Aug 26, 2018; Arlington, TX, USA; Network television commentator Al Michaels before the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Al Michaels to call one playoff game for NBC as ‘emeritus’ contributor

Al Michaels and NBC Sports have reached an agreement that will keep Michaels on in an “emeritus role” going forward.

NBC announced the deal Tuesday, saying Michaels will continue to contribute to the network’s coverage of the NFL playoffs and the Olympics.

Michaels, 77, anchored NBC Sports’ “Sunday Night Football” broadcast team beginning in 2006, and his contract expired following the Super Bowl in February. NBC opted to promote Mike Tirico to the primary play-by-play announcer of “Sunday Night Football” alongside color commentator Cris Collinsworth.

Michaels, meanwhile, signed with Amazon to be the play-by-play voice of the company’s new “Thursday Night Football” broadcasts beginning next season.

Reports said Michaels will call one of NBC’s three playoff games next year with a partner yet to be named. Tirico and Collinsworth will handle the other games.

“I’m looking forward to continuing my longtime NBC relationship while also launching the Thursday Night Football package on Amazon this fallk,” Michaels said in a press release.

Michaels matched Pat Summerall by calling his 11th Super Bowl in February.

At Amazon, he will partner with ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit on “Thursday Night Football” broadcasts. Herbstreit will continue in his role as ESPN’s lead college football commentator.

–Field Level Media

Jan 23, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce catches the game-winning touchdown in overtime in the AFC Divisional Round at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Germano-USA TODAY NETWORK

Nfl Afc Divisional Round Buffalo Bills At Kansas City Chiefs

NFL owners approve OT rules adjustment for playoffs

NFL owners on Tuesday approved a proposal to modify its overtime rule in the playoffs by ensuring both teams have a possession.

The proposal was brought forth by the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles.

Per ESPN, teams that won the overtime coin flip posted a 10-2 record in the playoffs, with seven of those wins coming on the opening possession.

Overtime in the regular season will remain under the current rules, with the game ending should one team score a touchdown on its opening possession regardless if the other side has touched the ball.

The change to the overtime rule in the playoffs comes on the heels of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 42-36 win over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Divisional round on Jan. 23.

The Chiefs won the coin toss prior to the start of overtime and elected to receive the ball.

Tight end Travis Kelce reeled in an 8-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to cap an eight-play, 75-yard drive on the first possession of overtime.

Quarterback Josh Allen and the Buffalo offense did not have a chance to respond.

–Field Level Media

Jan 15, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary (26) runs for a touchdown during the second quarter of the AFC Wild Card playoff game against the New England Patriots at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Allen throws for 5 TDs as Bills maul Patriots

Josh Allen passed for 308 yards and five touchdowns as the third-seeded Buffalo Bills dominated the visiting New England Patriots 47-17 in an AFC wild-card matchup on Saturday night in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Allen (21-of-25 passing) guided the Bills to touchdown drives on their first seven possessions, a first for any team in a postseason game in the Super Bowl era. Devin Singletary rushed for 81 yards and two touchdowns for the Bills.

The Bills became the first playoff team since at least 1950 to not punt or attempt a field goal and go the full game without a turnover.

Allen added 66 yards rushing on six rushes. He became the third player in NFL playoff history to throw for five or more touchdowns while tossing fewer than five imcompletions and no interceptions.

“We were ready to play. A lot of preparation went into this one,” Allen told the CBS broadcast in a postgame interview. “We just kept the momentum rolling all day today.”

Buffalo will face either Kansas City or Cincinnati in the divisional round next weekend.

Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones went 24-of-38 passing for 232 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his first playoff start. Kendrick Bourne had seven catches for a team-high 77 yards and two scores for New England.

The Patriots were playing their first playoff game without Tom Brady at quarterback since a loss at Jacksonville in the wild-card round on Jan. 3, 1999.

It was the first playoff meeting between the AFC East rivals since a then-Boston Patriots team earned a 26-8 win at War Memorial Stadium in Buffalo on Dec. 28, 1963, in a divisional round game. The teams split their two regular-season meetings this season.

