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As we’re used to seeing in recent memory, the playoff picture in the NFL comes down to Week 17. Water Cooler Talk breaks down the playoff implications and gives you the winners this week. 2016 starts with a bang with UFC 195, Water Cooler Talk predicts who will win the Welterweight title. Water Cooler Talk is excited to discuss the splash made in the MLB yesterday afternoon. We can finally talk about intriguing bowl games! Water Cooler Talk is excited to bring you the last edition of 2015, so hide the monitors from the boss to make you the sports guru of the office heading into 2016.

NFL:

NFL-logoThe 1972 Miami Dolphins had another legitimate scare, but they again got to pop the corks as the Carolina Panthers fell to the Atlanta Falcons, 20-13. It was pretty evident from the start that the Falcons would not let the Panthers go vertical, and it paid off as Cam Newton failed to throw for 150 yards or have a passing TD. Ted Ginn was held to just one catch for nine yards and Greg Olsen could only tally 40 yards of four receptions. The Carolina defense couldn’t contain Julio Jones nor could they get the Falcons off the field on third down. It was a good win for Atlanta and well deserved as they were still fighting for a playoff spot, but with the Arizona win those hopes vanished quickly.

Is there reason for concern in Carolina? In the secondary, yes. Injuries have plagued the secondary in recent weeks and teams have figured out the blueprint to beat the team 10+ yards down the field. The Panthers desperately need their first-round bye to rest the banged-up secondary, Charles Tillman mainly, in order to make a legitimate run to the Super Bowl.

If the wild card couldn’t get any more exciting prior to Week 16 in the AFC, you were wrong thanks in part to the Steelers offense being grounded in Baltimore and a questionable coaching decision by Bill Belichick to kick the ball to start overtime against the Jets. Kansas City held off the Browns to clinch their spot in the playoffs, so now it comes down to Pittsburgh and New York to see who gets the last position.

In the NFC, one spot is still up for grabs. The Packers and the Vikings will be on Sunday Night Football to finish the regular season, the winner takes the NFC North crown and the 4-seed. The loser will take the 5 or 6 seed.

Let’s look at the playoff scenarios and matchups for Week 17:

Jaguars at Texans – It’s simple for the Texans, win and you’re the AFC South champs and hold the 4-seed in the AFC. I’ll take the Texans to win by double-digits.

Jets at Bills – The Jets need to win to clinch. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall have never played in the postseason, so you know they’ll continue their hot streaks to make their playoff dreams come true. The Jets will not be grounded as they get a 27-17 victory.

Patriots at Dolphins – A Patriots win means home-field advantage. A loss means a first-round bye. Patriots win after an embarrassing loss in OT last week, 24-14.

Titans at Colts – The Colts need so much help to make the postseason. Here’s the full breakdown:

Colts win over the Titans, Steelers beat the Browns, Jaguars beat the Texans, Ravens beat the Bengals, Raiders beat the Chiefs, Falcons win over the Saints, Chargers upset the Broncos, Bills beat the Jets, Dolphins win against the Patriots.

Steelers at Browns – Pittsburgh needs to win and the Jets need to lose. The Steelers do get the win, 31-13.

Ravens at Bengals – Cincinnati needs to avoid the upset just for pride heading into the playoffs. They can’t be worse than they are now (3-seed) if they hope to finally get a postseason victory (it’s been 25 years). The Ravens do get the win, 19-13.

Seahawks at Cardinals – Seattle is going to the playoffs, but will it be as the 5-seed or 6-seed? We do know they’ll be playing next weekend, so do they rest or play the Cardinals knowing it’s a division game and Arizona is still playing for home-field? Arizona needs a win and a Carolina loss to clinch home-field advantage based off of NFC tiebreakers. If both Arizona and Carolina win, the Cardinals are the 2-seed. I’ll take the Cardinals to win 29-23.

Bucs at Panthers – Carolina needs to win. If they don’t, they need Arizona to lose to clinch home-field advantage. This game has been flexed from 1:00 to 4:25 ET so the Cardinals don’t have an advantage on deciding whether to sit their starters or not. Carolina bounces back with a 24-14 win.

Chargers at Broncos – The Broncos need a win to secure the division. If they lose and the Chiefs win, they’ll be a wild-card team. If the Broncos win and the Patriots lose, they’ll have home-field advantage. San Diego is so banged up that they have no chance of winning. Denver wins easily 27-10.

Raiders at Chiefs – Kansas City is riding a 9-game winning streak and are the first team in NFL history to reach the postseason after starting 1-5. The AFC West is on the line, so they won’t take the foot off the gas. Chiefs go 11-5 on the year with a 20-12 win.

