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Even as the Christmas parties start flooding in over the next couple of weeks, Water Cooler Talk still finds the time to ditch the party and make sure to watch football.  The food was great, but the people weren’t, so off I went to watch two great championship games on Saturday night.  If you took my advice and picked Michigan State, then hoorah for you!  If you took a chance on UNC, my bad.  The Vikings laid an egg (my bad again), and darn if I didn’t take a chance on the Eagles!  The Panthers are still unbeaten while the Patriots fall to the #3 seed…who’d have thunk it?  Only one college game this week, but of course a plethora of NFL.  The MLB Winter Meetings have been great so far, with trades and signings left and right.  Enough of that though, hide the monitors from the boss, minimize your online shopping window, and let Water Cooler Talk help you be the sports guru of the office this week.

NCAAF:

NCAA-College-Football-LogoNo shockers this past weekend from the championship games, except maybe that Iowa hung in until the very end against Michigan State.  Hats off to you Iowa, you were oh-so-close to being in the top four.  Stanford cruised, as did Houston, as did Alabama, and Clemson too (thanks to more awful ACC officiating).

Now our top four has been set and the committee made the absolute right call deciding between the #3 and #4 seeds.  The Spartans took #3 while Oklahoma dropped to #4, but Sparty deserves that ranking.  We’ll soon be discussing the New Year’s Eve semifinal games which are sure to not disappoint.

The Heisman finalists have been announced:  Alabama RB Derrick Henry (1,986 yards, 23 TDs), Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey (3,496 all-purpose yards, 30 TDs), and Clemson QB Deshaun Watson (3, 512 passing yards, 887 rushing yards, 41 total TDs).  Derrick Henry has been the clear-cut favorite since Bama defeated LSU, but McCaffrey has proven that he deserves some much serious consideration, especially after his performance against USC in the Pac-12 title game.

One game to watch for this week.  The 116th edition of Army versus Navy is always one that has to be watched.  The Midshipmen come into the game ranked #21 with a 9-2 record, while Army continues their struggles as they’re just 2-9.  Still, it’s a tradition that deserves its love.  Navy is a (-23) favorite, and I have to agree.  Navy wins over Army, 41-18.

NFL:

NFL-logoIt was ugly, especially in the first half, but Carolina managed to escape New Orleans with a 41-38 victory to move to 12-0.  Cam Newton executed a beautiful drive at the end of the fourth quarter to put the Panthers up for good, cementing his place among the MVP discussion.   For the third straight season, the Panthers are NFC South champions!

I don’t think Eagles fans believed it could happen, but miraculously the Eagles were able to upset New England.  The Patriots have looked mediocre at best since Edelman and Lewis have been out, and of course there was no Gronk on Sunday.  Brandon LaFell continues to drop passes from Brady, leaving Amendola as “the guy.”  I still don’t think the Eagles have a shot at the playoffs, but in that awful division, anything is possible right now.

How awful is the NFC East?  I think the records speak for themselves.  Washington finally had a chance to put some distance in the race last night, but let one slip by once again.  The Redskins haven’t been able to string together consecutive wins on the season, and now Dallas is still in the race for the division crown with a 4-8 record.  I think it’s safe to say that the NFC East division champion will hold a sub-.500 record.

Are the Seahawks really back?  The defense has been playing better lately, and Russell Wilson is putting up gaudy numbers.  I think Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham going down has actually helped this team, because they can now go back to what’s worked in the past.  Still, Russell Wilson will not continue to throw 4 or 5 TDs a game and Doug Baldwin will not continue to receive multiple touchdown passes.  Four more weeks for the Seahawks to cement a playoff spot, with three easy games before facing Arizona Week 17.

Johnny Football is the starter again.  The Browns need to see if they have a future at QB with Manziel at that spot.  Careful Johnny, no partying to celebrate.

Minnesota at Arizona (-7.5) – The Cardinals are hot, winning six straight and holding on to that #2 seed in the NFC.  Minnesota is now 8-4 and need to show some signs of life on the offensive side of the ball.  Arizona’s defense is not going to allow that to happen, which is why they get the win on Thursday night, 27-13.