“It’s disappointing, especially when there’s no more games after this,” Patriots linebacker Matt Judon said. “Everything was kind of frustrating, honestly. … When they [are] hitting on all phases … that’s very hard to stop [as] a team. It was their night tonight.”

Allen led the Bills to touchdown drives in each of their four first-half possessions as Buffalo built a 27-3 halftime lead. It marked the largest halftime deficit for the Patriots in coach Bill Belichick’s tenure.

Jones was intercepted on the Patriots’ opening drive of the second half. On the next drive, Allen hit Emmanuel Sanders on a 34-yard bomb for another touchdown to make it 33-3 at the 8:48 mark of the third.

With the game already in hand, Jones tossed a three-yard pass to Bourne for the QB’s first postseason TD with 4:12 to go in the third.

Allen added a 19-yard scoring pass to Gabriel Davis and a one-yard TD toss to offensive lineman Tommy Doyle in the fourth quarter as the Bills ran up the score. Jones added another four-yard TD toss to Bourne late in the fourth.

Buffalo marched 70 yards on nine plays on the game’s opening drive to score as Allen found Dawson Knox for an eight-yard TD with 9:45 left in the first quarter.

On the ensuing drive, Jones drove the Patriots to the Bills’ 34-yard-line before his pass intended for wideout Nelson Agholor was intercepted by Micah Hyde in the end zone for a touchdown.

Allen and Knox connected again for an 11-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left in the quarter to make it 14-0.

Singletary had a pair of TD rushes in the second quarter, scoring on a three-yard rush with 7:20 on the clock and again on a 16-yard scamper with 1:53 remaining.

Nick Folk’s 44-yard field goal six seconds before halftime put New England on the board.

–Field Level Media

Jan 9, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson (2) celebrates with punter A.J. Cole (6) and tight end Foster Moreau (87) after kicking a game-winning field goal in overtime against the Los Angeles Chargers at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Raiders beat Chargers on OT field goal to clinch playoff spot

Derek Carr threw a pair of touchdown passes to Hunter Renfrow and Daniel Carlson kicked the last of his five field goals as time expired in overtime as the Las Vegas Raiders clinched a spot in the NFL playoff field by holding on for a 35-32 victory Sunday night over the visiting Los Angeles Chargers.

Carr went 20-of-36 passing for 186 yards as Las Vegas (10-7) won its last four games to earn a trip to Cincinnati for a wild-card game Saturday.

Adding to the drama was that a tie game would have put both teams in the playoffs. Instead, the Raiders’ victory eliminated the Chargers and allowed the Pittsburgh Steelers to make the playoff field.

Carlson kicked a 40-yard field goal on the first possession of OT to give the Raiders a 32-29 lead, with the Chargers tying the game 32-all on a 41-yard kick from Dustin Hopkins with 4:30 remaining in the extra period. Carlson won it on a 47-yarder on the final play of OT as the Raiders advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert completed 34 of 64 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. Austin Ekeler had a rushing and receiving TD for the Chargers (9-8), while Mike Williams had nine catches for 119 yards.

The Raiders appeared to be in control when they took a 29-14 lead with 8:23 remaining after a 52-yard field goal by Carlson, which followed a 2-yard TD catch from Renfrow in the opening minute of the final quarter.

But the Chargers forced overtime after a 23-yard TD catch from Joshua Palmer on fourth down with 4:28 remaining, plus a 2-point conversion, and a TD catch from Mike Williams on the final play of regulation to cap a 19-play, 83-yard drive.

The Raiders burst out to a 10-0 lead less than 12 minutes into the game on a Carlson field goal and a 12-yard touchdown reception by Renfrow.

The Chargers’ answer came in the form of two second-quarter TDs from Ekeler, the first on a 14-yard run and the second on a 14-yard reception from Herbert to take a 14-10 lead 1:52 before halftime.

