BLOG

The big game week is finally here where plans are set and the anticipation rises for the Sunday evening kickoff to conclude the 2015-16 NFL season. The Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos are now in Santa Ana, CA, which means the 24-hour cycle of coverage is officially underway. Water Cooler Talk is as excited as anyone for this Sunday’s game, so excited that I’ll try to break down every detail of what to watch. So sit back, relax, hide the monitors and let Water Cooler Talk help you to be the Big Game sports guru of the office this week.

It’s no secret where most of the nation will put their focus on this week, and that’s on Peyton Manning. We got a hint that this may be his last game as a professional, and what better way to go out than on top? John Elway did that for two consecutive seasons before retiring, and I’m sure he envisioned the same happening for Peyton when he was signed in 2012.

In order for Manning to go out on top with two rings, like his boss, he’s going to have to manipulate a stingy Panthers defense, a defense that is arguably the toughest to prepare for. The pass rush is solid with Charles Johnson and Jared Allen with complimentary help from Mario Addison and Kony Ealy. The run defense is stout thanks to defensive lineman Kawaan Short and Star Lotulelei, and the linebacking core of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson. Then there’s secondary that has been exposed with throws that are over-the-top. With Josh Norman and Kurt Coleman being the exceptions, the secondary has been the weakest link by far. Manning is one of the best at devouring defenses in zone coverage, something the Panthers like to do quite a lot, especially when trying to hold onto a sizable lead. Perhaps the best thing the Broncos could do is let Carolina get a big lead early, but that shouldn’t even be mentioned in the game plan. When the Panthers are in press man-to-man coverage, Manning will have to use effective play-action to allow his receivers to separate and also hope the safeties will bite to allow Emmanuel Sanders to run the 9-route.

If the run game isn’t effective, Manning will have to regain his old form and throw bullets around the field. Unfortunately for him, that hasn’t been seen all season. If Peyton is throwing “ducks”, the Panthers will eat him alive just as they did against Carson Palmer. But again, play-action passes will be the determining factor, that’ll make or break the game for the Broncos offense.

The Broncos defense is also arguably the toughest to prepare for thanks to the likes of Von Miller. Miller had a field-day against the Patriots, and he’ll need another stellar performance to ground the Panthers offensive attack. Let’s also not forget who’s on the other side of Miller, and that’s the 11-year veteran, DeMarcus Ware. Ware is playing in his first Super Bowl, and you know he’ll want to make an impact. Denver also has a well above-average secondary lead by T.J. Ward and Chris Harris Jr. The defensive line…stout, and they get a lot of one-on-one match-ups thanks in part to Miller and Ware.

So what does all of this mean for Cam Newton and company? It means you better have the best pass protection plan known to man. Michael Oher and Mike Remmers have been fabulous at the tackle position this season, but each will need help for a majority of the game. That means sitting Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart in the backfield to fend off the Broncos linebackers. Cam Newton will have to improvise, something he’s great at, whether that mean moving around the pocket or taking off and running when the opportunity presents itself. The receivers will of course have to find holes in the zone and separate on the man coverage with help over-the-top. Ted Ginn Jr. is always a threat to run the 9-route, but it’ll come down to Philly Brown, Greg Olsen, and rookie receiver Devin Funchess finding room 10-18 yards down the field.

My question is this: can the Panthers continue their streak of 100-yard rushing games? With Newton, Stewart, Tolbert and Fozzy Whittaker…yes. For the running backs to be effective, Cam has to be effective. If Cam can run effective early, look for that streak to continue.

So we’ve broken down what needs to happen for the #1 scoring offense (Carolina) and the #1 defense (Denver) to win. Who’s your pick? I’d love to get your answer. Let me know what you think the score will be on Twitter.

My final prediction: Despite all I’ve just written, I think Carolina gets this easily. With Peyton throwing lazy passes, I think the sitting safeties and the dropping linebackers will have a late or early Christmas (however you want to look at it). The Broncos defense will be on the field an awful lot which will tire them out, not good if you’re facing Cam Newton. Carolina wins this game, 30-14 and the score will be closer than the game ever will be.

Thank you all for reading, I hope you’ve become more educated on Sunday’s game before this. Be sure to check out archive blogs and coming back for future articles. Enjoy the game everyone!

 

The final four, NFL Conference Championships will be played this coming weekend and the match-ups are intriguing, as they usually are every year. Water Cooler Talk will give you the insight of each game and tells you what to watch for when the game play occurs. So kick back, relax, hide the monitor from the boss and let Water Cooler Talk help you be the sports guru of the office this week.

Since the playoffs expanded to the current 12-team format in 1990, this is the first year in which the #1 and #2 seeds from each conference have met in the conference championships. What makes this weekends games so intriguing, is that each of the four teams have had completely different paths coming into this weekend.