Atlanta at Carolina (-8.5) – Atlanta has really struggled the last six weeks sustaining their high-powered offense late in games and have had defensive struggles at the worst times.  The Panthers want to prove that they’re not a team that will allow 38 points, so the motivation will be there to shut down Julio Jones and company.  I do think Carolina loses to Atlanta, but that’s in two weeks.  This week, Panthers get another win with a score of 27-16.

Pittsburgh (+3) at Cincinnati – Both of these teams looked phenomenal on Sunday on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.  Their first meeting was a battle with the Bengals squeaking out a 16-10 win.  I expect a lot of the same this week, only with more points scored.  I’m picking the Steelers for this one, with a score of 23-19.

UFC 194:

ufcThe showdown we’ve been waiting for is finally arriving on Saturday as Conor McGregor faces Jose Aldo for the featherweight belt.  10 months is a long time to wait, but it should be worth every second when these guys finally get to go at it.  McGregor is roughly a 2-1 favorite, which is right about where it should be.  I love McGregor, but since I’m a betting man I’m taking Aldo in this one.  I think (and hope) this fight goes the distance, meaning we’ll have a main event worth buying.

MLB:

1280px-Major_League_Baseball.svgLast week I mentioned the Red Sox were making a push for David Price, eight hours later, Price (30) had agreed to a 7-year, $217 million deal with Boston.  He can opt-out after three years, but no team will pay a then 34-year-old pitcher $31 million annually.  Boston has their ace they’ve been needing since Jon Lester was traded in July 2014.

Speaking of big money, how about the Diamondbacks sneaking in and signing Zack Greinke away from both the Dodgers and Giants.  A 6-year, $206.5 million deal did the trick, after Johnny Cueto turned down a 6-year, $120 million deal last week from Arizona.  The Diamondbacks had roughly $40 million to spend this offseason, they’re now basically done signing free agents.  Dbacks fans should be pumped with Greinke (32) anchoring the rotation and Paul Goldschmidt leading the offense, an offense that scored the most runs in the NL this past season.

We heard the rumors, but we couldn’t be sure if it would really go through.  Well it did yesterday, the Reds traded away Aroldis Chapman to the Dodgers…or so we all thought.  Reports indicate that a domestic-violence claim against Chapman held up the deal, and prospective teams (or at least the Dodgers) want to know the outcome.  Reds president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty has said that multiple teams are interested in Chapman’s services, but if this charge is strung out, Jocketty won’t be able to trade away the fireball lefty.  If a deal does eventually happen, the Reds will get much needed prospects and Chapman will immediately solidify the backend of a bullpen.

Johnny Cueto is the only big-named starting pitcher on the market, so now we’re all anticipating position players like Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, Daniel Murphy, Alex Gordon, and Jason Hayward to sign.  Hopefully, something will happen sooner than later, but it appears teams are waiting for Ben Zobrist to come off the market before offering out the big money.  Let’s have fun with this and predict who will sign with what team…

Justin Upton – Baltimore Orioles

Yoenis Cespedes – San Francisco Giants

Daniel Murphy – New York Mets

Alex Gordon – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Jason Hayward – St. Louis Cardinals

That’s all for this week’s edition of Water Cooler Talk.  Follow me on Twitter and let me know what you think of the picks this week, or gripe, moan, and complain about the track record lately.  Even better, show some love!  Enjoy the week and weekend in sports everyone!

Water Cooler Talk comes to you today extremely humiliated due to the awful picks made last week.  3-7 is not where I want to be, and I let you all down.  For this I apologize, and I’m prepared to come back strong for this week.  On a good note (for me anyway), the Panthers stand as the lone undefeated in the NFL after wiping the floor with the Cowboys on Thanksgiving and the Broncos creating magic on Sunday Night Football.  Conference championships are this weekend and there are some doozies to watch out for.  Water Cooler Talk has what you need to sound like the sports guru of the office this week, so hide those monitors from the boss and let’s get this thing going!

