The NFL Pre Season year doesn’t officially begin until tomorrow, but what a start to the league year already. Retirements, free agents signings (pending of course), trades and releases have already shook up the new league year. The next 52 days leading up to the draft should be exciting, so sit back, relax and let Water Cooler Talk help you become the sports guru of the office this week.

The news of Calvin Johnson retiring broke just about 40 minutes before I sat down to start writing the column for the day, obviously I had to change the strategy. For the first time since 2006 and 731 receptions later, the Detroit Lions will be without who could be considered one of the most dominant WRs of all time. What does this mean for the Lions? For now, it should mean they’re in scramble mode as they try to find a piece (or pieces) to replace Megatron. With Johnson retiring, the cap number gives the Lions more breathing room, but the crop of receivers on the market aren’t great. And while the Lions need to address defensive issues in the draft, perhaps it’s now time to look at a WR who you can try to build around for the future and to keep Matthew Stafford happy for the foreseeable future.

DeMarco Murray, you know, the guy who ran for over 1,800 yards with the Cowboys in 2014, has been traded to the Tennessee Titans. After a tumultuous season with Philadelphia in 2015 in which he only rushed for 702 yards, Murray is headed to a much friendlier offense that fits his style under Mike Mularkey. Questions arose about Murray’s commitment to Philadelphia even after Chip Kelly was fired, but it’s apparent that the damage is done which is why Murray is on the go once again.

Staying with the Eagles, they’ve decided to drop most of the pieces of Chip Kelly moves by shipping off Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso to the Miami Dolphins. Maxwell was paid prior to the 2015 season as a #1 corner which didn’t pan out at all and Alonso was acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills for LeSean McCoy. It’s apparent that the Eagles want to forget Chip Kelly ever being in the organization in any capacity.

Retirements and trades have been a hot topic the last 16 hours or so, but a release has made some buzz as well, though it doesn’t come as a surprise. Robert Griffin III, more easily known as RGIII, is on the market after the Washington Redskins declined his 5th-year option. RGIII set the NFL world on fire in 2012 as a rookie, but a devastating knee injury in the finale of that season saw a major decline in production. After sitting out all of this past season, it appears that RGIII will best be suited in a backup role with a prominent QB who can learn the ropes on what could be a comeback trail.

That QB in which RGIII can sit back and learn won’t be Peyton Manning as he officially retired yesterday. However, Brock Osweiler was able to learn from Manning and as an unrestricted free agent, can let the dollars fly his way. While Denver has offered Osweiler a sizable contract (3 years, $45 million), other teams are in the market for a QB and could offer more (Houston comes to mind). I think Brock stays, but if he waits too long to sign with Denver they may move on since Denver wants to keep Malik Jackson as well, Denver currently only has $9 million in cap space.

All of this buzz comes at a good time for the NFL as most sports fans are anticipating the bracket release on Sunday surrounding college basketball. So for now, the NFL buzz is amplified leading up to the free agency period which begins on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

No, I haven’t forgotten about college basketball, but the latest NFL news has trumped that talk for now. Next week’s Water Cooler Talk will solely focus on March Madness and the bracket. So be sure to come back next week as I give you my prediction for the upcoming tournament (I did pick the eventual Final Four and champions last year). In the meantime, enjoy the warm weather and be sure to follow me on Twitter, @JasonSaulter. Have a great week everyone.

Water Cooler Talk isn’t too proud to admit that he was wrong in the prediction of Sunday’s game. While I was confident in my pick and potential game situations, I may have either had too much bias or allowed the betting line to sway my opinion. Either way, it’s all said and done now, so let’s recap the game before taking a short recess from NFL talk. Sit back, relax and enjoy the memory of Super Bowl 50 one more time while enjoying the sweet site of snow coming down.

The Broncos had a great start to the game as they marched down the field with ease to open the game, but couldn’t quite cap off the drive as they only came away with three points. Carolina seemed nervous while Manning and the Broncos offense seemed to have just been playing a typical game on a Sunday in America.

Carolina’s offense on the other hand struggled mightily to start the game, and it really didn’t improve much moving forward thanks to a smothering Denver defense and mental mistakes. Cam couldn’t be Cam, receivers had a hard time getting open and the running game just couldn’t get a flow.

When you look past Denver’s opening drive, there really wasn’t anything to talk about. With the exception of C.J. Anderson, who had 90 yards on 23 carries with a TD, there wasn’t a bright spot. 191 yards was the total offensive output from the Broncos, the fewest yards gained by a Super Bowl winner. But as I and the other 147 million people watching now know, the offense didn’t need to do anything to win this game.

Forcing four Carolina turnovers assured the Broncos that they would never trail in this game. It appeared that when the Panthers were finally gaining some momentum, a turnover, penalty, dropped pass or sack stifled any chance of a shift in confidence.

I’ve heard some of the rumblings, as I’m sure you have as well, that the game was rigged since the NFL figured this would be Manning’s last game. While there were some questionable calls on the field, don’t think for one second that this game was rigged for Carolina to lose. Carolina lost this game, simple as that. They averaged less than two turnovers per game over the regular season…they committed four on Sunday. They averaged six penalties per game prior to Sunday…they got flagged 12 times on Sunday. Carolina averaged 31.3 points during the regular season…they could only muster 10 in Santa Clara. Cam had not been hit more than six times in any game this season…he was sacked seven times on Sunday and hit repeatedly.

When you think about the Panthers season, they went 17-2 and lost by a total of 21 points. While that seems redundant to most, it’s impressive when you think about how Carolina was without Kelvin Benjamin all season, Luke Kuechly for three games and having Charles Johnson and Jonathan Stewart missing time during the season as well. This team will be one to watch out for in the years to come, this will not be another Carolina one-trick pony.

Denver needs to enjoy their moment for as long as they can. They had a very up-and-down season with an extremely inconsistent offense along with QB changes between Manning and Brock Osweiler that called for Manning to retire before the season even ended.

It’s going to be a tough offseason for Denver now as it appears Manning will retire and having a slew of to-be free agents to include Von Miller, Brock Osweiler, Malik Jackson, Evan Mathis, Danny Trevathan, C.J. Anderson and Brandon Marshall. They can’t keep them all, so it looks as if John Elway will have to do a bit of rebuilding. Considering all of this, it’s still tough to say that Denver will take a backseat to competing for another Lombardi trophy for next season.

It’s sad to know the NFL season is over, but before we know it the Scouting Combine will start which means the NFL Draft will soon arrive, then OTAs, and then training camp will start. It’ll be a fast six months, so fight back those tears.

Thanks for reading this week, be sure to come back as we’ll begin delving into college basketball and start gearing up for the upcoming MLB season. Everyone have a great week and have a fun time in the snow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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