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!
As 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.
Mark 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:
SP 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.