NFL:

NFL-logoAs stated above, the Carolina Panthers sit alone on the undefeated throne at 11-0.  They are starting to get healthy where it counts, and that’s scary for the opposition.  With Charles Johnson back at DE and WR Philly Brown returning either this week or next week, the skies the limit and this team can actually go 16-0.  The remaining schedule:  at New Orleans, vs. Atlanta, at New York Giants, at Atlanta, vs. Tampa Bay.

The Denver Broncos may actually be better off without Peyton Manning.  It didn’t always look pretty, but Brock Osweiler rallied the offense in the fourth quarter for the OT victory on SNF.  This has all the makings of an ugly divorce between Manning and the Broncos during the offseason, which means Peyton will be wearing a different uniform for his farewell season in 2016, if he still decides to take that route.

The Cardinals, Bengals, Vikings, and Broncos are all still contending for a first-round bye in the playoffs which is making the last five weeks of the season exciting.  Not in the mix is the awful NFC East and AFC South, both divisions in which multiple sub-.500 teams are in the race to win the division and get a home playoff game.

One TE is gone for the season (Jimmy Graham) and another was feared to be out as well (Gronk), but luckily for the Patriots he’ll maybe miss one game.  Then there’s the man formerly known as CJ2K, who suffered a fractured tibia. The NFL doesn’t want defenders to tackle high, and the outcome has been obliterated knees and some kind of broken bone from the hips down for offensive players.  I always say it’s tough to be a defender in the NFL, but it’s now becoming equally tough to be a playmaker in the open field in the NFL.

Some intriguing games this week in the NFL, so let’s get to the picks and redemption for last week:

Green Bay at Detroit – Thursday Night Football has been bad since its inception, but both teams are coming off a week of rest rather than three days, so this might be okay.  Green Bay has lost 4 of their last 5 while Detroit has won three straight.  Despite the recent struggles, I like the Packers offense over the Lions defense.  I also like Stafford’s chances of coming back to reality after slaughtering the porous Eagles defense.  Green Bay takes this one 23-14.

Seattle at Minnesota – This game is tricky.  Everyone will automatically assume the Seahawks get an easy one here, but I’m not so sure.  I do think Teddy will have trouble finding open receivers all game, except for Kyle Rudolph.  And of course, you can’t count out AP.  Russell Wilson is coming off a 5 TD performance against a (let’s be honest) horrible Steelers secondary.  No Lynch, no problem with Thomas Rawls.  No Jimmy Graham, that could be a problem because Luke Willson is no Graham.  Seattle isn’t at home, which means no help from the officiating crew.  Minnesota wins the defensive battle (my kind of game) 17-14.

NYJ at NYG – How does one sell tickets for this game?  I’m getting off track…this game will probably be awful.  The Jets are hit-and-miss, and the Giants just make way too many mistakes.  Despite no Revis Island, I have to take the better defense in this one.  Jets win 20-16.

Indianapolis at Pittsburgh – I’m only picking this game as “intriguing” because of the playoff stipulations.  The Colts are undefeated without Andrew Luck, while the Steelers can’t keep Big Ben healthy.  I have to take the Colts to win 27-18.

NCAAF:

NCAA-College-Football-LogoMark Richt got fired from Georgia.  No, that’s not a typo.  The Bulldogs faithful couldn’t look past injuries that hampered the season, and they let Richt go after a 9-3 season.  Their loss will be another school’s gain…a very big gain.  I’ve always liked Mark Richt, and I hope he stays in the SEC East to stick it to the Bulldogs for some years to come.

Les Miles will not be leaving Baton Rouge, according to LSU’s AD.  However, I would listen to offers if I was Les.  If your school and fan base can’t appreciate the wonderful seasons you’ve brought them, then do a little shopping.  I’m not saying leave for the sake of leaving, but feel some love from somewhere else.

Clay Helton’s interim tag was removed yesterday, meaning he’ll stay as head coach of the USC Trojans.  There were a lot of big names for the Trojans to look at, but Helton has taken a mess of a situation and turned the Trojans into Pac-12 championship contenders.  USC faces Stanford for the title this week.

