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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.

Water Cooler Talk wasn’t sure whether to solely go all-out crazy on the NFL this week, but thanks to certain events it’s got to happen. There’s a shake-up in the Heisman candidacy and of course in the College Playoff Rankings.  Oh, and did I mention some things regarding the NFL?  Water Cooler Talk has plenty for you to get caught up on from this past weekend and the week ahead so you can be the sports guru of the office.  As always, Water Cooler Talk highly encourages you to share your experiences of spreading your sports knowledge in the office, by contacting me on Twitter.

NFL:

NFL-logoLet’s backtrack to Friday, shall we? Photos were released by Deadspin showing Nicole Holder’s bruises from when Greg Hardy assaulted her last spring.  The ex-girlfriend of the Cowboys defensive end was a lot more roughed up than I think most people expected, including myself.  If you haven’t been able to see the photos, check them out here.

My problem with this, is that Greg Hardy is playing. The NFL has done what they could, but that doesn’t mean the Cowboys shouldn’t at least consider releasing Hardy.  Ray Rice has been sitting out of the NFL since the video of him knocking out his wife became public, because teams are smart enough not to touch him…including the Raiders.  I’m all for second chances, but Rice and Hardy, or anyone else who assaults a woman are one of the exceptions.

We’ve already seen Hardy have a spat with his teammates on the sidelines, which should be a red flag in itself. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wants Hardy to sign for the long-term with his team and be a leader moving forward, but how can anyone follow the leader of a woman-beater?  Here’s the message I’m getting from the NFL:  We’ll punish you for everything except domestic violence.

Let’s move onto the field. Another unbeaten is unbeaten no more as the Denver Broncos were defeated by the sub-.500 Indianapolis Colts.  While the Broncos defense wasn’t able to carry the team to yet another victory, it was what happened towards the end of the game that really shocked me.  Aqib Talib eye-gouged TE Dwayne Allen that resulted in a personal foul, which ultimately led to the Colts win.  I had to do a double-check to make sure I wasn’t watching ‘The Waterboy’…”Captain Insano shows no mercy!”

The Bengals and the Patriots got by their week nine opponents without much difficulty. Obviously they’re the class of the AFC and no one is arguing that.

The Panthers are now 8-0 after defeating the Packers 37-29 on Sunday…a game in which myself and my fellow Panthers fans had another near cardiac arrest. Carolina now has a two-game lead in the NFC, but there is still doubt on whether the Panthers can close out the season because of the lack of offensive weapons.  I’ll say this, if Devin Funchess can build on what he did on Sunday, then they’ll be fine.  I worry about them closing out games as they nearly blew a double-digit 4th quarter lead for the second straight game.  Head coach Ron ‘Riverboat’ Rivera has been in this situation before as he was a member of the 1985 Chicago Bears team that started 12-0 before losing to the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football.  How did they do after that?  Oh that’s right…they won the Super Bowl.

One more thing on the week nine action, and that’s what happened between the Vikings and the Rams. Teddy Bridgewater got knocked out on Sunday…literally…after taking a hit to the head from LaMarcus Joyner.  Everyone immediately screamed ‘dirty play’ when it initially happened except for me.  Joyner reacted before Bridgewater began to slide, and the angle he took was proper.  Bridgewater just slid late, and that’s no fault to Joyner.  Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was fuming about the play and even went as far as to hint Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams perpetrated the hit.  Ridiculous is the only word I say to that.  It was a bang-bang play, that’s what happens in football.  There will be no Bountygate II investigation.

Looking ahead to this week’s games, I’m eyeballing a few matchups. I have to start with TNF as the Bills take on the Jets, a game in which Rex Ryan returns to New York.  I’m more intrigued about the uniforms than the game itself because let’s be honest…Thursday football is hard to watch.  I’ll take the Jets to move to 6-3 with a 20-12 win.  Keep an eye on the uniforms and you’ll see why I say this game should be closer to Christmas than Thanksgiving.

I like the Vikings-Raiders game if Bridgewater can play. If he can it’ll be a good game, if he can’t then the Raiders will get an easy one.  With Bridgewater, I say Vikings win 24-20, if he doesn’t play then I’ll take the Raiders to win 27-9.

We’re supposed to get excited for New England and the New York Giants, but it’ll be an easy one for the Patriots as they’ll win 30-13.

Finally, we finish with SNF where the Cardinals travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks. Both teams are coming off their bye week, so it might be a little ugly.  The Cardinals are the better team, and they’ll win 21-13.

NCAAF:

1000px-NCAA_logo.svgOh Clemson, you didn’t disappoint. It was scary for a bit, but the Tigers ultimately prevailed over the Seminoles to clinch a spot in the ACC title game and hold onto their #1 ranking (or at least should still be #1).  What’s scary about this team, is that they have 40 freshman on their squad…40!  Clemson will be good for quite some time.

