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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.

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.