NEW ORLEANS — Ralph is a Saints fan who has been writing his fan-centric column on the Saints since 2001.
The 2022 New Orleans Saints could be many things. They might be a team that will soon lament that the greatest coach in franchise history decided to take a year off before probably coaching somewhere else in 2023.
They might be the redemption story of quarterback Jameis Winston finally living up to all the promise and ability that made him the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Maybe the 2022 Saints will be about Louisiana's own Tyrann Mathieu and Jarvis Landry coming home and delivering something special for the hometown team. Perhaps Dennis Allen will prove his abysmal record as a head coach in Oakland was mostly because of circumstances beyond his control and all he needed was a chance to lead a good roster built by a stable and functional organization.
The possibilities are almost endless but let me offer you one more....The 2022 New Orleans Saints and their fans are alone in believing they are contenders this year. The Saints are operating unlike any other NFL team and their continued success will make a lot of experts look really dumb.
If you spend too much time on social media, like me, you probably noticed LOTS of NFL experts not only didn't like what the Saints did this offseason, they hold outright disdain and contempt for how Mickey Loomis and Dennis Allen went about operating this offseason. The negativity got so hilariously absurd, I started a folder on my phone where I screen shot experts’ negative takes, so when the Saints are good in 2022 I can remind all these 'smart' NFL people how wrong they were.
A great example of this would be a conversation ESPN’s Mina Kimes and Pro Football Focus’ Austin Gayle had on Kimes’ podcast about the 2022 Saints offseason. They hated it and found it preposterous. Mina Kimes is one of my favorite NFL experts and she usually has positive thoughts on the Saints and their defense but even she used a horrible Amy Schumer movie to describe how laughable she thought the Saints offseason was. Here’s a snippet of her May 3 podcast with Gayle.
Austin Gayle: "Mickey Loomis sees a guy he wants and goes and gets him. Chris Olave and Trevor Penning, just those 2 selections cost them (the Saints) #16, #98, #120, #149, #18, #101, #237, #188, a 2023 1st, and 2024 2nd. That is insanity. Giving up 10 players for 2 is too much. It’s being overconfident. That’s not all in, that’s saying “I like Chris Olave better than five players, I’m going to go get him.” Mickey Loomis does that every year. That is what the Saints do. “
Mina Kimes: It reminds me of a little-seen movie, “I Feel Pretty” starring Amy Schumer. The very problematic premise of the movie is that Amy Schumer wakes up and believes she’s incredibly hot and it gives her confidence to improve her life. That’s how I feel the New Orleans Saints are! They are in ‘I feel pretty’ mode. They look in the mirror and they think they have Aaron Rodgers. It really speaks to their confidence in Jameis Winston. Do you think that confidence is merited in the context of a very bad NFC?
Austin Gayle: No I don’t think it is merited. It's a ship that is sinking and they keep making these short-term decisions to stay afloat. They are avoiding the tank. What are owners and GMs actually incentivized to do? Is it winning a Super Bowl? All I have to do if I'm Mickey Loomis is maintain relevance. The Saints have done that to a tee. They are doing a good job not tanking. When you tank is when people lose jobs. And when you tank is when things go bad.
Mina: I wanna push back a little bit on myself and you. As a Saints fan it’s fun to watch a competitive team. Sometimes we as analysts are like you are good or you are bad. Accept it. Look in the mirror if you suck and strip it down. Fans want to watch a team win. I’ll give the Saints a little bit of credit on that front because success is different to everyone.
Mina, when the Saints defense shut out Tom Brady in Tampa last year do you think they felt 'pretty'? I'm certain they felt REALLY pretty after dominating two-time reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers receivers so badly in practice this summer he was needing to have a meeting to yell at them, hand out mood bracelets, explain what immunized is, or whatever it is Aaron Rodgers does.
At least Gayle acknowledged the possibility tanking could lead to bad outcomes. It's the only thing he said that made any sense. Austin saying the Saints trying to upgrade the worst receiving group in the NFL is 'insanity' and calling a team that has won 58 games the last five years a 'ship that is sinking' isn't so much a break from reality as it is living in a parallel universe where maybe Gayle has confused the Saints and Falcons rosters? Kimes giving them a ‘little bit of credit’ for continuing to try and win and stay competitive sounds absolutely bonkers to me. What exactly are NFL teams supposed to be doing in 2022? Planning to be good at some date in the distant future after the next presidential election?
