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?
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?
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.
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.