New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton on Alvin Kamara's availability Sunday: 'We'll see'

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints are expecting to get receiver Michael Thomas back from injured reserve in time for Sunday's playoff opener against the Chicago Bears. When asked if running back Alvin Kamara could potentially join him, coach Sean Payton said, "We'll see."

The No. 2-seeded Saints (12-4) caught a scheduling break when their game was slated for Sunday afternoon instead of Saturday -- since Sunday is the first day that Kamara will be eligible to return from the reserve/COVID 19 list if he passes all of the COVID protocols throughout the week.

However, Kamara will not be able to practice or be around the team before game day.

"Obviously anything during the week will have to be Zoom (meetings)," said Payton, who was asked Monday if he would consider using Kamara or any other player in a playoff game despite being away from the team all week.

"I think it would depend on the player and the situation," Payton said. "But a lot of that will be just our decision based on where we think we are with the week, the player. We gotta be smart."

Kamara's status will also depend on further COVID testing and whether or not he develops symptoms during the week. However, if he is eligible, it would seem likely that the Saints will try to use him in some capacity considering his value to the team.

Kamara just tied a 91-year-old NFL record with six touchdown runs in Week 16 before he was sidelined in Week 17. He led the NFL with 21 touchdowns this season and finished third in the league with 1,688 yards from scrimmage.

With or without Kamara in the lineup, the Saints should have their backup running backs eligible -- including veteran Latavius Murray, who ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears last season while Kamara was injured.

Murray, running back Dwayne Washington and fullback Michael Burton were all ruled out for Week 17 on Saturday because they were deemed as high-risk close contacts with Kamara. All of them will be eligible to return early this week if they don't test positive. Veteran RB/WR Ty Montgomery filled in at the last minute and wound up running for 105 yards in the Saints' 33-7 win at Carolina.

Meanwhile, Thomas is expected back close to full health this week after a minimum three-week stay on injured reserve. That will be big for a Saints offense that has only had Thomas and quarterback Drew Brees healthy on the field together for a total of 10 quarters this season.

Thomas has been battling a nagging ankle sprain all year after he first suffered it in Week 1. He returned in Week 9 and played six more games. But Payton said the team decided to rest him over the final three weeks so the ankle would have time to get as close to 100% as possible.

Brees reiterated on Sunday night that, "I know we get Mike Thomas back -- I think the last three weeks being down have been great for him."

Brees, too, seems to be on the mend from the 11 broken ribs and punctured lung that sidelined him from Weeks 11-14. Brees showed his best rhythm and timing yet in Week 17, completing 22 of 32 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

"Obviously we wanted to end the season continuing to ascend, and I think for me, just continuing to feel healthier and more comfortable each and every week," Brees said after the game.