Can the Saints actually win the NFC South in 2022?

Saints. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Saints. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

Heading into the 2022 season, there are two heavyweight contenders for the NFC South division title: the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Who will come out on top?

We previously wrote about how NOLA could beat the Bucs and win the division if Winston enjoys a spectacular year. As long as the defense stays elite (and it will), the Saints need at least a decent season out of Winston to be able to top the division and make the playoffs.

After observing the team through three weeks of training camp, the Saints still boast a very talented and competitive squad with one glaring fault: the offensive line.

Pundits can talk all they want about Winston’s budding return and the new-look passing offense, yet without a dependable offensive line, the Saints face an uphill battle to win games.

Yes, the defense is dominant. That fact has been well-established and likely won’t change in 2022.

But the Saints’ running and passing attack heavily relies on its offensive line, and as of right now, the team isn’t looking too good in the trenches.

NOLA Saints still have offensive issues to address heading into 2022 season

Pro Football Focus recently made a bold prediction that the Saints’ O-line will rank in the bottom third of the league this year, and upon further reflection, that prediction doesn’t sound all that bold.

Starting left tackle James Hurst exited Wednesday’s practice with a foot injury that doesn’t seem serious but nonetheless could cause him to miss stretches of the regular season. Rookie Trevor Penning struggled in his first preseason game and may not be a reliable stand-in for Hurst in 2022, which means Jameis Winston could lose a significant amount of protection on his blind side.

Losing Pro-Bowler Terron Armstead earlier this offseason was to be expected, and the Saints have already tried to fill the void Armstead left behind by drafting Penning. Compared to other tackles in his class, though, Penning projects to be more of a developmental project than a reliable starter, and it could take a few years for Penning to live up to his first-round potential and earn the left tackle job.

And don’t forget about center Cesar Ruiz, who serves another liability on the offensive line given his inconsistent performances in the past two years.

The Saints have long fielded an elite O-line bookended by Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead, but 2022 could see a steep decline in the unit’s overall quality and production. The Bucs, on the other hand, are touted to have a top-five offensive line in part due to Tom Brady’s lightning-fast throw time (Brady recorded a second-fastest average time to throw of 2.35 seconds last year), which makes the O-line’s job much easier.

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We’re all rooting for the Saints to make a huge comeback and thump the Bucs en route to winning the NFC South, but the truth isn’t so optimistic. NOLA suffered offensive line issues all throughout 2021, and unfortunately, the team could be in for an even bumpier ride this upcoming season.