The Raiders got a Josh Jacobs 1-yard TD run with 37 seconds remaining before the break to take a 17-14 advantage.

–Field Level Media

Oct 14, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) and center Ryan Jensen (66) in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

NFL announces six-game wild-card schedule

The NFL announced the wild-card playoff schedule on Sunday night, providing an early look at the six-game slate that will take place next Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Saturday’s postseason action kicks off at 4:30 p.m. ET., when the Cincinnati Bengals will host the Las Vegas Raiders on NBC.

Fourth-seeded Cincinnati (10-7) captured the AFC North title, while fifth-seeded Las Vegas (10-7) completed a roller-coaster regular season Sunday night by sneaking into the playoffs with a last-second 35-32 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Bengals and Raiders met Nov. 21 in Las Vegas with the Bengals prevailing 32-13.

In Saturday’s nightcap, the Buffalo Bills will host their AFC East rivals, the New England Patriots, in an 8:15 p.m. ET kickoff on CBS.

The third-seeded Bills (11-6) won the division for the second straight year, while the sixth-seeded Patriots (10-7) are back in the postseason following a one-year absence. This will be the third meeting between the teams in just over a month, with each team previously winning on the opponent’s home field in December.

The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers will open their title defense Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on FOX against the visiting Philadelphia Eagles.

The Buccaneers (13-4) earned the NFC’s No. 2 seed after winning the NFC South, while the Eagles (9-8) slipped into the playoffs with a late-season, four-game winning streak. Tampa Bay won 28-22 in Philadelphia on Oct. 14.

Sunday’s second contest (4:30 p.m. ET, CBS) pits the third-seeded Dallas Cowboys against the sixth-seeded San Francisco 49ers, two proud franchises seeking their first Super Bowl titles since the 1990s.

The NFC East champion Cowboys (12-5) won five of their final six games and will look to continue that momentum against the visiting Niners (10-7). San Francisco got into the postseason Sunday by rallying from a 17-0 deficit to stun the Los Angeles Rams 27-24 in overtime.

Another overtime winner on Sunday was the Pittsburgh Steelers, who slipped past the Baltimore Ravens to secure the final playoff spot in the AFC. Their prize is a wild-card matchup with the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs.

Second-seeded Kansas City (12-5) will host seventh-seeded Pittsburgh (9-7-1) at 8:15 p.m. ET on Sunday on NBC. The AFC West champion Chiefs have won nine of their last 10 games, including a 36-10 victory over the Steelers on Dec. 26.

The final game of wild-card weekend, which will take place Monday at 8:15 p.m. ET. on ABC/ESPN, features the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Rams and the fifth-seeded Arizona Cardinals. The host Rams (12-5) captured the NFC West title by finishing a game ahead of the Cardinals (11-6). Each team won on the other’s home field earlier this season.

The No. 1 seeds are the Green Bay Packers in the NFC and the Tennessee Titans in the AFC. Each team will face the lowest remaining seed in their conference in the divisional playoff round Jan. 22 and 23.

–Field Level Media

Dec 26, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Micah Parsons (11) rushes against Washington Football Team offensive tackle Sam Cosmi (76) in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Dr. Allen Sills: NFL bracing for COVID surge as playoffs begin

There’s one wildcard the NFL expects to crash the playoffs: COVID-19.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills said on Thursday that overseas patters of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus indicate the NFL should brace for high numbers the next “2-3 weeks.”

“When we start talking about projecting where we’re going to be, I like to quote that great medical scientist Yogi Berra, who says it’s really difficult to make projections, especially about the future,” Sills said in an NFL Network interview. “If we’ve learned anything, it’s that COVID can take us a lot of different directions. If this follows the trend we’ve seen in other countries, we do expect there will be a rapid decline with Omicron.

“I would see us being in the thick of this the next 2-3 weeks. Then hopefully seeing declining cases as we get later in our playoffs. We’ve been wrong about where this thing goes before.”

Several prominent players were among the lot added to the COVID/reserve list this week, including front-and-center starters for playoff teams such as Bengals running back Joe Mixon, Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith and Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons.

