January 27, 2021

Bears vs. Saints preview: 5 things to watch in the Wild Card playoff game

The Bears and the New Orleans Saints will meet in the playoffs for the first time since the Bears beat the Saints at Soldier Field in the NFC Championship game in January of 2007.

This time it will be the No. 2-seeded Saints (12-4) hosting the No. 7-seeded Bears (8-8) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The game kicks off at 3:40 p.m. Sunday on CBS and Nickelodeon.

Here are five things to watch:

1. Alvin Kamara’s return?

The Saints’ most dangerous weapon missed Week 17 after testing positive for COVID-19. The earliest he could return would be Sunday, meaning he had to continue to self-isolate throughout the week of practice.

That apparently is no problem for the Saints, who have reportedly set up Kamara with remote access to practice so he can watch as the team sets up its game plan.

Any symptoms or another positive test between now and kickoff would rule Kamara out. The running back doesn’t seem too worried, though. He tweeted “See y’all Sunday” on Thursday night.

With receiver Michael Thomas expected to return from an ankle injury, the Saints could have a full complement of weapons available Sunday.

[Read more: Three things to know about the Bears’ Wild Card playoff opponent, the New Orleans Saints]

2. Bears pass rush

As our columnist Hub Arkush explained, the Bears pass rush might be the single most important piece to the puzzle this week. Despite sacking Drew Brees only once when they faced the Saints on Nov. 1, the Bears found ways to pressure him and disrupt the pocket.

They need to do that again in the Wild Card round. If Brees is well protected, he will find ways to put the ball in the hands of his top weapons. According to Pro Football Reference, the Saints allow pressure on only 17.3% of quarterback dropbacks, which ranks seventh in the NFL.

It will have to be a team effort from the Bears. They need Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols and the rest of their pass rush to find ways to make Brees uncomfortable.

[Hub Arkush: Underdogs for sure, but are the Bears really that much worse than the Saints?]

3. The Saints’ (lack of) playoff luck

It couldn’t happen a fourth time, could it? Saints fans have watched three consecutive playoff appearances end in highly disappointing fashions.

First, there was the “Minneapolis Miracle” when Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs scored a 61-yard touchdown on the last play of the game in a Divisional round matchup following the 2017 regular season.

A year later, there was the no-call pass interference play against the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC championship game, which wound up causing a major rule change. And finally, last season was a heartbreaking overtime loss in the Wild Card round against Minnesota.

Talk about bad luck. Imagine a Cody Parkey double-doink three years in a row?

For a fourth consecutive season, the Saints won double-digit regular season games, but they’re hoping to avoid a similar playoff fate.

4. Is this the return of Jaylon Johnson?

Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson was back at practice this week in a limited capacity following a shoulder injury suffered on Dec. 13 against Houston. If Johnson were healthy enough to play Sunday, that would give the Bears secondary a boost. He is currently listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.

Kindle Vildor and Duke Shelley have logged significant playing time with Johnson and Buster Skrine (concussion) out. Though he’s a rookie, Johnson brings a ton of experience from this season. The Bears will need him, especially with Michael Thomas returning at receiver for New Orleans.

If linebacker Roquan Smith remains out with an elbow injury, the Bears are going to need all the help they can find on defense.

[Read more: ‘No doubt’ Anthony Miller can step up if Darnell Mooney is out vs. Saints]

5. David Montgomery

The Saints have the fourth-best run defense in the NFL (93.9 yards per game), but David Montgomery had a really nice game against them in Week 8. Before the Bears revamped the offensive line alignment and before Mitch Trubisky returned to the starting lineup, Montgomery ran for 89 yards on 21 carries against the Saints.

He’s playing even better now.

That should give the Bears hope that he can continue his hot streak. Montgomery has scored a touchdown in six consecutive games, and scored a rushing touchdown in five consecutive games. The Bears need him to rack up yards and keep the Saints offense off the field.

[Read more: Bears will see C.J. Gardner-Johnson for 1st time since Javon Wims punched him]

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.