NFL analysts see something ENTIRELY different than the Saints and their fans do heading into 2022. Listen to the entire thing, it’s an interesting window into just how NFL experts view the Saints and how difficult a time they have with a team trying to win games and stay competitive in a world of Super Bowl or bust.
The Saints looked around the NFC, didn't see a great team in the entire conference, and decided to keep on trying to actually win football games. It's a wild concept I know. I pick on Mr. Gayle because experts like him, with the worldview that any unused or traded draft pick is perfect in every way, I find infuriatingly dumb. Every traded draft pick the Saints DO NOT USE COULD BE THE NEXT STAR or something. If you think I'm just picking on Mina and Austin, the list of 'experts' who hated the Saints offseason is LOOONG. I especially like how Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders rips the Saints to shreds for how they operate, then announced his standard for being wrong about the Saints is completely silly. “I know I sound like a broken record. I know Saints fans will claim victory when they ride four Falcons/Panthers wins to the seventh playoff seed. But the Saints need an intervention before they end up getting relegated to the USFL in 2024. They are in danger of building a stars 'n' scrubs roster without any stars, and they are a year away from even running out of scrubs.” The team that's won the second most regular season games the past 5 years is about to get relegated to the USFL? That's a delightful combination of nonsensical and goofy.
And yes Mike, we will claim victory WHEN THE SAINTS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS! Because winning football games AND PLAYING POSTSEASON GAMES IS THE ENTIRE FREAKING POINT OF ENJOYING BEING A FAN. The Saints will get no credit even if they win in 2022 because they won't win enough, or they won’t win the right way, or Jameis won't eat enough Ws with a knife and fork. Mike's fury at how the Saints operate is cute, and his Herculean ability to move the goal posts before any games are even played is priceless. The Saints returning to the playoffs isn't actually success because they might not be good at some indeterminate date in the future you see? The sports nerds convincing fans it's only ok to try and really win some of the time is one of the truly dumb things the internet has given us.
The folder on my phone with NFL experts ripping the Saints offseason to shreds is as deep as the line at Jazz Fest for crawfish bread.
The Saints trading away their 2023 first round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles and then trading up in the 2022 draft to select Ohio State receiver Chris Olave seemed to melt lots of NFL experts’ brains on social media in a way that was particularly funny. The gospel among NFL analytics people is trading down is best because former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson built a trade value chart and used it win 2 Super Bowls. As if it's the only way to draft successfully. There are lots of ways to build a winning team. The Baltimore Ravens enjoy collecting 4th round picks like bored millennials collecting Pokemon cards during the height of COVID. The Saints and Mickey Loomis like to shop for high end merchandise at Louis Vuitton and spend draft picks to do it. Both ways can work. That one way is more likely to succeed has yet to be proven despite what any expert tells us. The experts love how the Ravens operate, and hate how the Saints do business. The Saints have won more games than Baltimore since 2017 and have the sixth most wins the last decade.
The Saints traded away all those picks and all they got was Chris Olave and Trevor Penning! How dare they thumb their noses at sexy excel spreadsheets and draft value charts! The truth is it is FUN rooting for a sports team that operates almost entirely outside of the boring conventional wisdom. Arrogant? If you won 97 regular season games since 2012 you'd be arrogant too. Mickey Loomis, shine on, you crazy diamond. Reckless? Only if the Saints are wrong about Chris Olave and Trevor Penning. Risky? What the Saints have done is no less risky than the complete rebuild of the Atlanta Falcons. In 3 years it either works or it doesn't. No one will care who did it the 'The smart way' or however NFL experts want to describe it.
The 2022 football season, at its essence, is the Saints saying, “We are more than Sean Payton and Drew Brees. We will continue to bend the salary cap to our will and continue to trade up in the draft for players we think are elite talent and fit what we need at this moment in time. We will create cap space today, then sign Tyrann Mathieu and Jarvis Landry because the salary cap ALWAYS goes up unless there is a global pandemic, and Gayle Benson will cut checks to solve most of our future cap problems anyway.” On the other side are the chorus of experts like Austin Gayle, Mina Kimes, and Mike Tanier saying the Saints don't know what they are doing and it will end very badly for them. ESPN's Bill Barnwell has been writing some version of 'Saints are in salary cap hell' for what feels like a decade. There is a very large group of people gleefully expecting the Saints to fail. Their 'football expertise' reputations depend on it. The 2022 Saints have a chance to continue to set ablaze the conventional wisdom of how you build a good football team, and I've got the receipts to start that fire.
