The NFL schedule makers gave the New Orleans Saints a break.
The Saints will host the Chicago Bears in a wild-card playoff game on Sunday, potentially allowing star running back Alvin Kamara to return from a one-game absence after testing positive for COVID-19.
"A Sunday game he can play," coach Sean Payton said.
Had the Saints been scheduled to play on Saturday, Kamara would not have been eligible to return. As it is, he would have to play against the Bears without having practiced all week.
"Obviously, (any preparation) during the week will have to be Zoomed," Payton said.
Payton wouldn't commit to playing Kamara, who tied an NFL record with six touchdowns in a victory over Minnesota on Christmas Day before testing positive and missing the regular-season finale at Carolina.
"I think it would depend on the player and the situation," Payton said. "A lot of it will be our decision based on where we think we are with the week, the player and we have to be smart."
New Orleans, 12-4 and the second seed in the NFC, didn't miss a beat without Kamara and fellow running backs Latavius Murray and Dwayne Washington, fullback Michael Burton as well as running backs coach Joel Thomas, who all missed the 33-7 victory against the Panthers while quarantined.
Ty Montgomery, who is primarily a wide receiver, rushed for 105 yards on 18 carries.
The Saints hope to get back another key offensive player in All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas, who is on injured reserve but eligible to be activated this week.
In the Saints' 26-23 overtime victory against the host Bears on Nov. 1, Kamara had 163 yards from scrimmage, including a 20-yard run to set up Wil Lutz's winning field goal.
That game was the second of six consecutive losses by the Bears, who had Nick Foles at quarterback.
Mitchell Trubisky has since regained his starting position and the offense has performed better since his return after Foles was injured.
In the six games since Trubisky returned to the starting lineup, he has completed 70 percent of his passes for 1,495 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.
"I feel like I've gotten better over these last couple weeks," Trubisky said.
Since Trubisky's return, Chicago has averaged 30.2 points per game, even after the 35-15 loss to Green Bay last Sunday ended a four-game streak of scoring at least 30 points.
Trubisky's success and that of the offense has coincided with an improved running game.
The Bears (8-8) were averaging 78.2 rushing yards before Trubisky returned to the lineup and they are averaging 144.2 rushing yards since.
The loss to the Packers ended Chicago's three-game winning streak, but it still advanced to the playoffs when the Cardinals lost to the Rams in Week 17.
"These players, they earned it," coach Matt Nagy said. "The last four games of the year, to be where we were at after those six (consecutive losses) wasn't easy, but they fought. And that's a credit to them, that's a credit to our coaches."
New Orleans opened as a 9 1/2-point favorite, making it the biggest favorite in the six games on wild-card weekend.
"(An 8-8 record) is not perfect," Nagy said. "We have a lot of things to get better at, but we can't worry about that. Now what we need to do is worry about everything we can to be the best team that we can on Sunday against the Saints."
--Field Level Media
|11/1/20||NO 26||CHI 23||329||96||233||394||122||272|
|New Orleans||D. Brees||75.6||280||2||0|
|New Orleans||A. Kamara||12||67||5.6||0|
|Chicago||A. Robinson II||6||87||14.5||1|
|New Orleans||A. Kamara||9||96||10.7||0|
|New Orleans||J. Cook||1|
|Season (Regular Season and Playoffs)|
|New Orleans||D. Brees||70.5||2942||24||6|
|New Orleans||A. Kamara||187||932||5.0||16|
|Chicago||A. Robinson II||102||1250||12.3||6|
|New Orleans||A. Kamara||83||756||9.1||5|
|New Orleans||A. Kamara||21|