The 49ers haven't seen a wide receiver like Michael Thomas in 2019.
The New Orleans Saints star leads the NFL in receptions (110) and receiving yards (1,290), ranking fifth in the league in yards per touch (11.5). Catching passes from an all-time great in Drew Brees and playing half of your games in the comfort of the Superdome helps, but Thomas' prolificacy is stark when contrasted with the 49ers' wide-receiving corps, as Pro Football Focus' Jeff Denney noted Monday.
A full season with Emmanuel Sanders in the fold surely would've made the aforementioned gap bigger. Plus, the 49ers rely on a tight end for much of their receiving production. George Kittle leads the team in targets (67), receptions (54) and receiving yards (687), ranking no worse than eighth among NFL tight ends in those categories.
Still, Thomas is something else. Kittle and 49ers rookie receiver Deebo Samuel have combined for 1,251 receiving yards, or 39 fewer than Thomas has on his own. Brees and Saints backup quarterback Teddy Bridgewater remarkably have thrown to Thomas on over 30 percent of their throws this season, whereas 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has targeted one of Kittle and Samuel just over 35 percent of the time this season.
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Thomas is coming off his worst performance of the season, as he caught six passes for 48 yards on short rest in the Saints' Thanksgiving win over the Atlanta Falcons. The 49ers would be wise to take a page out of the Falcons' playbook, but that is easier said than done, considering Thomas has at least 89 receiving yards in all but two of his games this season and has caught at least two-thirds of his targets in each game.
Brees will throw to Thomas early and often Sunday. How often will go a long way towards determining if the 49ers can avoid their first losing streak of the season.
The 49ers earned a huge road win over the Saints to improve to 11-2, but that wasn't the end of their good news on Sunday.
Hours after San Francisco prevailed 48-46 in New Orleans, the 49ers' temporary place atop the NFC standings was solidified for at least the next week after the Rams defeated the Seahawks 28-12 in Los Angeles. With the loss, Seattle dropped to 10-3 on the season and fell out of the No. 1 overall seed in the conference.
The 49ers' win combined with the Seahawks' loss puts San Francisco in the driver's seat to win the NFC West, but with Seattle holding the tiebreaker, the division might come down to the Week 17 game between the two teams.
However, it is possible for San Francisco to clinch the division title before Week 17. That would require the 49ers to win each of their next two games against the Falcons and Rams -- both at home -- and the Seahawks to lose at least one of their next two. San Francisco would also clinch a first-round bye in that scenario.
Seattle travels to Carolina to face the sliding Panthers in Week 15 before returning home to host the Cardinals in Week 16. The Seahawks rightfully will be favored in each of those games -- just as the 49ers will be in theirs -- but crazier things have happened.
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Here's what the NFC playoff picture looks like heading into Giants-Eagles on Monday night:
- San Francisco 49ers (11-2)
- Green Bay Packers (10-3)
- New Orleans Saints (10-3)
- Dallas Cowboys (6-7)
- Seattle Seahawks (10-3)
- Minnesota Vikings (9-4)
49ers fans traveled well to New Orleans for the game against the Saints on Sunday.
But it was a 49ers fan born and raised in The Big Easy that might have had the biggest hand in San Francisco's thrilling 48-46 win.
After the game, All-Pro tight end George Kittle was wearing an unusual necklace at his locker and at his press conference.
The necklace, sent to Kittle by the unidentified fan, was made of gator feet.
Yes, alligator feet.
Kittle and the 49ers needed all the help they could get to win a crazy, back-and-forth game in the Superdome.
After the Saints took a one-point lead with 53 seconds left in regulation, it was Kittle's incredible 39-yard catch and run on fourth-and-2 that helped set up Robbie Gould's game-winning 30-yard field goal as time expired.
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Kittle finished the game with six catches for 67 yards and one touchdown.
We recommend that Kittle continue to bring the gator-feet necklace with him to the rest of the 49ers games this season.