Will it be an all-West Grey Cup?

Is this the year we see a cross­over cham­pion fi­nally emerge from the CFL’s East Divi­sion?

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - TED WY­MAN

Twenty weeks are in the books and three teams have been elim­i­nated from Grey Cup con­tention, which means it’s time for the real in­trigue to take cen­tre stage in the CFL.

The play­offs be­gin Sun­day with the Ed­mon­ton Eski­mos vis­it­ing the Win­nipeg Blue Bombers for the West semi­fi­nal and the Ot­tawa Red­blacks host­ing the cross­over Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers in the East semi­fi­nal.

Wait­ing for the win­ners are the Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers and Toronto Arg­onauts, who fin­ished first in their re­spec­tive di­vi­sions.

It’s safe to say all of the re­main­ing six teams are le­git­i­mate con­tenders to play in the Grey Cup, set for Nov. 26 in Ot­tawa, which makes this Novem­ber par­tic­u­larly fascinating.

Here are 10 sto­ry­lines to watch in the CFL post-sea­son:

Will this fi­nally be the year the cross­over team gets to the Grey Cup?

It has to hap­pen some­time, doesn’t it? Nine times teams have crossed over from the West to the East and nine times those teams have failed to reach the cham­pi­onship game. The Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers have a chance to do it this year. They fin­ished fourth in the West with a 10-8 record, but will have to win two games on the road in the East against 8-9-1 Ot­tawa and 9-9 Toronto. We’re say­ing there’s a chance.

Can the Blue Bombers fi­nally end their 26-sea­son Grey Cup drought?

The odds aren’t great. The Bombers had a fine sea­son, go­ing 12-6, but in­juries have hit at the wrong time. They are with­out im­pact play­ers Moe Leggett, Ja­maal Wester­man and Darvin Adams and quar­ter­back Matt Ni­chols is nurs­ing a calf in­jury that could at very least limit his mo­bil­ity and at worst keep him on the side­lines. With Ni­chols not at 100 per cent, the Bombers could have to use more of the un­spec­tac­u­lar Dan LeFevour, who has started just nine CFL games and has three wins. More likely, the Bombers will rely on the back­field com­bi­na­tion of An­drew Har­ris and Ti­mothy Flan­ders to make things hap­pen and will have to hope their some­times por­ous de­fence can step up at the right time.

Can the Ar­gos go from worst to first to Grey Cup champs?

It’s cer­tainly pos­si­ble. The Ar­gos went 5-13 last sea­son be­fore cleaning house and bring­ing in gen­eral man­ager Jim Popp and coach Marc Trest­man. They turned things around in a hurry, im­prov­ing the Ar­gos to 9-9, which was good enough for first place in the East Divi­sion. Ricky Ray had a stel­lar sea­son at quar­ter­back and rookie James Wilder Jr. is a star in the mak­ing. The only ques­tion is will fans in Toronto come out to watch them play in the East fi­nal?

Can the Red­blacks re­peat as Grey Cup cham­pi­ons in their own sta­dium?

They have the ex­act same reg­u­lar-sea­son record (8-9-1) that they had last sea­son and that was good enough to get them to the Grey Cup, where they up­set Cal­gary. They’ll have to win one more game this year to do it and it won’t be easy against tough Saskatchewan and Toronto teams, but quar­ter­back Trevor Har­ris has been ex­cel­lent this year and has one of the league’s most dan­ger­ous re­ceivers in Greg Elling­son, so they have the tools to get it done.

Can the Stam­ped­ers fin­ish?

They went 15-2-1 last sea­son and lost the Grey Cup in over­time. This year they started out the sea­son 13-1-1 be­fore los­ing their last three games of the reg­u­lar sea­son. Maybe quar­ter­back Bo Levi Mitchell, stud line­backer Alex Sin­gle­ton and Co. are sav­ing them­selves up for the play­offs this time. The Stamps have a his­tory of drop­ping the ball in the play­offs after great sea­sons. In fact they are 130-47-3 over the last 10 reg­u­lar sea­sons, but have only two Grey Cups to show for it.

