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It’s an exciting and sad time of year for Water Cooler Talk as the NFL playoffs are set to begin this week as well as the National Championship in college football, but that means football season is drawing to a close. Let’s take a look at the Wild Card games on Saturday and Sunday, as well as the title game between Clemson and Alabama on Monday. Black Monday didn’t have as many surprises as expected, but are there more coaches on the move? Water Cooler Talk talks about the Hall of Fame voting in MLB and some free agents who may be signed soon. Let’s get 2016 kicked off right! Hide the monitors from the boss (because let’s face it, you’re not ready to be back), kick back, and let Water Cooler Talk help you be this week’s sports guru of the office.

NFL:

NFL-logoAre any of us surprised that Cleveland fired their head coach and GM? Probably not. Is anyone surprised on how the Browns will look to fill those positions? Probably not. Usually, you look for a GM first so they can bring in a head coach they can work with. The Browns however are going about the process backwards, they’re looking for a head coach who will then have input on who will be hired as the GM. Is it any wonder this team has been so bad for so long? This job is very undesirable, which leads me to believe they’ll have to reach to bring someone in.

Tom Coughlin stepped down as the New York Giants head coach after 12 seasons at the helm. Kudos to the ownership for not firing the future hall of fame coach, they instead let him walk away with dignity. The players didn’t find this to be a satisfying move, but 12 years is a long time with one franchise. I think Coughlin finds another job in a hurry, and I think the vacancy left for the Giants will be filled in with a very viable head coach.

The Miami Dolphins are interviewing anyone who has ever coached…that’s exaggerated but they are talking to a lot of former head coaches. They are obviously ready to put a record together that matches their on-field talent.

49ers owner Jed York admitted he made a mistake last offseason by hiring Jim Tomsula, and after a 5-11 2015 he’ll look to get the team back to the glory days of winning. This too would be a desirable destination, but GM Trent Baalke is staying put. If you remember, this is the guy who drove Jim Harbaugh away to Michigan, so a red flag still remains within the 49ers front office.

The Eagles are also looking to get back to their days of winning consistently, and I’m sure it begins with someone who’s the total opposite of Chip Kelly. This is also a desirable destination, and whoever fills the position should have success for numerous years to come.

Tennessee is another desirable destination seeing as they have an established QB for years to come, a solid defense, and the #1 overall pick for the 2016 NFL Draft.

After a disappointing 8-8 season, the Indianapolis Colts didn’t fire Chuck Pagano, they instead gave him a new contract. I don’t disagree with the move as Pagano is a good coach who just happened to fight injuries on his squad throughout the season. With this new contract, let’s see if he and GM Ryan Grigson can work out their differences and get the Colts back on top in the AFC South and eventually get to the Super Bowl.

Sean Payton is still employed as the New Orleans Saints head coach, but that could change in the weeks to come. Both parties seem ready to part ways after 10 years, but the Saints won’t let Payton go so easily. Word has it that the Saints want a 2nd-round draft choice for Payton’s services. Plenty of teams will inquire about Payton, and I think the 49ers are the team to get him.

Four games are on tap for this weekend with the AFC Wild Card games on Saturday and the NFC games on Sunday. Let’s predict who will win this weekend:

Chiefs at Texans – Houston will look to embarrass Kansas City after the Chiefs put a whooping on the Texans in the season opener. The Chiefs are riding a 10-game winning streak while the Texans won 6 of their final 8 after their bye. The Texans suffered a big loss on Sunday when LT Duane Brown was lost for the season. KC continues their hot streak and gets by Houston with a score of 20-14.

Steelers at Bengals – The Steelers needed a lot of luck to get into the playoffs, but no one cares how you get in as long as you’re in. The Bengals have played surprisingly well with AJ McCarron as the QB and were close to having a first-round bye. If D-Will is out for the Steelers, this game will go to the Bengals. Should D-Will play with his ankle injury, I still think he’ll be ineffective enough that the Bengals strong secondary can contain Big Ben and Antonio Brown enough to move on to the next round. Cincinnati wins 23-15.

Seahawks at Vikings – The Vikings got embarrassed by the Seahawks just a few weeks ago, a game which was played in Minnesota. The Vikings want revenge, but I don’t know if they’re receiving corps can do enough. Sadly, I think Seattle will win 27-16.

Packers at Redskins – The Packers just can’t click offensively, the complete opposite can be said for the Redskins. With Green Bay struggling as bad as they are, I think Kirk Cousins leads the Redskins to a 30-24 victory. You like that!

