NEW ORLEANS, LA. -- Following an eventful start to Super Wild Card Weekend, the NFC matchup between the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints is set to kickoff on Sunday at 4:40 p.m. (ET) from the Big Easy.
The two teams last crossed paths in Week 8—an eventful game in which Chicago’s then-backup QB Nick Foles orchestrated a late-4th quarter comeback down 10 points with roughly 3 and a half minutes remaining in regulation.
A 3-yard touchdown pass to WR Darnell Mooney brought the team within a single-score before Foles led a final-second drive that set up a 51-yard field goal from Cairo Santos, extending the game into overtime.
After almost the entire extra period of play, however, it was Wil Lutz’s foot that claimed victory for the boys in black-and-gold, winning 26-23.
But, as with any other game on this weekend’s slate, the playoffs bring forth unprecedented change, motivation, and desperation, unlike that of any regular-season matchup.
Most notably, the Bears have since returned back to their primary starting QB, Mitch Trubisky, who ironically suffered a shoulder injury on his 1st snap of the Week 8 game vs. New Orleans.
His main target Allen Robinson has been a trustworthy option all season, totaling well-over 1,000 receiving yards. Robinson will become a free agent this offseason as well, providing some extra urgency for the team to make a deep playoff run.
Meanwhile, David Montgomery has established himself as one of the most consistent running backs over the past 6 weeks, running for 598 yards while finding the endzone 7 times on the ground. The only other running backs with more rushing touchdowns in that timespan include Derrick Henry and his opposing counterpart on Sunday, Alvin Kamara.
Perhaps as the most reliable and consistent running back week in and week out this season, Kamara has occasionally made a case for the league’s MVP candidacy.
Through his versatility on the ground and through the air, he poses a difficult challenge not only for Chicago, which ranks low in both categories, but for any defense—just ask the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings.
And that’s if he’s even available to play in Sunday’s game.
The star running back was prevented from playing in the team’s Week 17 finale against Carolina or practicing in-person due to a positive COVID-19 test result, temporarily leaving his status for the Wild Card Round up-in-the-air. The rest of his position mates were also held out as close-contacts of the 2020 Pro Bowler, allowing Ty Montgomery to fill in off of the practice squad.
To the Saints’ advantage, the NFL’s scheduling of their Wild Card game on Sunday permits Kamara to be eligible to return, clearing the league’s required 10-day quarantine period with multiple negative tests. Earlier in the week, Kamara himself envisioned no further setbacks, releasing a simple statement on his Twitter account Thursday that stated, “See y’all Sunday.”
By Saturday afternoon, the team officially announced that Kamara has been elevated to the active roster (pending final clearance before the game) alongside the anticipated return of WR Michael Thomas.
Thomas, who had repeatedly battled throughout the season with a lingering ankle injury sustained back in Week 1, was placed on IR before Week 15 and for the remainder of the regular season. He now looks to reclaim his status as the most valuable asset to the receiving corps.
Separately, the New Orleans defense has terrorized opposing quarterbacks, especially in the forefront, with LB Demario Davis and DE Cameron Jordan both playing significant roles, combining for 11.5 sacks this season.
Though, they’ll be taking the field without a key piece this weekend in the form of DE Trey Hendrickson. The 4th-year breakout star, who finished tied with Aaron Donald for the league’s 2nd most sacks during the season, has been ruled out as a result of a persisting neck injury.
As far as one of the game’s all-time greatest passers is concerned, Drew Brees could be suiting up for his final playoff run.
After 20 seasons in the league, Drew Brees will reportedly hang up the cleats for good at the end of the season, ending a Hall of Fame career that accomplished nearly every major accolade the game has to offer.
And there could be no better way to cap off his legacy in the city of New Orleans than by hoisting another Lombardi trophy in Super Bowl LV.
PREDICTION: Saints, 28-24