Make no mistake, the 2022 New Orleans Saints, and by extension we, their fans, are that famous GIF on social media from Game of Thrones where Jon Snow is standing alone against the charging army.
The entire football world thinks the Saint’s golden era is over. The Saints don't. Welcome to 2022 Saints football -- it’s the Saints and their fans against everybody.
Saints Fan Mood & Meditation Music: Fire on the Bayou -- The Meters
Figuring out the right music to capture Saints fans' mood heading into Week 1 of the 2022 NFL season was difficult but then this Meters classic came on while I was streaming New Orleans music on my phone and I knew it was the one.
It's an awesome song because the Meters are awesome, but the 2022 Saints feel quite combustible, don't they? Jameis Winston might set the football world on fire and become the franchise quarterback he was expected to be in Tampa or the Saints could burn to the ground just like all the experts say, we will all regret Mickey Loomis trading that 2023 first-round pick to Philadelphia when the Eagles use it to pick in the top 10, and this column will be a star on 'Freezing Cold Takes' Twitter feed. Gonna be hot either way.
The Saints 2022 roster is loaded and now it's just time to as the Meters sing......
Hey light your fire
Fire on the bayou
Do, do, do your thing
Atlanta (+5.5) vs New Orleans: This game scares me TO DEATH. The Falcons are going to be terrible but this might as well be their Super Bowl. The Saints losing to the Falcons to start the season, Atlanta finishing 2-15, and the Falcons 2022 year in review video being 25 minutes covering this game and ignoring the rest of their awful season would be the most Saints thing ever. My confidence isn't high after the Saints traded meme legend and Tom Brady's father, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson to the Philadelphia Eagles for photos of the Liberty Bell and a Wawa gift card. Then two days later Marcus Maye got arrested for road rage. Throw in first round pick Trevor Penning going on injured reserve and I'm filled to the brim with bad vibes.
The good news is the Falcons roster is dreadful. If the Saints can cover Kyle Pitts, they shouldn't have much trouble stopping a Falcon offense led by new quarterback Marcus Mariota. On offense, if Jameis Winston can't move the ball up and down the field on a defense that was so bad Taysom Hill was undefeated against them, the 2022 Saints are going to have problems. This is Saints-Falcons, it's going to get weird, the Saints rebuilt secondary is probably going to have some things to work out, and it'll go down to the wire. Wil Lutz will remind us kickers are people too and matter a lot. Saints 31-28
Dallas (+1.5) vs Tampa Bay: We might need a “Sean Payton Watch” meter every week regarding Dallas. Poor Mike McCarthy is a bad half from Payton to Dallas rumors starting. Mike's safe for at least a week. Are we allowed to talk about whatever is going on with Tom Brady's face? He looks...different. Cowboys 24-20
Pittsburgh (+6.5) at Cincinnati: Everyone loves the Bengals and expects them to bet better this year. Joe Burrow is beloved around here, but they weren't that much different than the Saints last year as far as the regular season. Do you really trust the Bengals to be good back-to-back seasons? Steelers 27-23
Carolina (-2.5) vs Cleveland: Matt Rhule loses to the Browns without Deshaun Watson and his employment in Carolina after Halloween becomes very questionable. Panthers 19-16
Los Angeles Rams (+2.5) vs Buffalo: When was the last time a defending Super Bowl Champion opened the season as an underdog at home? The Bills are loaded and the Super Bowl favorite but that Thursday opener is a tough ask for the road team. Rams 28-24
Ralph Malbrough is a contributing writer and Saints fan living in Houston. Email him at email@example.com, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter at @SaintsForecast or download the Saints Happy Hour Podcast.
He's doing a live version of his Saints Happy Hour Podcast September 16th at Port Orleans. RSVP to get a free 'Boys Are Back in Town' cup featuring the Honey Badger and Jarvis Landry and help support Team Gleason.