Justin Fuente was a highly-sought coach, and the Virginia Tech Hokies scooped him up as quickly as they could.  Fuente turned the Memphis Tigers into contenders this past season, and now the 39-year-old coach will take over for Frank Beamer in Blacksburg.

While the coaching carousel will be fun to watch over the next several weeks, let’s focus on the immediate future and pick the conference champions for this week:

AAC Championship – #20 Temple at #17 Houston.  Houston laid the smack down on Navy on Friday, raising their spirits after a tough loss two weeks ago to UConn.  Houston has the high-powered offense, which leads them to the win over the Owls 35-20 in what is the first championship game for this conference.

SEC Championship – #18 Florida vs. #2 Alabama.  The Gators have had a good season considering they’re in rebuilding mode.  To be honest, Georgia should be here but injuries hurt their season, and the Gators pounced.  Alabama is riding this year’s Heisman winner Derrick Henry and their stout defense to victories, and this week will be no different.  Alabama cruises to be the 2015 SEC Champions, 31-10.

Pac-12 Championship – #24 USC vs. #7 Stanford.  The Trojans could’ve rolled over and given up on this season after the Sark catastrophe, but Clay Helton held this team together and now they’re playing for a title.  Stanford is coming off a huge win against Notre Dame, and if they hadn’t lost to Oregon they’d be right up there in the top-four discussion.  Stanford will win this game 30-20 and will need a lot of help to get into that discussion for a playoff berth.

Big Ten Championship – #5 Michigan State vs. #4 Iowa.  Now is our chance to see if Iowa is for real.  I’ve seen more of Michigan State than I have of Iowa, so this is tough.  Connor Cook is back for Sparty, so that right there gives them the edge in my opinion.  Good run Iowa, but you’ll come up short with a 27-17 defeat.

ACC Championship – #8 UNC vs. #1 Clemson.  This game has upset written all over it.  Despite cheering for the Tar Heels, I haven’t given them much of a chance the last couple of weeks.  My mind has been changed however, as the Heels are white-hot while Clemson has been struggling lately.  Clemson is young and I think the pressure is getting to them.  UNC has a devastating ground attack and an above-par defense to go with it.  This game changes the playoffs as the Heels escape Charlotte as the ACC champs with a 41-27 victory.

My top four this week in the College Football Playoff Rankings:

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Iowa

MLB:

1280px-Major_League_Baseball.svgSP Jordan Zimmerman is the first big-name free agent to sign.  Zimmerman has reportedly agreed to a 5-year, $110 million deal with the Detroit Tigers.  If $110 million is the first number we’ve seen so far, expect the likes of Cueto and Price to get a far bigger number.  Speaking of Cueto, he rejected a 6-year, $120 million offer from the Diamondbacks. I’m guessing he’s looking at the $150 million range.  And for David Price, the Red Sox are supposedly very interested in acquiring his services.  Boston needs starting pitching help in a bad way, and signing Price would fix that almost immediately.

That’ll do it for this week’s edition of Water Cooler Talk.  Like what you see?  Follow me on Twitter and share your thoughts and opinions, or your happiness and anger over the picks!  Have a great week everyone.

It’s that time of year when Thursday becomes the favorite day of the week and Friday the most dreaded (unless you’re insane and like getting beat-up shopping).  Water Cooler Talk always looks forward to Thanksgiving…grilling my bacon-wrapped asparagus as an appetizer, smelling the prime rib cooking, two apple pies in the oven (one for me, one for everyone else), hanging with family and friends, and watching football!  This year is extra special for me, as my Carolina Panthers take the national stage at 4:30 ET.   Seeing as Black Friday and Cyber Monday are right around the corner, Water Cooler Talk has more games than usual to make those bets and get some extra spending dough.  So, with that being said, turn your monitors away from the boss’s view, kick off your shoes for comfort, and prepare to be the sports guru of the office this week.