NCAAF:

635850317002095475-1004202147_yuhhhhhIt comes down to Clemson and Alabama for the national championship. These are the two teams that absolutely deserve to be in this position, as they’re the best teams in the nation, especially after convincing wins on New Year’s Eve. Offensively, Clemson has a significant advantage. Defensively, these two teams are evenly matched. Both front-sevens have superb talent while each team fields an above-average secondary. Clemson DE Shaq Lawson is expected to play, which helps the Tigers have hope. I’m a fan of the Crimson Tide, but I think Clemson gets their first title since 1980 with a 28-27 win.

NCAAB:

2015-College-Basketball-National-Championship-Odds-and-Predictions-300x282If you missed last night’s Oklahoma-Kansas 3 OT thriller, then you missed what will most likely be the game of the year. #1 ranked Kansas and #2 Oklahoma showed us why they’re ranked where they are and should continue to do so throughout the remainder of the season. There’s plenty of buzz in Lawrence, KS and Norman, OK, as both teams have squads to potentially get to the Final Four. While Kansas is more balanced, Oklahoma has POTY candidate Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler and Jordan Woodard. The next time these two will meet is on February 13th.

Let’s not forget about Michigan State. They were #1 until last week when they lost to Iowa, and that was without their best player on the floor, Denzel Valentine. The Spartans will soon have their POTY candidate back and are heavily favored to make a push to a Big Ten title and a Final Four appearance.

MLB:

1280px-Major_League_Baseball.svgThe Los Angeles Dodgers made a couple of moves last week to bolster their starting rotation. The first signing included LHP Scott Kazmir who got a 3-year deal with an opt-out option after 2016. The Dodgers then signed Kenta Maeda to an 8-year deal. Maeda hails from Japan and has a variety of pitches to include a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, slider and changeup. This past season he won Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award and has a lifetime 97-67 record with a 2.39 ERA. LA now has six arms to work with in the rotation, with five lefties and Maeda who is the lone right-hander for now.

Yoenis Cespedes is still the one name we’re all waiting for to sign. It sounds as if the Baltimore Orioles are the front-runners to sign the superstar outfielder, which indicates they’re moving on from Chris Davis. The remaining chips should fall in place shortly after he signs, names like Justin Upton, Howie Kendrick, Denard Span, Dexter Fowler, and Ian Desmond will find landing spots.

The voting results will be in tomorrow on who will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this July. Ken Griffey Jr. is definitely in, and the consensus is he’ll be the first player to ever be unanimously voted in. Other names who should make the list this year are Mike Piazza and Tim Raines. Names who should be in but will probably have to wait another year are Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina.

Alan Trammell, who played for the Detroit Tigers from 1977-1996, will also most likely not get voted in which means he’ll move off the ballot starting next year. Known more for his defense than offense, the second baseman hit a career .285 with over 2,300 hits and 1,000 RBIs. If Trammell hopes to make it in,he’ll need the Veterans Committee to make that vote, but no one from the Golden Era has been voted in by this committee.

Then there’s Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Not going to happen…ever.

That’s it for this week’s edition, the first of 2016 Water Cooler Talk. I hope to have helped make you become the sports guru of the office this week, and if I have hit me up on Twitter and tell me about your conquest. Have a great week everyone!

 

 

After a week hiatus, Water Cooler Talk is refreshed and ready to tackle the final two weeks of the NFL’s regular season. Before we move on to Week 16 however, there will be some talk about what transpired during Sunday’s game between the Panthers and Giants.  Should some of the best college basketball teams start to worry?  Water Cooler Talk breaks down the intriguing bowl games in college football this week and what games you should watch (sarcasm).  Sit back, relax, hide the monitors from the boss, and let Water Cooler Talk help you to be the Christmas sports guru in the office and around the relatives for the holiday.

NFL:

NFL-logoWe can’t move on to this week’s action without first discussing the game which has been dubbed, ‘NFL Game of the Year.’ We’ll first start with the gameplay itself.  Cam Newton and the Panthers offense are legit, and any doubt of their prowess before Week 15 should go out the window.  Cam himself threw for 340 yards and ran for 100 yards.  Ted Ginn still drops passes, but seems to immediately make up for those mistakes with big-time catches as he hauled in two more TDs.  Greg Olsen continues to be the safety-net for Cam, and he has proven to be the second-best Tight End in the league after surpassing the 1,000 yard mark.  Devin Funchess and Philly Brown step up when needed, two young receivers that have a pretty high ceiling, each had a TD reception.  The defense speaks for itself, though they’ve had two rough outings in the last three weeks.  The last 20 minutes on Sunday are not what that defense stand for.  Give credit to Eli Manning and the Giants, they scared another undefeated team which seems to be there calling card in recent years.  Had it not been for bad losses in which they’ve blown 4th quarter leads, we’d be discussing the G-Men on a regular basis.  If they can shore up the defense over the offseason and add some offensive line help, this team could be dangerous next year.

