Written by Ryan Tantalo – @tantalotakes –

            On Draft Night 2022, the Saints held two picks inside the top 20. New Orleans looked poised to add instant-impact players. In a bold move, the team traded up 5 spots, to 11. Sooner than anticipated, Roger Goodell took the stage. My heart was pounding.

            “With the 11th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints select Chris Olave, Wide Receiver, Ohio State.”


After that pick, and some big offseason moves, the Saints are in position to make the playoffs. 

            In 2021, New Orleans got off to a hot start with Jameis Winston under center. The FSU QB led his team to a 5-2 record, with 14 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Before he tore his ACL, Winston played the most efficient football of his career. He looked like the frontrunner for Comeback Player of the Year. He did it all without Saints’ top receiver Michael Thomas, who sat the whole season with an injury.

            Injuries decimated New Orleans last season. Against the Miami Dolphins, over 20 Saints hit the IR. Remarkably, the Saints remained in playoff contention until the final game of the season.

            In 2022, former Offensive Player of the Year, Michael Thomas starts the season healthy. Opposite Thomas, the Saints added Olave. The pair of Ohio State products enrich the Saints receiving corps, and make Winston’s life much easier. 

            In his last full season, Thomas caught the ball an NFL-record 149 times, for 1,725 yards. At OSU, last season, Olave totaled 936 yards and 13 touchdowns in just 11 games. The addition of Olave, opposite Thomas, will give opposing secondaries nightmares.

The Saints also revamped their offensive line with the 19th pick in Thursday’s draft. After losing longtime Offensive Tackle Terron Armstead in free agency, they drafted Trevor Penning to replace him. A massive lineman, standing 6 feet, 7 inches, Penning dominated college football at the FCS level. He played well enough to earn a nomination for the Walter Payton Award, given to the best player offensive player in the NCAA.

Penning lines up opposite All-Pro Tackle Ryan Ramczyk. They stabilize an offensive line tasked with protecting Winston and allowing him to feed his new receivers. The whole unit benefits from playing alongside Running Back Alvin Kamara, who averages 5.8 yards-per-touch in his career. Kamara is a premier dual-threat player, making the Saints’ offense one of the most versatile in the league.

Kamara is awaiting a hearing in his battery case. A suspension is possible, but I believe he will play at least 10 games this season. In the meantime, New Orleans might hav to survive with a backup halfback. It hurts, but it’s not a backbreaker.

Their offense is still much stronger than last year.

While the Saints look to improve their scoring numbers, defense remains their biggest strength. Despite the dozens of injuries they suffered last season, elite defense carried them to a 9-8 record. By Week 17, Pro Football Focus ranked New Orleans’ D as the fourth best in the NFL.

The Saints’ defense allowed them to compete with every opponent they faced, even when their own offense was forced to play with backups and undrafted players. The unit stepped up when it counted, perhaps most notably in their second matchup with the defending champs, Tampa Bay. The Saints shut out Tom Brady and the Bucs, 9-0, and intercepted Brady late in the game to seal the deal.

            Defensively, the Saints can get after the passer, stuff the run, and force turnovers. They allowed less than 20 points per game last season. The team should continue that success, especially after their most recent acquisition: free agent Safety Tyrann Mathieu. They added a three-time All-Pro to an already stacked defense. The New Orleans native, and LSU standout, brings competitive fire, playoff experience, and leadership to the team.

            The Saints defensive backfield now comprises Marshon Lattimore, Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Maye, and C. J. Gardner-Johnson. It’s arguably the best secondary in the NFL.

Coaching is the Saints’ biggest question mark. They lost Super Bowl Champion Head Coach Sean Payton, and promoted Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen to fill his spot. Losing the offensive genius of Payton stings, but Allen deserved the promotion. He led the top-tier defense all last season, and commanded the team to their shutout over Tampa, when Payton missed the game due to COVID-19.

            New Orleans promoted Payton’s longtime assistant Pete Carmichael Jr. to Offensive Coordinator. Carmichael coached under Payton during Payton’s entire tenure with the Saints. According to Sports Illustrated, Carmichael ran the Saints offense in 2012. That season, they had the best passing offense in the NFL.

            Building off of a solid 2021 season, in which the team overcame injuries and setbacks, the Saints are poised to break out. They added new weapons, got healthy, and kept their leadership mostly intact.

Expect the team to add at least a couple of wins to last year’s total.

Football Loses an Icon – John Madden Dies at 85

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by Ryan Tantalo (@tantalotakes) 12/28/2021

(Photo by Craig Sjodin/ABC/Walt Disney Television via Getty images) JOHN MADDEN

Ask any football fan to count down the greatest and most influential figures in the sport and John Madden’s name will fly right out. 

Some know John Madden for his Madden NFL video game, which has sold over 100 million copies since the first edition “John Madden Football” was released in 1988. Others know him for his illustrious tenure as an NFL color commentator on all 4 major TV Networks (ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS). And many more know him for his Hall of Fame NFL Head Coaching career. Regardless of how John Madden entered football fans’ lives, his impact on the game of pro football is undeniable.