NCAA FB:

NCAA-College-Football-LogoI want to take a moment to brag on one of my picks from last week.  Michigan State was a 13-point underdog to Ohio State, and as you may recall, I picked the Spartans to win by 3.  Final score from Saturday night, 17-14.  While it didn’t go to overtime, if you took my pick and placed a bet, you made some serious cheddar!  You’re welcome by the way.

While the MSU-OSU outcome is considered an upset, there weren’t too many others to go around from this past week.  We did have a lot of near upsets however, which would’ve changed the landscape of the College Football Playoff Rankings and the AP Top 25.  #4 Notre Dame barely escaped against Boston College in Fenway Park in what was supposed to be a home game for the Irish, but were in BC’s backyard.  #8 Florida needed overtime to beat Florida Atlantic, #17 North Carolina also needed overtime to beat Virginia Tech, and #7 Oklahoma almost blew a 17-point 4th quarter lead to TCU.  Temple and UConn did complete upsets as they beat Memphis and Houston respectively, which assures a change in the bottom half of the AP Top 25.

My top four in the College Football Playoff Rankings for Week 13:

1) Clemson 2) Alabama 3) Iowa 4) Oklahoma

The actual top four in the College Football Playoff Rankings for Week 13:

1) Clemson 2) Alabama 3) Oklahoma and Michigan State

I always look forward to this particular week in college football because of the rivalry games, but also to see who could possibly spoil conference title games and the College Football Playoff Rankings.  Here are a few games I’m keeping an eye on for Friday and Saturday:

WARNING!  Six games picked this week instead of three…so make those bets count!

#15 Navy (-10) at Houston – The Midshipmen are 9-1 on the year and getting little love, but with a win this week and a win against Army next week, we’re looking at a serious bid for a major bowl.  Navy is hard to prepare for and will be too much for Houston, who’s coming off a devastating loss.  Navy wins, 31-21.

#7 Baylor (-10) at #17 TCU  – I wrote off the Baylor Bears, and was I wrong for that or what?  They beat undefeated Oklahoma State within the first 56 seconds of the game of Saturday, leaving the Bears in contention for the top four.  TCU will battle, but Baylor’s depth will prevail.  Baylor wins 35-24.

#8 Ohio State at #12 Michigan (+2.5) – The Buckeyes fell apart during the game and after on Saturday night, but they assure us they’ll rebound for this week.  Jim Harbaugh will frustrate the Buckeyes just like Sparty did, and then we’ll really see the lid blow off in Columbus.  Michigan wins, 18-14.

#11 North Carolina at NC State (+6) – The Wolfpack are riding a hot hand while the Tar Heels look to keep momentum heading into the ACC Championship game against Clemson.  The Tar Heels will be looking too far ahead, letting the Wolfpack get the upset win, 31-27.

#14 Florida State (+3) at #13 Florida – The Seminoles walked through Chattanooga last week while Florida barely defeated FAU.  Florida is already in the SEC Championship game and may be looking too far ahead as they prepare for Alabama.  FSU gets an easy win, 30-20.

#3 Oklahoma (-3.5) at #6 Oklahoma State – Mike Gundy’s squad lost a heartbreaker on Saturday, a game in which would’ve assured them a spot in the top-four.  That loss will prove to be too devastating for the Cowboys, the Sooners get an easy one with a score of 40-24.

And finally, #6 Notre Dame (-2) at #9 Stanford – The Fighting Irish had to travel east to Boston for a “home game” this past week, and now have to take the long flight west to Palo Alto.  Stanford hasn’t made their games pretty much of the year, but neither has Notre Dame.  What I’m saying is, this game could be ugly, but the Irish somehow manage to escape, 20-16.

NCAA BB:

2015-College-Basketball-National-Championship-Odds-and-Predictions-300x282We have a new #1 this week thanks to Northern Iowa defeating the UNC Tar Heels on Saturday afternoon, 71-67.  Now, for the third consecutive year, the Kentucky Wildcats will have held the top ranking at some point throughout the season.  The Wildcats are the clear-cut #1 team right now, and they solidified that notion last week with a double-digit victory over a very good Duke team last Tuesday.