On the season, Cam has 3,402 yards passing with 33 TDs and just 10 INTs, his passer rating is 98.9, and had it not been for a few drops he’d be right around 100. Let’s also not forget about the rushing yards, where he has 580 with another 7 TDs. All of this work has come without the top receiver for Carolina, Kelvin Benjamin.  With these numbers, and a 14-0 record, Cam is the MVP…he’s the CAMVP.

Now, let’s get to the sideshow. Odell Beckham Jr. versus Josh Norman, this was hyped for seven days.  In the technological and social media world that we live in, everyone heard about this unless living under a rock.  Two rising stars at their respective positions should’ve been a treat for all fans, instead it turned into Dana White’s wet dream.

I won’t go into all of the specifics and breakdown every instance because the action is being looped on every sports channel, talk show, blog, podcast…whatever is out there is showing and talking about it. Also, because I could write a short-novel.

It’s no secret that I’m a Carolina Panthers fan, but unlike the rest of the die-hards out there, I find fault with both players, not just Odell. After Josh tried to get his head taken off by Beckham, I admittedly cheered for Josh when he went after Odell on the next play, but I realize that was wrong on my part.  Speaking of that head shot by Beckham, that should’ve gotten him an ejection from the game.  Would the outcome have been different if that happened?  We’ll never know.  That’s not the point.

OBJ has been suspended by the league and an appeal has been made. The outcome of that decision should be known either tomorrow or Thursday, which puts the Giants in a tough spot as they prepare to game plan for their Sunday Night Football matchup with the Vikings.   The league made the right call, as they have told the fans that head-hunting is unacceptable, no matter who you are.

Let’s move on and discuss briefly the other ‘Game of the Year’ candidate, the Broncos and the Steelers. Pittsburgh kept their playoff hopes alive by scoring 24-unanswered points in the second half to win 34-27.  The days of the Steel Curtain may be over for now, but it doesn’t matter with the combination of Big Ben and Antonio Brown.  The Steelers have two cupcakes to finish the season with Baltimore and Cleveland, though both are on the road.  31st ranked pass defense or not, this team has potential to upset the top seeds in the AFC if they make the playoffs.

Looking forward to Week 16 now, there are intriguing games because of the playoff implications. Let’s take a look:

Redskins at Eagles – It’s simple for the Redskins, win and you’re in as the 4-seed and NFC East champs. The Eagles need to win out and have help to capture the division.

Colts at Dolphins – The Colts sit one-game back of the Texans for the AFC South lead. Indy needs to win-out or hope for a Texans loss either this week or next to have any chance of reclaiming the top spot in the division.

Browns at Chiefs – Kansas City has quietly gone on an eight-game winning streak. At 9-5 and holding onto the 5-seed in the AFC, KC all but needs to win their last ten to secure a playoff spot with Pittsburgh and the Jets holding 9-5 records as well.  Believe it or not, they could still win the AFC West.

Steelers at Ravens – Pittsburgh currently holds the 6-seed in the AFC and cannot afford a collapse to end the regular season. The Ravens won’t have a chance to pull off an upset.

Panthers at Falcons – The Falcons are still alive in the playoff hunt but need to win their remaining two games and have help to have a chance. For the Panthers, a win means the undefeated record is still intact and home-field advantage will be clinched.

Patriots at Jets – The Patriots have secured a first-round bye and hope to get healthy heading into the playoffs. The Jets look to keep their momentum going and absolutely need to win to stay alive in the playoff hunt.  With the Jets on the outside looking in, they cannot afford a loss.

Texans at Titans – It seems for now that the Texans will be on their fourth starting QB for this game, seems amazing they’re in the position they’re in.  The defense will need to step up, which seems reasonable as Marcus Mariota will be out for the Titans.  It’s easy for Houston…win.

Packers at Cardinals – The Cardinals suffered a huge loss on Sunday night with Tyrann Mathieu going down with a torn ACL, but they’re loaded so that should soften the blow. The Packers need to click on offense to have a chance.  Despite clinching a playoff berth, Green Bay needs at least one playoff home game to make a run, which means they win the division.

