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.
The 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.
We 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.
Robbie 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.
The 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.