TSN Senior CFL Correspondent Gary Lawless takes a weekly look at the biggest news in the three-down game.
They are the best team in the Canadian Football League by any measure. They are the hottest team in the league, unbeaten in 13 straight. They are one win away from being in the Grey Cup, where they will be the overwhelming favourite. They are the Calgary Stampeders, and there is really only one pertinent question left in this CFL season: Can anyone lick the Stamps?
If the playoffs were to begin today, the following teams would be in the postseason: Calgary, Winnipeg, B.C. Ottawa, Hamilton and Edmonton.
Let’s take a look at what needs to happen for these teams to have a shot at beating the 14-1-1 Stampeders:
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Calgary has already beat Winnipeg three times this season. The last win came on a late field goal. Beating a team four times in one season is hard to do in high school football, let alone professional. So the percentages will be in Winnipeg’s favour. Any chance of a Bombers win over Calgary will come down to Winnipeg’s strength — winning the turnover battle. The Bombers own a league best plus-31 turnover ratio. If they can manage the ball effectively while creating turnovers on defence and kick coverage teams, they have a chance.
The Lions are the only team in the CFL to beat the Stamps this season, which happened way back in Week 1. The Lions have a quick-strike offence, so their path to beating Calgary is to lure the Stamps into a track meet. Quarterback Jonathan Jennings can sling it and the Lions have the receivers to go get it. B.C. needs a high-scoring game and for Jennings to have a chance late.
The Redblacks earned a tie against the Stamps in Week 3. Calgary has won every game they’ve played since as quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has evolved into one of the most efficient victory machines the CFL has ever seen. Ottawa has been up and down, and has now moved back to veteran Henry Burris at quarterback. Burris looked sharp in a 30-29 win over the Tiger-Cats last weekend and one has to wonder if there isn’t a fairy-tale ending to his career brewing in Ottawa. Burris is nearing the finish line. The Redblacks meeting the Stamps in the Grey Cup with the greybeard leading them to a championship would be storybook stuff. Ottawa needs to begin building then peak with a perfect plan and equal execution in the Grey Cup to have a chance against the Stamps.
The Rouge picked the Tiger-Cats to win the Grey Cup way back in the preseason. Now they’re 6-9 and quarterback Zach Collaros is back on the shelf — this time with a concussion. It hasn’t been a season to remember so far for the Ticats. But this is the CFL, where a team can get hot late in the season and end up sipping champagne on the last Sunday of November. The Tiger-Cats still have the pieces to get the job done. A dominant front seven on defence with high-end talent in Ted Laurent, John Chick and Simoni Lawrence. Brandon Banks is still one of the most dangerous special teams players in the league. If Collaros can get healthy he can be as dynamic as any other player in Canada. If the Tiger-Cats can emerge from the East and end up meeting the Stamps in the title game they’ll need Lawrence to be a game-changer on defence, Banks to put up a major in the return game and Collaros to be at his absolute best. It’s a lot to ask, but Hamilton does have the horsepower to make it happen.
The Eskimos may have to do this the hard way, crossing over to the East and playing that division’s semi and final on the road for the opportunity to get to the Grey Cup and meet their Alberta neighbours. The East may look like the easier path right now, but history is against it. West teams crossing over are 0-8 in their efforts to win the Grey Cup. The Eskimos have looked strong of late, winning three straight and adding some veteran pieces in Philip Hunt and Troy Stoudermire for the stretch. Quarterback Mike Reilly is having a career year with 5,054 passing yards already and three games to go. He has a chance to hit 6,000. Reilly is the only player standing in the way of Mitchell’s campaign for Most Outstanding Player. The Esks could still push their way into the West playoff picture and end up second or third on that side. They have lots to play for at this point. Betting against Reilly is never a good idea. He can beat any team on any day. Calgary versus Edmonton in the West Final or Grey Cup would be a slobberknocker.
The Stamps are favoured by 18 over the Argos. That’s too fat. Ricky Ray is back in at quarterback for the Argos. Take Toronto and the points.