According to NFL rules, some team has to win the NFC West. It's unavoidable. The division will have a champion, and that team will qualify for the playoffs.
It doesn't actually matter that no franchise in the NFC West has either a winning record or a positive point differential right now. The division is going to send some team to the postseason. That's the law. It's guaranteed. A league requirement.
So … why not the Rams?
Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford(notes) delivered the best statistical line of his 11-game NFL career on Sunday, passing for 308 yards and three touchdowns in a win at Denver. That was Bradford's first 300-yard effort, his first three-score game, and his first road victory. All things considered, an impressive day.
When you check the box score and realize that Bradford was throwing to the league's least threatening group of receivers, his performance seems even more remarkable. You'll recall that Donnie Avery(notes) and Mark Clayton(notes) — two guys who were expected to impersonate No. 1 wideouts — were placed on injured reserve long ago. Bradford's 22 completions against Denver went to eight different players, seven of whom don't really need to be owned in standard fantasy leagues. (The eighth guy, Steven Jackson, caught just one pass for -6 yards).
Clearly, Bradford took advantage of a friendly match-up on Sunday. The Broncos haven't held an opponent below 24 points since Week 4, and they gave up one of the easiest passing TDs you'll ever see. But next week, Bradford gets another favorable match-up against Arizona, the NFL's 27th ranked pass defense (261.7 YPG). Add him as needed; he's widely available.
Bradford has five games remaining on the schedule and he's already thrown for 17 scores, surpassing Matt Ryan's(notes) first-year touchdown total. Peyton Manning's(notes) rookie record is probably out of range (26), but it's not completely unreachable.
And in any case, it speaks well for Bradford that we're even discussing him alongside those two. Also, Ryan had Roddy White(notes) in '08. Manning had Marvin Harrison(notes) in '98. Bradford has Danny Amendola(notes), Danario Alexander(notes), and a giant pile of tight ends.
• After beating the Eagles at home, 31-26 — just like everyone predicted, right? — the Bears are riding a four-game winning streak. They haven't lost since the DeAngelo Hall(notes) disaster in Week 7. If you didn't take Chicago seriously entering the Philly match-up, you basically have to now. Matt Forte(notes) ran for 117 tough yards against the Eagles, and Jay Cutler(notes) passed for four TDs. Earl Bennett(notes) caught two of the scores, Johnny Knox(notes) had one, and Greg Olsen(notes) made a game-changing catch on the other.
The Bears' defense managed Michael Vick(notes) as well as any team reasonably can, and the guy still finished with 333 passing yards and two TDs, plus 44 yards on the ground. So he's pretty good. Chicago probably needs to give a game ball to Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, who did not exactly deliver a game-management clinic. (Curious early timeout in the third quarter, followed by a conservative play call).
• This was not only a big day for the 2010 Bears, but also for the 2008 Bears. Kyle Orton(notes) and Brandon Lloyd(notes) connected on two more scores in Denver's home loss to St. Louis. Orton finished with 347 yards and three TD passes; Lloyd had 76 receiving yards, giving him 1,122 for the year.
• Steve Johnson(notes), as you might have heard, had a rough day. He dropped five passes, including what should have been the game-winner in OT. And then he blamed not his hands, but their Manufacturer.
• Something clicked for Dwayne Bowe(notes) following that mess of a game in Week 5 at Indy, and he's been unstoppable ever since. Bowe hauled in 13 passes for 170 yards and three scores in the win at Seattle on Sunday. That's his second 13-catch game in the past three weeks, and his third straight multi-TD effort. Again: He was a punchline in mid-October. Right now, he's the most dominant receiver in the game. Everyone knows where Matt Cassel(notes) is looking, yet no one shuts it down.
• Jamaal Charles'(notes) performance may have been overshadowed by Bowe's, but we should note that he ran for 173 yards and a TD on 22 carries. He received plenty of red zone work, too. The Chiefs still found 20 carries for Thomas Jones(notes), many of them in the fourth quarter.
• Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck(notes) finished with a respectable fantasy line (282-2-2), thanks largely to the efforts of Ben Obomanu(notes) (159 yards, TD). Mike Williams was sidelined with a foot injury, allowing Obomanu to post his second straight five-catch day. His 87-yard score came off a slick double-move. (Hard to believe that KC's coverage would allow anyone to get past them at that point in the game, but still. Nice play, big day for Obomanu. Lousy day for Deon Butler(notes)).
• Zach Miller apparently aggravated his foot injury in the home loss to Miami, and he finished with just one catch for six yards. Also re-injured: Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski(notes). It's the throwing shoulder, and it doesn't sound good.
• When dealing with unknowns, sometimes it's best to avoid even the friendliest match-up. Even when it's the Houston secondary. Rusty Smith(notes) was a wreck on Sunday: 17-for-31, 138 yards, 3 INTs. Let's hope you didn't invest in Tennessee's offense this week.
