Week 1 is here, as the Atlanta Falcons prepare to take on the New Orleans Saints on Sunday in their first home game of the 2022 NFL season. It’s no secret that the rivalry between these two teams is one of the greatest in all in the NFL, with most games winding up hotly contested and no love lost between the players. Bringing that all together for the season opener turns things up even more, and I’m beyond excited for this game to unfold. It’s also worth noting that the Falcons are currently 5.5-point underdogs against the Saints according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Here at The Falcoholic, we like to think we keep you all incredibly well-informed on all things Falcons. We’re not nearly as diligent in covering the Saints, so I’ve enlisted the help of a New Orleans expert: Tina Howell. Tina is the Managing Editor over at our sister site Canal Street Chronicles and the host of the Fleurs Truly Podcast.
I brought five questions to Tina that dig deep into many of the changes and question marks surrounding the Saints as we kick off a new season. Read on for her responses.
Q1: Let’s start with the big recent news. The Saints just traded away excellent slot defender Chauncey Gardner-Johnson to the Eagles, and the compensation seemed less than ideal. What’s the backstory behind that move, and how big of a loss is CGJ for New Orleans’ defense?
Tina Howell: CJ was a fan favorite but unfortunately, he priced himself right out of New Orleans. He wanted top safety money and that was more than the Saints felt he was worth. Add in the fact that he held himself out of practice during training camp, his attitude during negotiations and you have the perfect combination of reasons to trade a player. The Saints have great chemistry in the locker room, and you do not want a player to taint that. Yes, CJ’s swagger and high energy on the field will be missed but our defense is not defined by one player. As for the compensation, I am sure the Saints tried to get more but if there is no demand, you take what you can get.
Q2: The offensive line was once a foundational piece of the Saints offense, protecting Drew Brees extremely well and paving the way for a dominant run game. Things seem to have gotten off track over the last season, and now Terron Armstead has departed in free agency and presumptive replacement, rookie tackle Trevor Penning, is slated to miss most of the season. What is your level of concern for the unit overall, and do you expect some of the interior players to bounce back in 2022?
TH: I have some concerns about the o-line at the guard position. Cesar Ruiz has struggled after moving to right guard and Andrus Peat, who signed a huge extension in 2020 but has struggled to stay healthy. Fortunately, tackles Ryan Ramczyk and James Hurst are both 100% and ready to go Sunday. Both are solid vets. Some good news is that Trevor Penning is expected to be back in November, but at what capacity remains to be seen. Plus, we just locked up Erik McCoy for 5 years. I am glad we handled that now rather than later.
Q3: There are a lot of new faces in the Saints receiving corps this season, and also a big returning one in Michael Thomas. How has Thomas looked in his recovery from injury, and just how big of a contribution are you expecting this week from recent additions like Jarvis Landry and rookie Chris Olave?
TH: Mike looks great, and he is so excited to be back on the field with his teammates. It has been a long, hard journey for him. He said that he wants to be better than he was in 2019 so I expect big things from him this season. I am excited that we signed Jarvis Landry and drafted Chris Olave. Last season, our receivers really struggled and now we have some real threats to make the offense explosive again.
Q4: The secondary has undergone a rather drastic transformation this offseason, with Marcus Williams departing in free agency and the aforementioned trade of CGJ. What’s your comfort level with the new pieces, like Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye, and do you expect this unit to be able to continue playing at a high level?
TH: I feel the additions of Mathieu and Maye will only strengthen an already strong secondary. Now, if Maye gets suspended for a long period of time that will change things. But as of now, I feel confident in their abilities on the field. Especially with Tyrann. He is so charismatic, not to mention a Louisiana native so I think you will see a rejuvenated spark from him getting to play in front of his family and friends weekly. I think that will also rub off on the fans as well. The Superdome has definitely lost some of its magic over the last few years.
Q5: How big do you think the loss of Sean Payton will be for the offense and team as a whole, and what is your prediction for Week 1?
TH: I don’t think it will be as big of a loss as some people expect it to be. Dennis Allen has been a part of the Saints organization for a while. He is well-liked and has the respect of the team and the staff. Just look at what he has done with our defense in just a few short years. He has earned the opportunity to be the head coach so let’s just give him a chance and see what he can do. Also, Pete Carmichael is still our offense coordinator. I think people underestimate him because he is a behind the scenes guy and not as vocal as Sean. Honestly, I feel like the offense will thrive under Dennis. Sean looked a bit lost without Drew and held Jameis back in the beginning, last year. Plus, now Jameis has some big weapons to work with which is something we sadly lacked last season.
I expect the Saints come out and play like a team with something to prove especially because of all the talk about them losing their identity without Sean. This is a statement game and I predict that the Saints will win 34-20
Many thanks to Tina Howell for taking the time to answer my questions. Be sure to give her a follow at @TheNolaGirl on Twitter, and if you’re in the mood for a Saints perspective on things, follow Canal Street Chronicles at @SaintsCSC.
If you’d like to see our very own Evan Birchfield’s answers to Tina’s questions, you can find that story right here.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.