It wasn’t the usual game we’re used to seeing from Alabama and LSU. No last-minute drive to win the game or low scoring game, but still a good game nonetheless.  Bama solidifies their stance in the CFB Playoff Ranking, and they didn’t do it alone thanks to Arkansas beating Ole Miss.  Expect to see the Crimson Tide stomp a mud hole in the Gators in the SEC Championship game.

Because TCU and LSU lost this past weekend, we have to wonder about the Heisman balloting. TCU QB Trevone Boykin and LSU RB Leonard Fournette were running away from the field, but both were stymied on Saturday.  Both of these players need their teams to either win out or lose a close game to a good team to distance themselves from the rest of the pack.  I got in an argument on Saturday night with a friend over me snubbing Florida State RB Talvin Cook from the race.  My argument is this…the voters won’t vote for a player with a team that has 3+ losses (I think FSU loses to Florida) and isn’t contending in a major bowl.  That’s why TCU and LSU need to finish strong for Boykin and Fournette to stay in the running.

As for the CFB Playoff Rankings that will be released tonight, this is my top four this week: 1) Clemson 2) Alabama 3) Ohio State 4) Oklahoma State.  Yes…I know Baylor will be a popular snub, but the OK State victory over TCU was more impressive than Baylor’s seven-point defeat of Kansas State.  And yes, Notre Dame could be in that 4th spot as well, but I’ll keep them at #6 behind Baylor because of the crooked number.  I will admit this, OK State jumping to #4 might be a stretch considering they were #14 last week, but if they vote correctly then this shouldn’t be a shock.

For the games this weekend, there are a few that stand out:

Let’s begin with Alabama (8-1) at Mississippi State (7-2).  I’ve already said Alabama reaches the SEC title game, which means they have to win-out in the conference.  So I’m obviously taking the Crimson Tide to win in a hostile environment, 31-17.

Here’s one in which no love is given…Memphis (8-1) at Houston (9-0).  These teams are a lot better than people think, because they just see what conference they play in and give no credit.  This is a battle for American Athletic Conference (AAC) supremacy.  If the current system was an eight-team playoff rather than four, Memphis would be in the discussion.  The Tigers come away with a win this weekend, with a score of 37-31.

Finally, we have Oklahoma (8-1) at Baylor (8-0).  If Texas hadn’t defeated Oklahoma, the Big 12 would be even more jumbled to see who will come out on top.  The Sooners are still in it, but they absolutely need to win this game.  Baylor is screaming “snub” in the CFB Playoff Ranking…but not after this week.  Oklahoma wins easily, 35-22.

It’s a sad day for Water Cooler Talk. We had to watch the 2015 MLB season come to an end on Sunday night (or Monday morning rather). Today marks the official halfway mark in the regular season of the NFL…weren’t we just getting excited for the preseason? Water Cooler Talk was right on some predictions…but the guilt felt for missing on others weights heavily. Let’s try to turn those frowns upside down, and let’s get Water Cooler Talk on the right track for this week as we prepare you to be the sports guru of the office.

MLB:

1280px-Major_League_Baseball.svgThe series didn’t go seven games as I predicted and Lorenzo Cain didn’t win the MVP despite a phenomenal performance in game five. The bullpens for both sides were the difference, and the Mets were on the losing end of that prediction. Games 1, 4, and 5 were blown by the Mets, but give credit to the Royals, they made opportunities happen when the chances arose.

The Royals just seemed destined to win it all this season after what happened to them last year in the World Series, and after 30 years of waiting, that organization and that patient fan base can now call themselves champions. Now we can look forward to free agency and wonder what will happen with Johnny Cueto. The Royals need an “A” starter on their squad, but the question is whether they’ll be big spenders.  I know the Royals would like to have Cueto back rather than just having him as a three-month rental.  Expect a signing to happen at the Winter Meetings.

Credit has to be given to the Mets as well. No one expected them to win the NL East and no one gave them a chance against the Dodgers in the NLDS. The front office made the right moves during the season to bolster their bench with Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, and of course made the big splash by acquiring Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline. The rebuilding is complete and now it’s time to spend money. Cespedes and Daniel Murphy are free agents, both of which should be priority 1A and 1B to keep on the squad. The Mets should also look to upgrade the bullpen as they need arms that can solidify the 7th and 8th innings and they could probably use a shortstop.  The starting rotation is set for at least the next four years, so the organization can build around that and have little doubt of contending for the NL East crown during that stretch.

