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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.

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, 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.