Early waiver plays for Week 13…
QB Matt Cassel, vs. DEN (53 percent owned)
QB Sam Bradford, at ARI (42 percent)
QB Kerry Collins(notes), vs. JAC (2 percent)
RB Jonathan Stewart(notes), at SEA (52 percent)
RB Christopher Ivory(notes), at CIN (22 percent)
RB Toby Gerhart(notes), vs. BUF (8 percent)
WR Kevin Walter(notes), at PHI (36 percent)
WR Jacoby Ford(notes), at SD (11 percent)
WR Earl Bennett, at DET (3 percent)
WR Ben Obomanu, vs. CAR (3 percent)
WR Danario Alexander, at ARI (1 percent)
Posted at 10:20 pm ET
Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe needed only three and a half minutes of clock time to connect for yet another TD — that's seven straight games with a score. Bowe added a 36-yard TD late in the half. Cassel has thrown for 171 yards so far, and Bowe has 120 of 'em. Those two will face Denver next week, so the streak seems likely to continue.
• This week, it's Sam Bradford's turn to torch the Broncos. He went 15-for-23 in the first half at Denver, passing for 216 yards and three TDs. All the scores belong to tight ends, as Michael Hoomanawanui(notes) has one, and Billy Bajema(notes) has two. Bradford gets another friendly match-up next week (at ARI), so he's in play as a starter in the imaginary game.
• Baltimore's Todd Heap(notes) caught a 65-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter, on a play that appeared to unfold in slow motion. Heap has broken the plane five times in his last six games.
• Oakland rookie Jacoby Ford is running away from people again, just like he did in Week 9. That dude is fast. (He ran a 4.28 at the combine). Ford returned the opening kick 101 yards to give the Raiders a quick 7-0 lead against Miami, and he later connected with Bruce Gradkowski on a 44-yard score. When Ford gets behind his man, his man is toast. The kid is just 11 percent-owned, available almost everywhere. If you're going to own a Raiders receiver, Ford is the guy.
• Finally, Michael Vick has thrown a pick. Had to happen eventually. Chicago safety Chris Harris(notes) snagged a deflected pass in the end zone at Soldier Field, then returned it 39 yards. (Nice effort play by LeSean McCoy(notes) to prevent a much longer return). The Bears are getting pressure on Vick without blitzing, forcing quick decisions. The field is just in terrible condition, so that's not helping the ridiculously mobile quarterback. Vick missed Brent Celek(notes) on a near-TD early in the game, too.
It's never really a surprise when Chicago's defense shows up, but the offense has made an appearance in Week 12, too. Jay Cutler is 7-for-10 at half, with 132 yards and three scores. Philly's pass rush has sacked him four times (no surprise), but when he gets the ball away, good things have happened. (No Asante Samuel(notes) helps). Earl Bennett (3 percent owned) has two of the TD catches.
Posted at 6:05 pm ET
Oh, that's gonna leave a mark.
Andre Johnson(notes) was ejected late in the win over Tennessee, because he pummeled Titans corner Cortland Finnegan(notes). Tough to imagine that AJ will avoid suspension for this incident. Helmets were ripped off, multiple punches were landed (on Finnegan's skull). Video here. That probably didn't go as well as Cortland had hoped.
It's tempting to say that Finnegan got the worst of it, but that might not be true. Johnson's fantasy owners will be the real victims here, if he's forced to sit in Week 13.
• Adrian Peterson (ankle/foot) was downgraded to questionable in the second half, and he ultimately remained on the sidelines against the 'Skins. But he clearly wanted back in, and NFL Network's Jason La Canfora reported that AP "doesn't think the injury is serious." Tests coming on Monday, no doubt. In Peterson's absence, Toby Gerhart finished with 76 rushing yards and a score.
• Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) was listed as questionable this week due to an abdominal injury, but he nonetheless managed to top 100 rushing yards for the fourth straight week. He finished with 122 total yards. MJD lost a pair of first half running scores to David Garrard(notes) and Rashard Jennings, however. Garrard's TD was a gem, a degree-of-difficulty play.
• If you're a Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) owner, you basically never worry about a quiet first half. Buffalo's offense seems to own the final 30 minutes in recent weeks. Fitzpatrick connected with Fred Jackson(notes) on a short pass that became a 65-yard TD in the third quarter, thanks to a pair of tremendous blocks. Check the tape. The Bills took the Steelers to overtime, recovering from a 13-point halftime deficit. Steve Johnson has been
catching dropping everything in sight.
• Jake Delhomme(notes) did something that Panthers fans can appreciate, for the first time in maybe three years: He threw a pick-six to Carolina corner Captain Munnerlyn(notes). Ugly throw, ugly result. Following the defensive TD, the Panthers trailed the Browns by only a point, 21-20. Cleveland eventually pulled out the win, as Carolina's John Kasay(notes) missed on two field goal attempts. But that game should have never been tight.
You'll note that Jonathan Stewart decisively out-rushed Mike Goodson(notes), 98 to 55. The Panthers don't have an ideal fantasy schedule in the final weeks, but they will get Arizona in Week 15, a user-friendly match-up.
