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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.

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!

 

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.