Will the streaky Eski­mos keep it go­ing?

They started out 7-0 this sea­son, lost the next six games, then won the last five. Talk about a Jekyll and Hyde act. The Eski­mos en­ter the play­offs as the league’s hottest team and have the No. 1 can­di­date for CFL most out­stand­ing player at quar­ter­back. Mike Reilly has been dom­i­nant this sea­son, throw­ing for al­most 6,000 yards, and he has all kinds of weapons at his dis­posal. Most of all, the Eski­mos, who at one time had 21 play­ers on their in­jured list, are rea­son­ably healthy. They are go­ing to be tough to beat.

Will Duron Carter be back on of­fence and can he make a dif­fer­ence?

The con­tro­ver­sial Roughrid­ers re­ceiver was the team’s most out­stand­ing player nom­i­nee after play­ing on both of­fence and de­fence and scor­ing touch­downs each way. He caught ex­actly one pass for six yards over the last three games of the sea­son after catch­ing 72 for more than 1,000 yards through the first 15 games. He was ban­ished to the de­fen­sive side of the ball after get­ting in­volved in a fight in prac­tice, but fared pretty well there, scor­ing a touch­down on an in­ter­cep­tion in his first game. Carter is ex­pected to be back on of­fence this week and has the abil­ity to be a dif­fer­ence maker. Will the MOP nom­i­nees meet in the Grey Cup?

Reilly and Ray es­tab­lished them­selves as the top two play­ers in the CFL this sea­son — with some ar­gu­ment from Har­ris in Win­nipeg — and both have their teams well po­si­tioned for the play­offs. Reilly is the odds-on favourite to the be the league’s most out­stand­ing player, hav­ing thrown for 5,830 yards and 30 touch­downs, while Ray, 38, had one of the best of his 15 CFL sea­sons, throw­ing for 5,546 yards and 28 touch­downs. Toronto cer­tainly looks like the favourite to come out of the East, while the Eski­mos are rid­ing a five-game win­ning streak as the play­offs be­gin.

Will Al­mondo Sewell eat his words or stuff them down the Bombers’ throats?

He’s the most dom­i­nant de­fen­sive line­man in the CFL and he’s not afraid to speak his mind. So there was Sewell, telling the Win­nipeg Sun on Wed­nes­day the Eski­mos are the better team and they are go­ing to win against the Bombers on the road Sun­day. He might be right — the Eski­mos are better in most sta­tis­ti­cal cat­e­gories — but it’s bill­board fod­der for sure and the Bombers are cer­tain to take no­tice. Sewell’s ar­gu­ment is the Eski­mos lost six games in a row only be­cause they were hurt. How­ever, two of those losses came against the Bombers and the Eski­mos were much health­ier in the se­cond game. Those losses are the rea­son why Win­nipeg gets to host the play­off game, when the two teams tied at 12-6.

Who will take the ball and run with it in Saskatchewan?

Kevin Glenn is still the start­ing quar­ter­back for the Rid­ers, but Bran­don Bridge has thrown more passes than Glenn in four of the last five games. The only game Glenn started and fin­ished was in Week 17 against the Red­blacks, when he threw 39 passes. Since then the pass dis­tri­bu­tion has been Bridge 19, Glenn three (Week 18), Bridge 15, Glenn 14 (Week 19) and Bridge 20, Glenn 10 (Week 20). There’s al­most no doubt we’ll see both quar­ter­backs Sun­day in Ot­tawa, but the big ques­tion is will one of them step up and lead the Rid­ers to the win?

KEVIN KING

Duron Carter and the Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers have a chance to make CFL his­tory by be­com­ing the first cross­over team to play for the Grey Cup.

JEFF MCINTOSH/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Quar­ter­back Ricky Ray and the Toronto Arg­onauts, who clinched the top spot in the East, can go to from worst to first if they emerge as Grey Cup cham­pi­ons later this month.

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