The midseason mark of the CFL season arrives this week, which means it is time to find out why your team will or will not win the Grey Cup.
The midseason mark of the CFL season arrives this week, which means it is time to find out why your team will or will not win the Grey Cup.
We’ve seen enough of these squads, which were slapped together during the wildest off-season in league history, and now we can make the assessments of their championship chances. Realistically, only six teams have any shot at hoisting the trophy on Nov. 24, but we’re prepared to suspend belief for a few paragraphs.
Here are the reasons why your team will and will not win the Grey Cup: B.C. Lions (1-8, fifth in West) Will win because … they have Mike Reilly. The quarterback may not be the same Mike Reilly he was when he showed up in Vancouver, but if they can somehow find a way to protect him — he’s been sacked a league-most 36 times — he can always do plenty of damage with his arm. They also have a solid receiving corps led by Bryan Burnham, a hard runner in John White and more of a pass rush with the addition of Shawn Lemon. Won’t win because … they are 1-8 in the league’s better division and essentially have no hope of catching up due to the hole they’ve dug. They are four games out of the crossover playoff spot, the offensive line often can’t protect Reilly long enough for him to get the ball out of his hands, and the defence has been giving up yards, yards and more yards. Let’s be real. They’re toast.
Remaining opponents’ win percentage —.494 Calgary Stampeders (5-4, fourth in West) Will win because … Bo Levi Mitchell should be back at some point, and that might be all they need to get over the hump in a year when there is no one dominant team. Nick Arbuckle has done an admirable job in getting the Stamps to a 5-4 mark at the midway point, the defence gave up only six “big” plays in the first half of the season, and they had a chance to win all four of their losses. Won’t win because … Mitchell is dealing with a pectoral tear, which means you have to wonder if his injury is more serious than they’re letting on. And even though the defence doesn’t give up the big plays, it still surrenders points (21.4 per game) at a greater rate than most other contending teams. Finally, the Stamps have shown the propensity for getting burned on special teams; they’ve allowed four return touchdowns this season, which is tied for most in the league.
Remaining opponents’ win percentage —.564 Edmonton Eskimos (6-3, second in West) Will win because … they have kept healthy one of the league’s top quarterbacks in a season of fallen pivots. Trevor Harris has a 900-yard lead in the league’s passing yards race, and he has thrown 13 touchdowns against just two interceptions. He has also been sacked only three times—THREE!—in nine games, which puts the Esks on pace to break the single-season record for sacks surrendered. The offence isn’t even the biggest reason why they win, as the Esks are allowing a league-best 18.6 points per game and only 193.9 passing yards per content. Won’t win because … they are the league’s runaway leader when it comes to penalties and penalty yards, and they often shoot themselves in the foot. If they can clean that up, there aren’t many holes left in the Green and Gold’s armour. Another area of concern is their schedule, as the Esks have already played both games against the Argos, one against Ottawa and two of three against the Lions.
Remaining opponents’ win percentage —.577
(Derek Leung/Getty Images) Hamilton Tiger-Cats (7-2, first in East) Will win because … they lead the East Division by two and a half games, so they are in prime position to be one home victory away from a Grey Cup berth. They also get to play the Argos twice, and the Lions and Redblacks once among their remaining nine games. Their defence is solid enough to make up for the loss of starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. The Tabbies are also the leaders when it comes to turnover ratio, which goes a long way to winning championships. Won’t win because … they’ve lost Masoli for the season to a torn ACL and will rely on a rookie in Dane Evans the rest of the way. Evans has won two of his three starts since taking over, but the victories were over the Redblacks and the Lions. It will be a different story when he faces a topnotch defence. The Ticats are solid everywhere else, but the quarterback situation is a big enough factor that it could sink them.
Remaining opponents’ win percentage —.436 Montreal Alouettes (4-4, second in East) Will win because … they have the best pivot in the East Division, and the CFL is a quarterback league. Vernon Adams Jr. is finally coming into his own after bouncing around the league for three seasons, and he is one of the most dangerous running quarterbacks in the league. In addition, William Stanback is averaging the most yards per carry among running backs. Kavis Reed made a lot of mistakes during his time as Alouettes general manager, but spending money on former Stampeders defenders like Tommie Campbell and Patrick Levels makes their defence tough to play against. Won’t win because … even though Adams is the best remaining quarterback in the East Division, he still has a ways to go before he can say he belongs in the same group as Mitchell, Harris and Reilly. Even though the Alouettes have beaten both Calgary and Edmonton this season, it is still scoring the fewest points and surrendering the most among the six teams currently in playoff position.
