call plays for the offense since Payton’s 2012 suspension. And in case it wasn’t obvious, the Saints’ personnel on offense today is very different from what they had 10 years ago.
Which brings us to some other big questions with New Orleans this year, the biggest of which being how quarterback Jameis Winston will fare in his first full season as the Saints’ starter. He started seven games in 2021 before tearing his ACL and looked great in those seven starts.
With the help of Payton’s play-calling and coaching, Winston was making fewer poor decisions, resulting in fewer interceptions, more touchdowns and more wins. Winston had the highest passer rating of his career in 2021—albeit in a small sample size—and the Saints were 5-2 before the quarterback went down with injury. New Orleans went on to lose their next five games and finished the season 9-8.
In 2022, Winston won’t get the benefit of having Payton call plays that are tailored to optimize his production. The signal-caller also won’t have a coach like Payton that can rein in his erratic play that occasionally results from his poor decision making. How he plays less than a year removed from an ACL tear is also a big factor to consider here as well.
Then there are the questions about what the offense around him will look like. Will receiver Michael Thomas finally make his triumphant return to an NFL game after a season and a half away? How will he look on that ankle that’s given him so much trouble if he does?
The entire receiver corps could look different from how it did last season if Thomas returns alongside free agent acquisition Jarvis Landry and rookie Chris Olave. What that means for Winston and the offense, we’ll have to wait and see. The offensive line will also certainly look different with the loss of left tackle Terron Armstead in free agency. That could affect Winston as well as running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.
Carmichael will have plenty on his plate in his first full season as the Saints’ offensive play-caller since 2012.
On the other hand, the one thing New Orleans won’t have to worry about nearly as much is their defense. After a dominant showing on the defensive side last year, the Saints have only added more upgrades. Safeties Marcus Maye and Tyrann Mathieu are two huge additions to the secondary with Paulson Adebo and Marshon Lattimore continuing to lock down the cornerback positions. Of course, the Saints’ front seven includes guys like defensive end Cam Jordan and linebacker Demario Davis, plus David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle as two solid starters up on the D-line.
Defensively, the Saints have all they need to look like a top-tier unit in the NFL again in 2022. There’s no question that their defense is of the caliber of a playoff contender, the question is just how well the offense can perform in their first year without Sean Payton. The questions about their offensive personnel remain as well.
For the Saints to make the playoffs and consider their 2022 season a success, a lot rides on their offense and the performance of Winston. If the offense can do enough to match what will presumably be another strong defensive showing in New Orleans, the playoffs are well within reach in a weak NFC field.