NEW ORLEANS SAINTS UPDATE 

lPAYTON SAYS ALL HIS STARTERS WILL PLAY; KAMARA GAINING MOMENTUM

Like all teams heading into Week 17, the New Orleans Saints are a little banged up. Quarterback Drew Brees (knee) and receiver Michael Thomas (hand) were among those on the team's practice report.

The good news is both avoided injury designation on Friday's final injury report.

Better still, head coach Sean Payton insisted he won't be resting players for Sunday's final regular-season battle.

"No, no, no, no, no, no. Absolutely no," Payton said, via ESPN's Mike Triplett. "We're still playing for the 1-, 2- or 3-seed."

That's seven Nos, for those counting.

It's factual that the Saints can finish with any of the top three seeds, but where they end up is largely out of their hands. Payton's NFC South-winning squad is locked into no lower than the No. 3 seed.

New Orleans must beat the 5-10 Carolina Panthers to have a shot at the top spot, but also need a Green Bay Packers loss and a San Francisco 49ers defeat to take the No. 1 seed.

As NFL.com's Kevin Patra explained it, "If the Packers beat the lowly Detroit Lions, losers of eight straight games, the Saints' outcome matters naught. If Green Bay wins, New Orleans is the No. 2 seed if the 49ers lose to Seattle. If the Niners beat the Seahawks and the Packers win, the Saints finish No. 3, behind San Francisco and Green Bay."

With both the Packers and Saints playing in the early-afternoon window tomorrow, Payton could scoreboard watch, and if Green Bay is walloping Detroit, he could decide to yank his starters midway through what at that point would be a truly meaningless game for New Orleans.

Meanwhile, Alvin Kamara finally showed up last week.

As Triplett suggested, "It’s not as simple as flipping a switch. But it sure looked like that’s exactly what Kamara did halfway through the New Orleans Saints' 38-28 victory at Tennessee last Sunday."

“Yeah, a little bit,” Kamara agreed after he scored his first two touchdowns since Week 3 -- a 40-yard run in the third quarter, followed by a 1-yard run on the next drive. “Just to get that burst back. Just get it back going. Like I said last week, I think it’s just a race every week to be as close to 100 percent as you can, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

Kamara acknowledged that he has been trying to get that sensation back ever since he missed two games with knee and ankle injuries in Weeks 7-8.

“Yeah, it felt good. It felt good. That was one of the plays that I’m used to having and I just haven’t had these past couple weeks,” Kamara said. “I think I'm just a little bit healthier, I’m feeling better.”

If that’s the case, the timing couldn’t be better as the Saints head into the playoffs.

This offense could be awfully dangerous with Brees, Thomas, tight end Jared Cook and Kamara all in peak form at the same time.

Up until Sunday, something had just been a tad off with Kamara since he returned from the injuries. He was no longer making the first tackler miss in the same prolific fashion as he had been before the injury.

Through the first four weeks of the season, Kamara ranked third among all NFL running backs with 192 yards after first contact, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Over his next eight games, he had a total of 183.

Kamara hadn’t been playing poorly, necessarily. He has 758 rushing yards and 515 receiving yards in just 13 games played (an average of 97.9 yards from scrimmage). His 4.7 yards per carry are now more than the 4.6 he averaged last season. And he needs just three more catches in Week 17 at Carolina to set a career high for receptions (he had 81 in each of his first two seasons).

But Kamara admitted that he has been battling to get back to 100 percent health throughout the second half of this season. And, of course, he said he would like to score more touchdowns. He had 18 of them last year and 14 of them as a rookie in 2017 before his surprising drop to four this year.

All that said, even with a touchdown since Week 3, Kamara had managed touch totals of 19, 17, 15, 20 and 23 during his previous five games.

And as ESPN's Mike Clay notes, Kamara is fantasy's No. 3-scoring running back since returning from injury in Week 10. He remains a solid weekly RB1 play and should be locked into lineups tomorrow with New Orleans competing for a first-round bye -- for at least part of the game.

Also worth noting. ... Panthers CB James Bradberry shadowed Thomas on 21 of his 40 routes (20 of 22 on the perimeter) when these teams met in Week 12. Thomas had little trouble in the game, catching 10 of 11 targets for 101 yards and one touchdown, with most of that damage coming against Bradberry.

Carolina's top corner shadowed Thomas in both the Week 15 and Week 17 meetings between these teams last season and was much better, holding him to a combined 12 catches for 78 yards and zero touchdowns on 16 targets.

Still, as Clay noted, Thomas is on a new level this season, having just set the single-season NFL reception record last week. Play him without fearing the matchup.

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