Remaining opponents’ win percentage —.437 Ottawa Redblacks (3-6, third in East) Will win because … they often find a way to get to the big game. Unfortunately for Redblacks fans, that’s basically the only positive thing that can be said about the franchise this season. They are only a game and a half out of a playoff position in the East, and they have the easiest remaining schedule. The one area in which the Redblacks are among the league’s best is special teams; they haven’t allowed a kick return touchdown, and Lewis Ward has missed only one field goal this season. Won’t win because … they are statistically among the bottom feeders in nearly every offensive and defensive category. Quarterbacks Dominique Davis and Jonathon Jennings haven’t been able to deliver, and the fact that Ottawa is dead last in time of possession means its defence has been getting hammered consistently as well. They simply lost too much talent in the off-season, and that’s why they aren’t going to win the Grey Cup.
Remaining opponents win percentage —.355 Saskatchewan Roughriders (5-3, third in West) Will win because … they have found a capable quarterback in Cody Fajardo. The Nevada gunslinger took over from Zach Collaros on the team’s first drive of the season, and now they’re looking like contenders. Fajardo leads the league in completion percentage and in passes of 30 yards or more, and the offence doesn’t turn the ball over. The defence, even though it doesn’t have Chris Jones running the show anymore, still has the remnants of last year’s smothering unit and doesn’t give up much. It is one of only four teams surrendering fewer than 20 points per game. Won’t win because … even though they don’t turn the ball over, they take it away even less. The Riders have the league’s third worst turnover ratio at minus-6, and that is not championship material. Another weak link is special teams, which is understandable considering their leader, Craig Dickenson, is busy also serving as the team’s head coach. The Riders have allowed four return touchdowns, which is tied for the most in the league, and their opponents have a whopping 18.3-yard punt return average.
Remaining opponents win percentage —.534
Toronto Argonauts (1-7, fourth in East) Will win because … Zach Collaros finds his 2015 form, doesn’t take another serious hit and leads the Double Blue to victory at McMahon Stadium on Nov. 24. That’s really the only viable option, because nothing else is working. Won’t win because … nothing is working. Yes, the Boatmen pulled off a come-from-behind victory over the Bombers in one of those only-in-the-CFL moments three weeks ago, but they quickly reverted to their overmatched selves last week against the Eskimos. You name the statistic, and there’s a good chance the Argos are wallowing at or near the bottom of the category. Neither James Franklin nor McLeod Bethel-Thompson are the answer at quarterback, and their running back, James Wilder Jr., doesn’t seem too interested in playing football these days. It’s just another disaster of a season.
Remaining opponents win percentage —.483 Winnipeg Blue Bombers (7-2, first in West) Will win because … they boast one of the league’s best players in Andrew Harris. The big running back keeps getting better at the age of 32, and last week he became the Canadian with the most yards from scrimmage in CFL history. It’s important to run the ball well in the playoffs, and Harris shows week in and week out that he is the toughest runner to stop. The defence has also been stout this season, allowing a league-best 17.4 points per game. Won’t win because … Matt Nichols is out for an undetermined period of time due to a throwing shoulder injury. Even though he’s not the main reason they’ve won seven of nine games this season, he is a veteran who is savvy enough to not make the big mistake, which goes a long way to winning football games. The Bombers have also had the benefit of playing the league’s weaklings in the first half of the season, so they probably aren’t as good as their record suggests. Five of their seven victories have come against Toronto, B.C. and Ottawa, and they are the only team that has fallen to the Argos. They have the toughest schedule down the stretch.
Remaining opponents win percentage —.605 WEEK 11 Winnipeg at Edmonton (-6.5) Friday, 9 p.m. EDT
The Bombers (7-2) kick off the Chris Streveler era against a tough opponent, as the Esks (6-3) are just a game back in the West and 4-0 at home. Eskimos by 10. Ottawa at Saskatchewan (-10) Saturday, 7 p.m. EDT
The Redblacks (3-6) won a shootout in Week 2, but much has changed since then. Saskatchewan (5-3) has won four straight and will make it five here. Roughriders by six. Hamilton (-3) at B.C. Saturday, 10 p.m. EDT
This betting line suggests the Ticats (7-2) and Lions (1-8) aren’t as far apart as their records suggest, but Hamilton’s defence will be the difference in this one. Tiger-Cats by five. Montreal (-5.5) at Toronto Sunday, noon EDT
Touchdown Atlantic returns with the Alouettes (4-4) and Argonauts (1-7) battling in Moncton. It’s safe to say these teams are headed in opposite directions. Alouettes by 12. THE INSIDERS SAY Anonymous thoughts from GMs, coaches and personnel people …
• Tell Dave (Dickenson) the fucking Canadians got to decide if (Vernon) Adams scored. I don’t know if the refs remembered what he called us, but I’ll never forget.