Giants at Vikings – The Giants season will either be over or barely hanging on depending on the Saturday game between the Redskins and Eagles. The Vikings are still fighting for the NFC North and/or a 5 or 6 seed.  Without OBJ, the Vikings chances seem very good.  Minnesota needs to win for a showdown with the Packers Week 17, a potential division winning game.

Bengals at Broncos – Both look to clinch the division this week, but both are riding second-string QBs. The Bengals will look to ground the passing attack with their extraordinary secondary, while the Broncos look to recapture their defensive dominance from the first 10 weeks of the season.  Denver is in danger of possibly losing the division and missing out on the playoffs.

NCAAB:

2015-College-Basketball-National-Championship-Odds-and-Predictions-300x282Michigan State holds onto the #1 ranking with a 12-0 record, but will be without Denzel Valentine for the next 2-3 weeks.  Despite this, the schedule favors the Spartans to remain undefeated during this time.

Duke suffered a bad loss on Saturday to Utah in overtime. The team will have to find a way to win without Amile Jefferson, who suffered a foot fracture in practice on December 12 and will miss about a month.  But it’s Duke we’re talking about, and Coach K will have his boys rebound.

UNC is also without a starter for a couple of weeks as Kennedy Meeks will miss probably another two weeks of action due to a bone bruise in his knee. The Tar Heels won easily on Saturday over UCLA and cruised past App State last night.

Despite these injuries, all teams shall have no trouble on their way to March, when the games really matter.

NCAAF:

NCAA-College-Football-Logo40 games is just too many.  As big of a college football fan as I am, I just don’t care to watch teams who barely went .500 or didn’t even win half of their games playing for a bowl.  Next week we’ll talk college football as the better games begin after the holiday weekend leading to New Year’s.

MLB:

1280px-Major_League_Baseball.svgWe’re still waiting for a majority of position players to find a new home for the 2016 season.  Jason Hayward signed last week with the Cubs, which should heat up the conversations between club and players.  Chris ‘Crush’ Davis, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, Ian Desmond, Daniel Murphy and Dexter Fowler are all still available.  The only remaining intriguing SP is Mike Leake, who should get a fairly nice contract.  Once January hits, the competitive juices within all 30 front offices will heat up, meaning free agents will come off the board and trades will spark the baseball world once again.

Have a good week everyone and a Merry Christmas.  Be sure to follow me on Twitter to share your thoughts on this week’s edition of Water Cooler Talk.

Water Cooler Talk, like most in America and around the world, used sports over the weekend to escape reality from the events that occurred in Paris on Friday night.  Stunned, sad, and scared are some of the emotions that are being felt, but as always, sports was there to pick up our spirits, if just for a few hours.  I appreciate that reading this column is another “escape” that can be used, and that’s exactly what I intend to do for not only you, by myself as well.  Share your favorite sports memory over the weekend by contacting me on Twitter.  Now, let’s get Water Cooler Talk rolling so you can be the sports guru of the office.

UFC 193:

ufcWe’ve all learned about the “shot heard round the world,” but now we can add a new saying…”the kick heard round the world.”  Holly Holm not only beat Ronda Rousey on Saturday night, she dominated her.  It may just be me, but I think Ronda had no strategy going into the fight.  She tried to box a boxer…which is a huge no-no.  Cockiness undoubtedly got into the way, and Ronda now has missing gold to show for it.  However, give credit where credit is due.  Holly Holm kept her cool throughout the entire process leading up to the fight, and didn’t try to outdo herself.

Fight fans started making noise about a rematch about five minutes after the conclusion of the event, and I’m absolutely in favor of that.  Holm and Rousey are the best female fighters in the world right now, so what other direction is there to take?  UFC President Dana White will try to get this done as soon as possible, because he’s already smelling the pay-per-view buy rates.  Though we’re only 15 years into this 21st century, this will arguably be the most anticipated rematch of the century.

NFL:

NFL-logoSo Peyton Manning broke Brett Favre’s record for passing yards, and then got benched.  No that’s not a typo…Peyton Manning got benched!  Of 20 pass attempts, he completed five and got picked four times.  Injuries are keeping him from his usual elite status, I don’t think there’s any question about that, but he’s also declined over the past two years from wear and tear.  Brock Osweiler will take over the starting role for the short-term, but if he gets hot and wins, it may not be a guarantee Manning gets his job back so easily.