• The prettiest incompletion of the day belonged to Aaron Rodgers(notes), who made a ridiculous throw to James Jones(notes) in the corner of the end zone, late in the fourth quarter at Atlanta. Jones got his left foot down, but he was forced out of bounds by a defender. The play didn't count, but Rodgers earned style points. Later in the drive, he hit Jordy Nelson(notes) with a rocket for a game-tying score on fourth down, with just 0:56 remaining.
Those 56 seconds were enough for Matt Ryan to lead a game-winning drive, however (thanks to a nice kick return and a facemask flag). Matt Bryant(notes) drilled a 47-yard field goal with 0:09 on the clock, giving the Falcons a 20-17 win. (And then Bryant did it again, because the Packers called timeout on the first kick). That was just a terrific game; decent chance those teams meet again in January.
• Pooch kick! We had a pooch! OK, not a great one, but still a pooch. Ben Roethlisberger(notes) dropped a 4th-and-4 punt just short of the end zone, but the ball skipped across the goal line for a touch-back. Net of 15 yards.
There shall now be a long delay, while the blogger focuses on Eagles-Bears. Please talk amongst yourselves...
Posted at 4:30 pm ET
Well, we may have finally found something that Peyton Hillis(notes) can't do: He was given a chance to throw the ball on a first quarter gimmick play in the red zone (because the alternative was Jake Delhomme), but he misfired to a wide-open Benjamin Watson(notes).
His fantasy owners didn't really suffer, though, because the drive still ended with a 9-yard Hillis rushing score. Of course it did.
And then Hillis scored again on a 5-yard run with 2:44 remaining in the first. And then he bulldozed Charles Godfrey on a 6-yard second quarter TD. That makes 13 touchdowns in 11-1/2 games for Peyton, for those keeping score. Hillis finished the half with 95 total yards (and a passer rating of just 39.6).
• Adrian Peterson limped off the field after a short gain in the second quarter against Washington, putting no weight on his right foot. It appeared to be an ankle issue. All-Day received another layer or two of tape; the team announced that he was probable to return, but we're still waiting. Toby Gerhart is getting work in relief.
• Mike Goodson's early 26-yard TD against the Browns looked a little too easy. Highlight here. In a game of two-hand touch, that's still a score. Carolina should perhaps just keep it on the ground, no matter the game situation. Jimmy Clausen(notes) has tried to give the ball away a few times.
• Arian Foster(notes) absolutely shamed linebacker Stephen Tulloch(notes) on a 16-yard reception early in the second quarter, setting up Houston's first touchdown. Foster spun away from the tackle near the sideline, then casually tossed Tulloch out of bounds. The gain gave the Texans a first-and-goal at the 1. Matt Schaub(notes) followed by hitting a lonely Joel Dreessen(notes) for a layup TD off play-action.
• Donovan McNabb(notes) and Brett Favre(notes) combined to go 11-for-12 in the first quarter at Washington — not exactly what we've come to expect from those two this season. On the 'Skins' opening drive, McNabb connected with tight end Fred Davis(notes) for an easy 10-yard score.
• Mario Manningham(notes) had a 9-yard TD catch negated by a holding penalty late in the second quarter, and the Giants settled for a field goal on the drive. As expected, Brandon Jacobs(notes) and Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) are splitting the rushing workload. Whenever Bradshaw gets a touch, he's wrapping up the ball as thoroughly as possible. He's fumbled six times this season, losing five.
• Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez(notes) connected for a 6-yard gain on 4th-and-3 from the Packers 36, extending a late-second quarter drive. The ball actually appeared to hit the turf before Gonzalez controlled it, but no red flag was tossed. Atlanta's drive eventually ended with 4-yard Gonzo TD, giving the home team a 10-3 lead.
• Tennessee quarterback Rusty Smith was a mess in the early minutes, completing just one of his first five passes and throwing the day's ugliest interception. But the rookie rebounded well enough, completing six of his next eight. The Titans didn't get on the board in the first half, however, and Chris Johnson has picked up just five yards from scrimmage on five touches.
Posted at 2:35 pm ET
Careful, everyone. Josh is lurking in the rafters, watching you set your fantasy lineup. He's like ceiling cat with a headset.
If you're looking for last-minute advice and late-breaking updates, please join us over at Fantasy Football Live, beginning at noon ET. Everyone should know the format by now: Scott and Andy offer thoughtful recommendations in the chat window, while Brad, Brandon, Rick and Chris make noises on camera.
As always, Sunday Scene will be updated throughout the day with observations and actionable news. If you're looking for Week 12 position ranks, click here. For the post-practice injury updates, try this link.
Let's go get a win, gamers. Hopefully the Thursday slate didn't treat your teams too badly. (It was a rough Thanksgiving for Secret Treasure Loaf, not that you asked. But the Loaf always bounces back. That's why we're such a strong global fantasy brand).
Photos via AP Images (Bowe/Cassel, Hillis) and US Presswire (Bradford, Bennett, Johnson, McDaniels)