NASCAR:

NASCAR-logo-268x130I haven’t given much attention to this sport despite being in the playoff season, and for that I apologize. I’ve failed to mention the drama since the Chase began…until now. Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth got together for the third straight week, resulting in Logano desperately needing a win or top-five finishes in the next two races to compete for the crown at Homestead. Would Logano have won if this incident didn’t occur? It’s hard to say. Jeff Gordon was solid as he usually is at Martinsville, and ultimately did win which assures him he’ll contend for the title at Homestead in the finale.

The drama is exciting for fans like myself and helps with ticket sales and TV ratings. However, a line must be drawn somewhere. If Kenseth isn’t parked for Texas this week I’d be surprised.

NCAAF:

1000px-NCAA_logo.svgTemple held their own on Saturday as they hosted Notre Dame, a game which surprised the “experts”, but not me. I thought Temple would win by two, but lost by four. Still, it’s nice to see small schools contend with the “big boys” of college football and I expect the Owls to win out and contend for a bid in a major bowl. Then there’s the Tar Heels of UNC, who jumped into the AP Top 25 after their defeat of Pitt. The ACC race is getting exciting…and no one is talking about it.

Speaking of an exciting ACC, did you see what happened between Miami-Duke? The officiating crew has been suspended, but if you ask me that crew should never officiate in the ACC again. Perhaps the Southern Conference would be a fitting conference for that crew (and that is not a knock on the SoCon…I’m just speaking hypothetically).

The game to watch for this week is LSU-Alabama.  The 7th ranked Tigers and the 4th ranked Crimson Tide look to secure their spot in the SEC Championship game this week.  Bama has no chance with a loss since they lost to Ole Miss earlier in the season.  LSU and Bama have had fantastic battles over the last several years and I expect the same for Saturday night.  I give LSU the edge because they can control the clock with Leonard Fournette in the backfield and they have the better defense.  LSU wins 28-21.

NFL:

NFL-logoWas I wrong about the Packers-Broncos game or what? Of course I wasn’t the only one, as everyone expected the Packers to win outside of the state of Colorado. That defense is legit, so legit that Aaron Rodgers was held to 77 yards passing…the entire game! Peyton threw for 340 yards and Demaryius Thomas looked like DT again with 8 for 168. The Broncos should cruise to week 12 when they face the Patriots.

It was a rough Sunday for Steelers Nation. First, they watched Le’Veon Bell get carted off the field with what is now a torn MCL, finishing his season. Then they had to watch the Bengals come from behind to win 16-10, which pretty much wraps up the AFC North. I know it’s only week 9, but let’s face it…that division is locked.

We may have seen the end of Steve Smith after he tore his Achilles on Sunday, which ends his retirement season. As a huge fan of Smitty, I hate to see this happen to him. Will 2015 really be his last season? It’s tough for anyone to come back from this injury, let alone a 36-year old player. But if anyone can do it, it’s Smitty, and I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he ‘Iced Up Son’ and came back for a 16-game farewell campaign in 2016.

Scoring is what the fans want, that’s what I’ve heard for years anyway.  Well they got it on Sunday when the Saints and Giants left their defenses in the locker room, as the Saints won the game 52-49.  Drew Brees had 7 TD passes while Eli Manning had 6.  Call me old school, but I like defense and don’t care to see triple-digit points put up in a game.

For the first 50 minutes of the game there wasn’t much to talk about except how the torrential downpour made both teams sloppy.  It was those final 20 minutes that are worth talking about between the Colts and Panthers on Monday Night Football.  Andrew Luck and the Colts looked awful offensively through three quarters, with Luck throwing 2 INTs and losing a fumble while throwing for less than 90 yards.  Then when the Panthers took a 23-6 lead, the Andrew Luck we know and love showed up and made the comeback to force overtime.  After exchanging field goals on the opening possessions, Luck threw his third pick which let Graham Gano kick the game-winning 52-yard field goal to keep the Panthers undefeated at 7-0.

The Colts did make a miraculous comeback by opening up the field and wearing down a thin defensive line for the Panthers.  But the other story of this game was the awful officiating.  They missed offensive pass interference on Andre Johnson in the 4th quarter when he scored a touchdown, called Greg Olsen for a hold that didn’t happen, marked Griff Whalen out of bounds when he was inbounds on the Colts last drive of the 4th quarter, and those are just the big calls.  Trust me…there were more.  That officiating crew will not be at Super Bowl 50.

Now I look ahead to Week 9 and the intriguing matchups just aren’t there this week.  There is however the Packers and Panthers which should be an exciting matchup.  Both teams have injuries, the Packers have linebacker and secondary issues while the Panthers have offensive and defensive line issues.  The Packers haven’t lost to Cam Newton since coming into the league in 2011, until this week.  Carolina moves to 8-0 with a 27-21 win.

That’s all for this week.  Be sure to follow me on Twitter to share your thoughts and to send those pictures of you standing around the water cooler talking to your co-workers.  Have a great week everyone.