Parsons is officially out for Sunday’s game and won’t travel to Philadelphia with the team.

Protocol for COVID-19 testing and return to play shifted along with CDC guidelines shortening quarantine periods from 10 days to five days.

For playoff teams, that makes next Tuesday and Wednesday critical for testing, although asymptomatic, vaccinated players can be cleared before the five-day quarantine window.

An unvaccinated player testing positive next Tuesday would not be cleared to return for a Saturday wild-card game. The same is true of Wednesday testing for players scheduled to play wildcard Sunday.

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday the team is opening hotel rooms at the team headquarters, The Star, for players planning to create a “bubble” environment for the playoffs.

–Field Level Media

Oct 24, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury looks on as Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) warms up prior to the game against the Houston Texans at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals eye NFC West crown, wary of wounded Seahawks

Arizona clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2015, but the Cardinals have plenty to play for on Sunday.

The Cardinals can still win the NFC West title and earn a home playoff game by taking care of business against the Seattle Seahawks — and getting some help — in Week 18.

The Cardinals (11-5) are a game behind the Los Angeles Rams in the division chase entering Sunday’s regular-season finale with the Seahawks (6-10) in Glendale, Ariz.

Last week, the Cardinals snapped a three-game losing streak with a 25-22 victory at Dallas as Kyler Murray completed 26 of 38 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 44 yards.

The Cardinals are just 3-4 at home, having lost four in a row.

“I think we just gotta play better at home. I think that’s what it comes down to. Nothing more, nothing less,” Murray said. “I definitely feel like as a team, it’s about getting hot at the right time and going into the playoffs. You wouldn’t want to go into the playoffs feeling how we felt three weeks ago, that’s for sure. I think that was a good head start to win this past Sunday and hopefully get the job done this weekend that we can feel even better going into the playoffs.”

Running back James Connor, whose 14 rushing touchdowns are two shy of the franchise record, missed two games in a row with a heel injury and has been limited in practice this week.

Chase Edmonds rushed for a game-high 53 yards against the Cowboys before leaving with an ankle injury and is also questionable for Sunday’s game.

“We’ll see how they progress in the next couple days. I don’t know how much we’ll use them, but we want to make sure they’re ready for the playoffs,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Connor and Edmonds. “That’s when we’ve been at our best when both guys are healthy and getting to play and taking some snaps off of each other. We’d like to get back to that …”

The Seahawks will finish with a losing record for the first time in the decade-long Russell Wilson/Bobby Wagner era. Seattle snapped a two-game skid last weekend with a 51-29 victory against visiting Detroit.

Wilson threw four touchdown passes – three to DK Metcalf – and Rashaad Penny rushed for a career-high 170 yards and two scores.

“Watching the film against Detroit, they were tremendous in all three phases, playing hard, playing to win,” Kingsbury said. “You would never guess that they aren’t going to the playoffs, honestly watching that team play.”

Wagner suffered a knee injury on Detroit’s first offensive play and didn’t return. The linebacker said he hopes to play Sunday.

“I think it’s just always important to try your best to finish what you start,” Wagner said. “So regardless of how the things play out, you never want your circumstances or what’s going on around you to dictate whether or not you’re going to play or how hard you’re going to play.”

Wagner is one of 10 Seahawks who have missed practice this week with injuries. The list includes linebacker Carlos Dunlap II (ankle), safety Quandre Diggs (knee) and tight end Will Dissly (heel).

The Cardinals won earlier this season in Seattle 23-13 behind backup quarterback Colt McCoy, who threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns. Conner scored on a 1-yard run with 2:20 remaining to clinch the victory.

–Field Level Media

Oct 4, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) prepares to take the snap against the Las Vegas Raiders at SoFi Stadium. The Chargers defeated the Raiders 28-14. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Raiders, Chargers serve Week 18 nightcap playoff play-in style

Only one game remains Sunday when the afternoon slate of games is complete. The league can unofficially welcome the start of the playoffs, when the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders put the cap on the 2021 regular season in the nighttime finale.