Vikings at Packers – The winner is the NFC North champs and the loser is either the 5 or 6 seed. Either way, both teams will be playing in the Wild Card round. With the Packers at home, I’ll take them to win 20-19.

NCAAF:

NCAA-College-Football-LogoWe can finally talk about some good bowl matchups for this week! Of course, the big games are on New Year’s Eve with the semifinal games taking place. Let’s predict the winners of the high-profile games:

Tuesday, December 29: #17 Baylor vs. #10 North Carolina – Baylor is on their third starting QB, but despite this have finished strong. UNC is looking for an 11-win season, something that they’ve only accomplished three other times in their long history. The scoring will be plentiful, and I’ll take the Tar Heels to eke out a 38-34 win.

Thursday, December 31: #18 Houston vs. #9 Florida State – The Cougars aren’t a team to sleep on as they’re the AAC champs and have a high-powered offense. The AAC gets some much-needed pride as Houston defeats ACC powerhouse FSU with a score of 27-20.

#4 Oklahoma vs. #1 Clemson – Both of these teams will score. Oklahoma doesn’t get much attention defensively since they play in the Big 12, but they have enough talent to stop the Tigers offense. I don’t know if you can call it an upset, but I’ll take the Sooners to win 26-23.

#3 Michigan State vs. #2 Alabama – Both teams play physical as they’re both stout in the running game and on defense. Alabama has the better defensive line and they of course have the Heisman winning RB in Derrick Henry. The Crimson Tide move on to face Oklahoma on Monday, January 11th with a convincing 30-14 win.

Friday, January 1: #13 Northwestern vs. #23 Tennessee – ACC vs. SEC matchups are always interesting and usually don’t quite go as expected. The SEC has the upper-hand more times than not, but I’ll take Northwestern to finish off their impressive season with a 20-14 victory.

#14 Michigan vs. #19 Florida – The ‘Fighting Harbaugh’s’ have already exceeded expectations this season. Florida on the other hand is currently in a tumultuous state despite having a season in which no one predicted. Michigan begins their 2016 run with a bang as they dominate the Gators, 24-9.

#8 Notre Dame vs. #7 Ohio State – The Fighting Irish were a mere field goal away from potentially being in the top-four. The Buckeyes hit a roadblock with Michigan State, their first of two tests on the season. I like Notre Dame in this one 27-24.

#6 Stanford vs. #5 Iowa – The Hawkeyes were oh-so-close to the top-four. The Cardinals lost bad games when they could least afford to. I think Stanford pulls off a close game, 21-17.

#16 Oklahoma State vs. #12 Ole Miss – The Cowboys really dropped off the final two weeks of the season while the Rebels have had some turbulence recently with DE Robert Nkemdiche finding himself in trouble the last few weeks. Hugh Freeze won’t allow that to affect his team, Ole Miss wins 31-17.

Saturday, January 2 – #11 TCU vs. #15 Oregon – The Horned Frogs were legitimate contenders for a National Championship through October, but injuries really hurt the team. Oregon struggled to find their step early in the season, but have finished strong as expected. I like TCU in a shootout, 37-32.

UFC 195:

ufcRobbie Lawler will face “The Natural Born Killer,” Carlos Condit on January 2 for the Welterweight title to help bring in the new year. This will be Lawler’s second title defense, and it comes against the former interim champ. Lawler (20-11) only fought once in 2014 while Condit (30-8) is fighting for just the second time since a torn ACL and partially torn meniscus in 2013. Maybe I’m just too much of a fan of the title changing hands, but I like Condit to win in the third round by TKO to become the new Welterweight champ.

MLB:

1280px-Major_League_Baseball.svgThe New York Yankees made the splash that we’re used to seeing every offseason as they acquired LHP Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds for four prospects. This move will be a PR nightmare for at least the near future as Chapman is under investigation stemming from an alleged domestic violence incident that occurred in October. This same ordeal is what stopped the Dodgers from acquiring Chapman during the Winter Meetings.

The Yankees now have a stockpile of closers at their service. Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and now Aroldis Chapman are all options for the 9th inning. We haven’t seen the back end of a bullpen look this solid since the “Nasty Boys” of the Cincinnati Reds in the early-80s to early 90s.

Is it necessary to hang on to Miller? Do they trade him? The answer for now, is he stays put. Chapman is facing a possible suspension that doesn’t exceed 50 games, so the Yankees need the 8th and 9th inning to be held down by Betances and Miller until Chapman can join the team in the regular season. As July approaches and the trade deadline looms, that’s when I expect Andrew Miller’s name to be in the trade discussions.

That does it for Water Cooler Talk in 2015. If you like what you see here, be sure to follow me on Twitter. Have a happy and safe new year everyone, I’ll talk to you again in 2016.

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.