Expect the Tar Heels to come back strong after the defeat.  They are missing PG Marcus Paige who was injured in the preseason with a broken bone in his right hand.  The senior should return next week, which is good timing for the Heels as they face the current #2 Maryland Terrapins in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

NFL:

NFL-logoWhat else needs to be proven for the Carolina Panthers to get the love they deserve?  They didn’t just beat the Redskins, they manhandled them, thanks in part to a defense that forced five turnovers and five touchdown passes from Cam Newton.  Speaking of Mr. Newton, I believe he just became the front-runner for the MVP award.  Next is a matchup with the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, a Cowboys team that has its swag back now that Romo is under center again.

Sign Brock Osweiler to a long-term contract!  On second thought, let’s hold off on that idea for now.  Replacing Peyton Manning, Osweiler threw for 250 yards and two scores as the Broncos snuck by the Bears.  Can Brock handle the primetime lights against the Patriots this week?  No.

Losing Joe Flacco and Justin Forsett puts a dagger in an already deflating 2015 campaign for the Ravens.  The injuries are still coming fast and furious around the NFL.

I certainly had no intention of watching the game last night, but I did have every intention of falling asleep to it and I did.  I now regret that decision, as apparently ‘WhistleGate‘ occurred.  The Buffalo Bills weren’t the only team robbed however, as the New England Patriots were hurt by the call as well.  Nonetheless, the Patriots got the victory that we all anticipated and remain undefeated on the season.

Seeing as it’s Thanksgiving this week, I’m only going to focus on the Thursday matchups to get you in the turkey mood, and to get you more spending money for Black Friday:

Eagles (-1.5) at Lions – The Lions are on a two-game winning streak and the Eagles are at the end of their rope with Chip Kelly as head coach.  Despite this, the Lions seemingly never win on Thanksgiving, so I’ll take the Eagles to win 21-19.

Panthers at Cowboys (+1.5) – The Panthers are coming off a dominating 28-point victory and the Cowboys are 3-0 with Romo under center, 0-7 without.  Make it 3-1 as the Panthers distract the Cowboys with the ugly color rush uniforms 26-17.

Bears at Packers (-8.5) – I don’t want to say the Packers are back just yet, but if they do anything remotely close to what they did against the Vikings, it’ll be a cakewalk.  Packers annihilate the Bears 28-18.

NASCAR:

NASCAR-logo-268x130Kyle Busch is your 2015 Spring Cup Series Champion after winning at Miami-Homestead in the series finale last night.  Busch overcame incredible odds to earn his first title.  A broken ankle and broken foot sidelined him for nearly one-third of the year at Daytona in February in the Xfinity Series, an injury that takes up to eight months to recover from.  When he had to win, he did.  While fans would’ve liked to have seen Jeff Gordon ride into the sunset as a champion, there’s no arguing that Kyle Busch deserves to be this year’s champion.

Speaking of Jeff Gordon, the ride is over.  He fought hard all night to get the top spot, but just didn’t have the car to get it done.  It’s going to be strange to watch the first few races of 2016 without seeing or hearing Jeff Gordon’s name and car.  Love him or hate him, Jeff Gordon was a great driver (93 wins and 4 championships) and a great spokesperson for the sport.

Jeff, if miraculously you read this, thank you for everything you’ve done in NASCAR and best of luck with your future endeavors.

MLB:

1280px-Major_League_Baseball.svgThe Los Angeles Dodgers have signed their new leading-man, and it’s a name that’s surprising to those who don’t follow baseball closely.  Dave Roberts takes over a very talented, yet current team in flux right now due to free agents and a large salary number.  Roberts, who is most famously known for his steal of second base in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS for the Boston Red Sox, served as the bench coach for the San Diego Padres last season.  In a game where numbers are defining decisions in the front office and the field, Roberts fits the analytical approach the Dodgers are taking, a role in which Don Mattingly didn’t fit which ultimately led to his firing.

Like what you see?  Follow me on Twitter and share your experience of being the sports guru of the office, or even better, let me know if you took any bets this week.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!