A meeting of 9-7 AFC West rivals in the final game of the league’s first 17-game regular season includes this kicker: the winner earns a spot in the NFL playoffs.

“We know what’s at stake,” Chargers defensive lineman Justin Jones said.

Los Angeles arrives feeling fortunate to still be kicking on the heels of a humbling 41-29 defeat at lowly Houston in Week 16. The Chargers bounced back last week with a convincing 34-13 victory over the Denver Broncos.

Drama has met the Raiders at multiple turns this season and they, too, appeared to be left for dead following a 48-9 thrashing by the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 12. The Raiders were 6-7 with a schedule dominated by likely playoff teams. But they closed with three consecutive victories, including a 23-20 nail-biter last week at favored Indianapolis.

Aside from playoff implications, the quarterback showdown has its own intrigue. The Chargers’ Justin Herbert got the best of the more experienced Derek Carr of the Raiders in Week 4.

Herbert threw three first-half touchdowns against the Raiders but the Chargers had to scramble late to secure a 28-14 victory. Carr had two TD passes in the third quarter to make it interesting.

Yet all signs point to the Chargers running the ball Sunday. Austin Ekeler had a career-high 117 yards in the victory over the Raiders and the Los Angeles rushing attack has been improved of late with an average of 134.3 yards over the last four games.

“I feel like we’ve been able to establish some continuity here in the second half of the season,” Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said. “I think you’ve seen that in how we’ve run the football the last three, four games. That has been a strength of ours. It makes us a much more difficult offense to defend.”

Ekeler has rushed for at least 50 yards in 12 games this season. The Chargers are 9-3 in those contests.

In a tumultuous season, the Raiders have shown staying power. The last-second 33-yard field goal last week to give the Raiders a 23-20 victory over the Colts was Daniel Carlson’s fifth game-ending kick for a victory this season.

Through it all, the Raiders have overcome the resignation of head coach Jon Gruden, the tragedy of a deadly car crash involving former wide receiver Henry Ruggs III and the release of cornerback Damon Arnette following a video that included death threats. Cornerback Nate Hobbs was arrested on a misdemeanor DUI charge.

And last week, former Raiders head coaching legend John Madden passed away.

All eyes will be focused toward Carr on Sunday to see if he can get the Raiders through a win-or-go-home challenge.

After the Chargers’ victory over the Raiders earlier this season, star Los Angeles defensive end Joey Bosa said of the Raiders’ QB: “Great dude, great player … but we know once you get pressure on him, he kind of shuts down.”

Carr’s chance at a retort has arrived. He is just 72 passing yards away from breaking Rich Gannon’s single-season franchise record of 4,689 set in 2002.

“To be completely honest, I feel like that’s kind of been the feeling around our team and around my heart the last month,” Carr said about the do-or-die scenario. “… It’s exciting, it’s against a division team but nothing changes. I always say, if you have to change something in your preparation, you’re not playing the right way.”

Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (ribs) and tight end Darren Waller were limited in practice Wednesday, while defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins did not participate. Waller, defensive end Carl Nassib and guard Jordan Simmons were activated off the reserve/COVID list.

Chargers defensive lineman Joe Gaziano (ankle) and center Corey Linsley (back) did not participate, while linebacker Drue Tranquill (ankle) was limited.

–Field Level Media

Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) gestures after running back Alvin Kamara (41) scored his sixth touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday NFL wild-card playoff picks, predictions and props

The final three games on NFL wild-card weekend present unprecedented betting options for the opening round of the postseason.

Field Level Media identified a few numbers of note entering the tournament with a breakdown of Sunday’s tripleheader:

Sunday, January 10
Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Tennessee Titans (11-5)
1:05 p.m. ET
Line: Ravens -3
Over/Under: 54.5

Preview: The Ravens are rolling with five wins in a row, fully rebounded from a 30-24 overtime loss to the Titans in November. Tennessee handled Baltimore easily last January, ending Baltimore’s bid for a Super Bowl run behind league MVP Lamar Jackson.