• Number 35 (Jerod Fernandez) for Ottawa is a straight-up punk. That late-game hit on (Curtis) Newton in the back was intentional. No place for stuff like that in our league. I’m not the one who sends stuff in, but that hit should be a fine.
• What I found interesting was (Corey) Chamblin saying everything goes through him. It seemed like there may be some internal conflicts over there. As for (James) Wilder, he’s been average and injured after his first year, so the fact they are trying to trade him doesn’t surprise me.
• I was watching the Toronto game in my hotel room. Would have understood if (Jim) Popp had fired Cory (Chamblin) right after the game. Don’t like to criticize other coaches, but when your defence has been bad all night, shit, how do you punt down by 15 with less than two and a half minutes left? The Argos needed two touchdowns and never got the ball back.
• Is Moncton in the same province as Halifax?
• We didn’t have a high enough draft grade on Justin Lawrence. He’s starting for the Stamps. Grinder. Competes. We had four or five chances, I think, to take him before Calgary finally did.
• I’ve had some good battles with Lapo (Paul LaPolice) through the years. Extra hours preparing for a well coached team. But even a good coach like him will be challenged playing with a quarterback (Chris Streveler) who doesn’t pass consistent.
• Toronto’s troubles are a combination of quarterback and coaches. QB was inconsistent early and then got hurt. Look at (Corey) Chamblin’s staff. Some of them are the same guys he started 0-9 with in Saskatchewan, and other are holdovers because of coaches’ cap. Tough deal right there.
• We screwed up not trading for Vernon Adams. When (Eric) Tillman called, he said they were locked in with (Jeremiah) Masoli and (Johnny) Manziel and that coach (June) Jones had decided to go with (Dane) Evans over Adams. Said it was a cap thing and they couldn’t keep four quarterbacks. Said Adams would be a steal for a mid-round pick. I don’t like Tillman, but everything he said about Adams turned out to be true. We could have had him. We blew it.
• If B.C. upsets Hamilton, it helps us. The last time they played, Hamilton looked confused when they tried to defend 23 personnel (two backs and three receivers). If they haven’t gotten that corrected, B.C. has a chance.
• Montreal just won a crazy CFL game (over the Stampeders), that’s all. Heck, Ottawa beat Calgary in Calgary with Bo Levi (Mitchell). Anyone can win any week.
• I’m not a Kavis Reed fan, but that’s a good football team in Montreal. We haven’t played them in regular season yet. The two times we do will be big games.
• Look, it’s pretty rough out here (in the West Division), but I laughed when Rod Black said the Argos are going to be very happy playing East teams now after playing eight games against us (West teams). Does he understand that Hamilton and Montreal are pretty fucking good, too?
• When other teams win I like to give them credit, but our toughest opponent this year has been our own general manager. We’re scratching and clawing, but we lost a lot of good football players in free agency.
• The Bombers struggle at times offensively with (Matt) Nichols and (Andrew) Harris, so I see much worse with (Chris) Streveler. Watching him play, he still can’t locate throws consistently. I see the same QB I saw early last season, and that’s not good enough. (Paul) LaPolice will put him in good situations, but he’ll have to deliver regularly now. I foresee trouble.
• They were down 10-0 in the first quarter, and (Glen) Suitor said the Lions are improved. I’ve gained 20 pounds since training camp. Too many desserts and too many late-night chips. But if Suitor says the Lions are improved, guess I can tell my wife that the fatter me is improved, too.
• We (coaches) respect Matt Nichols more than you media guys do. When the Bombers lose the next three without him, you’ll see why coaches are smarter than newspaper guys and talking heads.
• I’d give Andrew Harris the MOP right now. He’s a stud, week in and week out. Best player on the team with the best record.
• Our GM said B.C. is paying Duron Carter more than Toronto’s paying Chris Rainey. The Lions could have kept Rainey instead of signing Carter. Which one would you rather have? Losing isn’t always our (coaches) fault.
• Duane Forde talked about a thing that most TV people never talk about. He said Hamilton was dressing eight defensive lineman and Ottawa was only dressing six. Roster construction is one of the hardest decisions we make every week. I don’t know how the cap works, but that comes into it, too. What we decide can turn out good or bad. Bad roster decisions can cost a game or two if we get injuries in the first half where we lack numbers.
• We flew from Montreal to Calgary and back. And now we have to go to Moncton. The Argos played at home and slept in their own beds the night before we played the Stamps way out there. This time of the year bodies start showing fatigue, and those kinds of advantages show up on game day. Hope this isn’t the week.