The Carolina Panthers started 14-0 before losing Week 16, but finished strong at 15-1 and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs Week 17.

The Arizona Cardinals started their season 4-2 before ripping off 9 straight wins before losing Week 17, a loss in which head coach Bruce Arians sat his starters in the second half of the game after Seattle was trouncing them on both sides of the ball and knowing Carolina had all but sealed their home finale.

The Denver Broncos offense has fluttered all season with and without Peyton Manning and didn’t clinch the AFC West and home-field advantage until Week 17 thanks in part to the Kansas City Chiefs long winning streak and the Bengals and Patriots late-season blunders.

The New England Patriots lost 4 of their final 6 games which ultimately led them to the #2 seed. Injuries to the offensive line and their two biggest play makers in Gronk and Julian Edelman had a lot to do with their late season stumble.

New England at Denver:  The Patriots seem to be healthy with the return of OL Sebastian Vollmer, WR Julian Edelman and TE Rob Gronkowski. Each of these players had an impact on Saturday that helped lead the Patriots past the Chiefs. Brady wasn’t sacked, Gronk had 2 TDs and Edelman had 10 receptions for 100 yards. Seeing how a depleted Steelers offense weaved their way through Denver on Sunday, this offense should be licking their chops.

While the Patriots confidence in their offense should be high, the same can’t be said for the Broncos offense or defense. Manning struggled at times to throw the ball and his receivers had numerous drops. The wind may have factored into most of the mistakes, but numerous mistakes need to be avoided in the playoffs. In order to advance to the Super Bowl, the Broncos need to get their pass rush to Brady to throw off the timing patterns on defense while limiting turnovers and converting third downs to avoid giving the ball to Brady on offense. If Denver can do this, with what should be a very energetic home crowd, they may just make it to San Francisco.

Many are hoping for Manning to get to the Super Bowl and ride off into the sunset with another championship. While that would be a good story, I just don’t think it’s going to happen. Brady and Belichick have the winning ingredient which will lead them to their seventh appearance in the Big Game. The Patriots will win a scrappy, hard fought affair, 26-20.

Arizona at Carolina:  When looking at Arizona’s season between weeks 7-16, you’d have said they’re legitimate Super Bowl contenders, but their last two games have to say otherwise. After getting embarrassed in their regular season finale, they were barely able to escape the Packers last week, a team in which they dominated in Week 16. The loss of Tyrann Mathieu was a big blow and his absence is really starting to show defensively. Their offense has big-play ability on seemingly every snap, but the run game is a huge factor into that success. If David Johnson can’t get rolling early, those big plays may not be there for Arizona on Sunday against a stingy Panthers defense.

The first 30 minutes of games have been fantastic for Carolina for much of the season to this point, but it’s the last 30 minutes of the game which has Carolina fans referring back to the 2003-2004 Cardiac Cats. Big leads have turned into small margins of victory against the Colts, Packers, Giants and now the Seahawks. Besides this obvious mishandling of the offense and defense after halftime, there really isn’t anything bad to look at. The offense has big-play ability on the ground and through the air and the defense simply smothers runners and receivers at will while threatening to get to the quarterback on nearly every play. The Panthers need to frustrate Carson Palmer early and limit the run game like they did against Seattle early. Big lead or not after halftime, in-game adjustments will play a major factor if they hope to advance.

I anticipate smash-mouth football for a full 60-minutes on Sunday thanks in part to two physical defenses on the field. One turnover could mean the difference, so both QBs will need to protect the ball and not take unnecessary risks. I think the home-field advantage will ultimately help Carolina move on to San Francisco and they’ll move on to face the Patriots with a score of 28-21.

There you have it, the Patriots and Panthers will advance in what will be a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVIII.

That’ll do it for this week’s edition of Water Cooler Talk. Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@JasonSaulter) if you like what you’ve read and be sure to check out other blog entries. Enjoy the games on Sunday and have a great week and weekend everyone.

 

Half of our football enjoyment is now over after last night’s College Football Playoff National Championship, Water Cooler Talk has the reaction and will discuss who to watch out for at the start of the 2016 season. With Wild Card Playoff weekend behind us, we’ll look ahead to this weekends games and gives you the predictions you need to put some extra cheddar in your pockets. Sit back, relax, don’t think about all the snow you’ll have to shovel when you get home, and let Water Cooler Talk help you be the sports guru of the office this week.