New England remains perfect, but the Patriots suffered a big loss on Sunday.  Julian Edelman will most likely be out until the playoffs, which changes the dynamic of the Pats offense for the remainder of the regular season.  Gronk will be Gronk, but Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola will have to step up in a big way for the Patriots to ride the undefeated roller coaster.  Let’s also not forget that Dion Lewis was lost last week, so injuries to key players is something the Pats will need to avoid moving forward to have a chance at a repeat.

Then we have the Carolina Panthers who won quite easily on Sunday by defeating the Tennessee Titans 27-10.  Next up are the suddenly white-hot Redskins, then the Cowboys on Thanksgiving who will have Romo back.  Two games in which could be lost, and could potentially shift the landscape of the NFC South if the Falcons can rebound after their Week 10 bye.

Houston beat Cincinnati?  No, Cincinnati beat Cincinnati.  The crooked number will now take some pressure off that team.  They’ll rebound and still win the AFC North with ease.

Home teams were 3-11 this past week…home-field advantage my (you know what)!

What happened to Green Bay?  No really, can someone explain to me what happened?  I picked this team to win the Super Bowl, but now they’ll be lucky to get into the playoffs unless they can regain their form from the first six weeks of the season.

Not a sexy week for picking games in the NFL this week, but here it goes:

Green Bay at Minnesota, the Vikings ride the hot hand and get an ugly win, 23-21.

Cincinnati at Arizona, the Bengals will be out for blood while the Cardinals may not be recovered from their dog fight against Seattle, the Bengals eke out a win, 26-20.

I guess I’ll take Buffalo at New England, injuries or no injuries, Belichick beats Ryan 27-14.

NCAAF:

1000px-NCAA_logo.svgClemson escaped Syracuse, Bama held off Mississippi State easily, and Ohio State won another easy game against another easy opponent.  Two weeks remain in the regular season and the Buckeyes have a tough road as they face two ranked teams (finally), Michigan State and Michigan.  If they win both of those games, I will be amazed.  On the other hand, Clemson and Bama finish the season relatively easy, though they do have their big rivalry games after Thanksgiving before moving onto conference championship week.  I don’t see a loss coming for either squad, which secures them as the #1 and #2 seeds heading into the College Football Playoff.

Derrick Henry may have won the Heisman after this week, as he ran for 200+ yards against Mississippi State.  Henry has similar stats to when Mark Ingram won the Heisman in 2009, so unless he gets injured or lays goose eggs the next three weeks, we may be watching this year’s Heisman winner.  Sorry Leonard Fournette, it was fun while it lasted.

The top four teams in the College Playoff Rankings will be announced tonight at 9:30 p.m.  The way I see it, here are those four teams:  1) Clemson 2)Alabama 3) Ohio State 4) Oklahoma State.  OK State is finally getting some respect.  With Notre Dame idle last week, I think the Cowboys finally jump in.

NCAAF picks for Week 12:

Michigan at Penn State:  possibly a trap-game for the Wolverines.  No, no it’s not.  Michigan gets the win with a score of 21-10.

Michigan State at Ohio State:  This game is in Columbus, but that ridiculous Dot The i doesn’t scare Sparty.  Michigan State with the “upset”, 30-27 in OT.

Baylor at Oklahoma State:  This game would’ve been hyped to the extreme if it was played a month ago, but now it’s just another Big 12 game.  OK State stays unbeaten with a 34-23 win.

NCAAM:

1000px-NCAA_logo.svgWe’re three days into the season and we already have an upset!  #6 UVA was defeated last night by George Washington, 73-68.  One vote was given to the Cavaliers for the #1 ranking to start the year, that voter is now hiding in a deep, dark hole.  Once the schedule gets meatier there will be much more coming on college basketball, so stay tuned.

MLB:

1280px-Major_League_Baseball.svgThe Red Sox have already made an offseason splash as they acquired closer Craig Kimbrel from the Padres.  The Red Sox gave the Padres four prospects for Kimbrel’s services.  This should be step one of a multiple step process to get the Sox back into contention for the 2016 season.  Expect a top-tier ace to be acquired via free agency or trade by Christmas along with more bullpen help.

Houston Astros SS Carlos Correa and Chicago Cubs 3B Kris Bryant are the 2015 Rookie of the Year recipients.  Both of these young stars were valuable assets to their respective clubs last season, both of which made the postseason when everyone thought both clubs were a year or two away.  Two great young players who will only get better, it’s a very bright future for baseball.