There's bad, and then there's this. The New Orleans Saints are heading into their regular season finale with the hopes of somehow leapfrogging the Green Bay Packers for the top seed in the NFC, and that's a big deal considering it comes with home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Head coach Sean Payton will have to do his best to make it happen without four-time Pro Bowl running back Alvin Kamara, who tested positive for COVID-19 and has been ruled out for Week 17 (at minimum, but more on that in a minute), but that's not the worst of it for New Orleans -- not by a long shot.
Because of Kamara's positive test result, an entire slate of running backs have reportedly also been ruled out against the Carolina Panthers, per Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, each having been labeled a close contact to the All-Pro. That means the Saints will not only be without Kamara, but also Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, Mike Burton, etc., along with running backs coach Joel Thomas.
Additionally, safety D.J. Swearinger will be ruled out as well, per Jeff Duncan of The Athletic, making things worse for their situation at that position as well -- with both Marcus Williams (ankle) and C.J. Gardner-Johnson (COVID/Reserve) sidelined as well.
Ty Montgomery will be available to take handoffs, however, and the Saints are expected to promote a player from the 16-man practice squad unit as well. Currently, the only true RB on the practice squad is Tony Jones, Jr., an undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame, and there's always the wild card that is Taysom Hill -- whom Payton often uses in packages that see him playing roles other than quarterback. With New Orleans now in a similar situation as the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns before them, those teams having played without quarterbacks and a slew of starting wide receivers, respectively, the ability to adapt will be front and center in a contest that will help determine playoff seeding atop the NFC.
As for the return of Kamara (and others) for the first playoff game, it will depend upon scheduling. Should their first contest be slated for Sunday, Jan. 10, enough time will have expired in which he'd be allowed to return -- contingent upon continued negative tests. If the game is slotted for Saturday, Jan. 9, however, that puts his availability in very real jeopardy and, as such, could be the determining factor in the Saints ability to launch a playoff run.
It's a situation to keep both eyes on in New Orleans, as COVID-19 puts the Saints backs against the wall to start the new year.