CFP:

635850317002095475-1004202147_yuhhhhh

The Alabama Crimson Tide are your 2015 National Champions, and what a championship it was as they fought and scrapped for 60 minutes with a very talented Clemson Tigers squad. With their 45-40 victory, the Crimson Tide have earned their 16th championship over their well documented and proud history. Head coach Nick Saban earned his fifth title (4 with Bama, 1 with LSU) to put him in a category with Bear Bryant as the only two coaches with 5 or more titles (Bryant won 6 with Bama).

The game took a dramatic turn in the 4th quarter with the scored knotted up at 24 when Nick Saban rolled the dice to keep his struggling defense off the field. Keeping DeShaun Watson and the Tigers offense off the field with this call may have been the clincher for Alabama as Clemson was able to score at will against the Alabama defense.

Senior QB Jake Coker didn’t have to impress much over the regular season, but he stepped up in a big way on the big stage. Against Michigan State two weeks ago, Coker had a career-high 286 yards passing while completing 83.3% of his passes. Last night, Coker again set a career-high with 335 yards on just 16/25 passing with 2 TDs. The young man who hails from the state of Alabama finishes off a career that was more tumultuous than glorious, but he made his dream come true by bringing his home state another national title.

Junior RB Derrick Henry most likely played his last collegiate game last night, and if that’s the case, what a way to bow out. 3 TDs on the ground along with 158 yards. On the season, Henry finishes with 2,219 rushing yards and 28 TDs and of course, a Heisman Trophy.

Clemson made a valiant effort this season to be the first team to finish 15-0. Had it not been for one DeShaun Watson INT and a gutsy onside kick call from Saban, we most likely would be talking about a historic season. I’ll assume now that DE Shaq Lawson will not be returning for his senior season as he’s projected to be a 1st-round talent, but that doesn’t mean Clemson won’t compete for another title next season or over the next few seasons to come. Clemson came into this season with a plethora of sophomores and freshman, so skies the limit for this team in 2016.

Let’s take a look at the crystal ball and predict who will be the top five teams to start the 2016 season:

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Ohio State
  4. Stanford
  5. Oklahoma

NFL:

NFL-logoAnd then there were eight. Regardless of how you feel about the Seahawks and Steelers advancing to this weekend, both squads will have to earn hard-fought victories if they hope to advance to the conference championship. Kansas City and Green Bay made their wins over the weekend look easy, but they each have tough tests this weekend with trips to Foxborough and Glendale respectively. Let’s take a look at the four matchups that await this weekend, shall we?

Kansas City at New England – The Chiefs defense has to be licking their chops while they await the New England offensive line. Kansas City is no stranger when it comes to sacking the QB, and Tom Brady has found himself on his backside more often than not over the last several weeks due to constant line changes due to injuries. The Patriots however will be healthy on offense for the first time in two months with the return of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The Pats still have a defense that can get to the QB as well, which may spell trouble for Alex Smith and the running game if Jeremy Maclin can’t suit up. Bill Belichick just flat out doesn’t lose these games, and with two weeks of preparation, I think he’ll lead his squad to a pretty easy win. Patriots win this game to move on to the AFC Championship, 27-14.

Green Bay at Arizona – Do you remember what happened between these two squads Week 16? While I don’t think this game will be exactly like this one, I do think Arizona puts another whooping on the Packers. Green Bay’s offensive line is in turmoil right now, which gives the Cardinals hope in recording what could be another 9-sack night versus Green Bay. Arizona gets an easy win thanks to their stout defense, 30-13.

Seattle at Carolina – The Seahawks may very well be the luckiest team in the league, but they’ll need more than luck this week if they hope to advance. Carolina is riding a 15-win season and will look to get some offensive playmakers back for what should be a slugfest. After missing the regular season finale, Ted Ginn Jr. will help Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart in the running game, by threatening over-the-top routes throughout the contest. The Panthers defense will look to regain their form after struggling in 3 of the final 5 games when they allowed 30+ points to the Saints and Giants, and couldn’t stop Atlanta on third down in their only loss of the season. Carolina takes advantage of their home-field advantage and stifles Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense with a 24-14 win.

Pittsburgh at Denver – Who will start for the Broncos? Brock Osweiler or Peyton Manning? I still think Osweiler gives the Broncos a better chance to win, but it’ll be the defense that’ll win this game for the Broncos. Denver is too solid for Pittsburgh who may be without Antonio Brown and are already out with DeAngelo Williams. Big Ben has a sprained AC Joint, which will likely effect his passes downfield. If he’s unable to go, it’s all over for the Steelers before the game even starts. While I do think the Steelers won’t go down without a fight, I think Denver crushes their spirits early in this contest. The Broncos will move on to next week with a convincing 34-18 victory.

That’s all for this week’s edition. If you like what you see, be sure to follow me on Twitter. Have a great week everyone and enjoy the football action this weekend.