During 10 seasons with the Oakland Raiders, Madden led the team to a  103-32-7 record, and a Super Bowl XI title over the Minnesota Vikings 32-14. His .759 winning percentage is second all time in NFL history.

As a TV analyst, Madden’s personality and knowledge of the game became must-watch entertainment for football fans across the world. He had an unmatched ability to explain the nuance of the game while still keeping things understandable and fun for fans of all interest levels. His iconic quotes throughout a career that included 16 Emmys are innumerable, but here are some of my favorites:

“Hey, the offensive linemen are the biggest men on the field, they’re bigger than everybody else, and that’s what makes them the biggest men on the field.”

– John Madden

“If the quarterback throws the ball in the end zone and the wide receiver catches it, it’s a touchdown.”

– John Madden

Bomani Jones summed up Madden’s impact as a commentator in his tweet following the legend’s passing:

Madden set the standard for football broadcasting and helped to inspire the next generations of commentators and analysts.

In all of Madden’s work, his passion for the game of football was evident. He had a natural ability to spread knowledge and joy for the game, and was an instrumental piece in growing football to America’s #1 sport. 

Even after his retirements from coaching and TV commentating, Madden’s fingerprints are all over the NFL. His Madden NFL football video game is one of the highest-selling game franchises of all time. Madden is directly responsible for thousands, if not millions, of young fans learning about the game of football and becoming invested in the league. His games harness all the great things about football; the excitement, the great talent of the players, and an emphasis on fun above all else. 

John Madden’s passing today will strike the hearts of football fans of all ages and backgrounds. He embodied the greatness of the NFL for multiple generations of fans and left a lasting impact on so many lives.

Fans around the world will mourn his loss.

He was 85 years old.

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Bills defeat Patriots 33-21, retake 1st place in AFC East

by Ryan Tantalo (@tantalotakes) , 12/26/2021

Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

Following their week 13 thumping of the Bills on Monday Night Football, the New England Patriots looked like the clear AFC East frontrunner. On that windy night in Orchard Park, Buffalo’s run defense allowed 222 yards and the Bills were outgained in total yardage despite the fact that Pats’ QB Mac Jones only completed 1 pass attempt all game. Although Bills’ safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer adamantly denied being “embarrassed”, the Bills were thoroughly out-played and out-coached in that 14-10 loss.

Fast forward to today, a Week 16 rematch on the Patriots’ home turf. The 8-6 Bills, fresh off of a win against Carolina, were looking to get revenge against their division rival. New England (9-5) came in hoping to put the AFC East Division race to bed. The Bills knew the most important step towards achieving victory would be stopping the rush attack of Damien Harris and forcing rookie QB Mac Jones to throw the ball as many times as possible. Buffalo also needed to be more disciplined and aggressive on offense, as they only reached the end zone 1 time in the previous matchup.

Buffalo met the “aggressiveness” bill early; a gutsy 4th-and-goal touchdown conversion in the first quarter set the tone for this game and put Buffalo in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the contest. The Bills’ offense tacked on 10 more points before halftime, largely due to the breakout contribution of Isaiah McKenzie, who led the Bills with 125 receiving yards in the game, and Buffalo went to the locker room up 17-7.

Unlike the first matchup, New England was forced to play from behind in the second half, and couldn’t lean on their rushing attack as heavily. Damien Harris still had a stellar performance, with 103 yards on the ground and 3 touchdowns, but the Patriots attack was stifled on 3rd down (1/10 conversion) and Mac Jones was pressured into a poor performance with 14/32 completions (44%) and 2 crucial interceptions. The conservative, methodical offense of Week 13 was not present today and the Pats’ lagged behind Buffalo’s speedy, high-powered unit.

Speaking of the Bills’ offense, this game was a showcase for Josh Allen and his array of weapons. The Wyoming product completed 30/47 passes for 314 yards and 3 tds. Even without receivers Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis, Allen found his usual target Stefon Diggs (7 rec, 85 yds, 1 td) and fed Isaiah McKenzie 11 times including crucial conversions on multiple scoring drives. The surprise star McKenzie had a career day with 125 yds and 1 touchdown.

The largest weakness today for the Bills was their running game, which has been a problem all season. Josh Allen was once again the leading Buffalo rusher with 64 yards, more than starting RB Devin Singletary’s total of 39 yards on the same number of carries (12). It’s hard to find many faults in the Bills’ offensive performance today, but the production out of their running backs is still cause for some moderate concern as playoff time approaches.

Today’s game was one of the biggest and most satisfying regular season wins in recent memory for the Bills. Beating your most hated rival is always sweet, but it’s even sweeter when you steal 1st place from them with just 2 games left in a tense and trying season.

Buffalo’s remaining games are both at home vs the 7-8 Falcons and 4-11 Jets.