NFL teams usually love having the prime-time spotlight, but forgive the New Orleans Saints if they aren't thrilled about the timing of this week's crucial game against the Chicago Bears.
The contest will be played Thursday night at Soldier Field, where the forecast for game time is 29 degrees with a 19-degree wind-chill factor. Not exactly ideal conditions for a Saints team that plays its home games indoors.
But New Orleans must shake off the chill if it is to keep alive its slim playoff hopes. The contest shapes up as practically a playoff-elimination game, with both the Saints and Bears sporting 7-6 records.
While the Saints have ridden the right arm of Drew Brees all season, they hope to get a boost this week from running back Pierre Thomas.
Thomas, a Chicago native, made his first career start in last season's finale at Soldier Field, and he turned in one of the greatest offensive performances in franchise history. The rookie rushed for 105 yards and caught 12 passes for 121 yards -- becoming the first Saints player to top the century mark on the ground and through the air in the same game.
Brees leads the league with 4,100 passing yards, but the Bears don't expect to see an all-out aerial attack.
"They ran for over 180 yards (184) last week," Chicago defensive coordinator Bob Babich said. "Pierre had (102) yards, Reggie Bush had (80). Recently the run-pass ratio has been closer to balanced, so I think that's the direction they're headed."
Chicago could be headed toward the playoffs if it can knock off New Orleans. The Bears' final two games (vs. Green Bay, at Houston) are less formidable than the schedule facing the 8-5 Vikings, who lead the NFC North. Minnesota plays at NFC West champion Arizona on Sunday, then closes with home games against the playoff-contending Falcons and the NFC East champion Giants.
New Orleans sits in last place in the NFC South, but a win Thursday in frigid Chicago would keep the heat on the Saints' rivals for at least one more week.