The Titans aren’t perfect, but home underdogs? What might contribute to oddsmakers’ thinking is the short circuiting of Tennessee’s defense the past two weeks.

While Derrick Henry rolled to 250 rushing yards last week, Tennessee was scorched for 38 points by the Texans one week after the Packers slapped 40 on the Titans.

Enter the Ravens, who have scored 34 points or more in four of the past five games.

Prediction: Titans 29, Ravens 27

Player prop: Ravens TE Mark Andrews anytime TD, -140

Andrews is the dependable red-zone target for Jackson and had 7-96-1 against the Titans in the Nov. 22 game.

Chicago Bears (8-8) at New Orleans Saints (12-4)
4:40 p.m. ET
Line: Saints -9.5
Over/Under: 47.5

Preview: Chicago stumbled into the playoffs, reaching the wild-card round after a Week 17 loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Bears pushed the Saints to overtime in a home game last month and have a defense capable of putting a scare in the Saints.

The Saints are hopeful they’ll be at full strength with RB Alvin Kamara (COVID-19) and WR Michael Thomas (ankle) likely to be available Sunday.

As the No. 2 seed, New Orleans is the clear favorite. But the Saints have also thrown out enough clunkers (vs. Eagles, Raiders) to indicate this won’t be a Sunday stroll.

Prediction: Saints 30, Bears 23

Player prop: Saints QB Drew Brees over 280.5 passing yards

Sean Payton doesn’t get enough credit for his commitment to the ground game. Playoff losses, including the wild-card loss to the Minnesota Vikings last January, leave his scripts open to question. Brees knows this Bears’ defense well, including completing 75 percent of his passes with two touchdowns in the Nov. 1 overtime win.

Cleveland Browns (11-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
8:15 p.m. ET
Line: Steelers -6
Over/Under: 47.5

Preview: Two massive losses for the Browns, head coach Kevin Stefanski and guard Joel Bitonio, hit before midweek due to COVID-19. They’ll be felt early and often.

Bitonio has one of the best pass-blocking win rates in the NFL this season, and that’s massive facing the Steelers’ 3-4 defense. Stefanski won’t be in the building Sunday night, and the impact on continuity of the offense and QB Baker Mayfield is profound.

Are the Steelers flawless? Nowhere near. They are rested, and relatively healthy, and at home in a matchup Ben Roethlisberger has won repeatedly.

Prediction: Steelers 29, Browns 20

Player prop: Nick Chubb over 70.5 rushing yards

Sidelined by a knee injury for the first meeting, Chubb averaged 7.7 yards per carry against the Steelers last week and hasn’t topped 20 carries since Nov. 22. Chubb is likely to get the ball early and often.

–Field Level Media

Dec 6, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) holds on to the ball while being tackled by Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell (24)  during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Saints in ‘wait and see’ mode with WR Michael Thomas

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas is set to test his injured ankle in practice on Wednesday, opening the possibility he will play in Sunday’s NFC wildcard game against the Chicago Bears.

Head coach Sean Payton plans a cautious approach with Thomas, with the expectation he will be limited to side work with trainers for at least the first two practices this week.

Thomas was placed on injured reserve to allow his high ankle sprain to heal. The ankle has been problematic since midseason for Thomas, a 2019 All-Pro who had 149 receptions a year ago.

Thomas had 40 receptions in 2020.

“Currently he’s still on reserve-injured. I know he’s been working at it. But we’ll get a better feel this week how he’s progressing,” Payton said Wednesday.

The Saints are 9.5-point favorites over the visiting Bears in a rematch of their Nov. 2 overtime game at Soldier Field. The Saints won that game, 26-23, but blew a 10-point lead.

Thomas did not play in that game and last took the field Dec. 13.

His long reception this season was just 24 yards. Last season, he had at least a 24-yard gain in 12 games, including the wildcard loss to the Vikings.

–Field Level Media