The Saints could be back at something resembling full strength on offense when they face the Bears at 4:40 p.m. Eastern time Sunday at the Superdome in an opening-round NFC playoff matchup on CBS, Nickelodeon and Amazon Prime.
The Saints, the NFC’s No. 2 seed, would host the fifth-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round next weekend if they win this game. That would make for a postseason quarterbacking matchup of Drew Brees vs. Tom Brady. First, the Saints must deal with the seventh-seeded Bears.
New Orleans activated running back Alvin Kamara from the covid-19 reserve list and wide receiver Michael Thomas from the injured reserve list Saturday.
Kamara’s 10-day isolation after his positive test for the coronavirus ran through Saturday. He would not have been eligible to play if the Saints had been scheduled to play Saturday. To be activated, he needed to remain asymptomatic and receive medical clearance. He participated in Saints’ practices virtually during the week. Kamara missed the regular season finale after scoring six rushing touchdowns, tying the single-game NFL record, in his most recent game, a 52-33 triumph over the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Day.
Thomas returns after spending the final three games of the regular season on the IR list because of the ankle injury that plagued him all season. Thomas played only seven games during the regular season and had 40 catches, that after he set a single-season NFL record with 149 catches in 2019. Thomas and Brees played only 2-1/2 games together all season, with Brees missing four games because of rib fractures and a collapsed lung.
Now the Saints hope they can pull things together quickly for a Super Bowl run following a regular season in which they went 12-4 despite Coach Sean Payton having to patch together a lineup regularly and find a way to get by with all-purpose standout Taysom Hill making four starts at quarterback in place of Brees. The urgency is high, given this could be Brees’s final NFL season.
The Bears reached the playoffs as a wild card after going 8-8 during the regular season. They had a three-game winning streak ended with a loss to the Green Bay Packers last Sunday in the regular season finale. Before their late-season revival, a six-game losing skid had turned a 5-1 start to the season into a 5-7 predicament. There was talk of Coach Matt Nagy’s job being in jeopardy and a widespread belief that the Bears would move on from quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the former No. 2 overall selection in the NFL draft.
But Trubisky played better down the stretch after regaining the starting job from Nick Foles — not well enough to justify him being drafted ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in 2017, but well enough to get the Bears into the postseason and renew the possibility that he could remain in Chicago.
Trubisky will benefit in this game from the absence of Saints pass rusher Trey Hendrickson. He’s out with a neck injury. Hendrickson was tied for second in the NFL during the regular season with his 13.5 sacks.