2016 CFL Season Preview: Part 3 of 4 – West Division

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It still irritates me that the Blue Bombers are in the West Division.

But that really has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

We’re here to discuss what should be a great race in the CFL’s West Division this year.  The Division’s bottom three teams last year, i.e. Winnipeg, B.C. and Saskatchewan, have all made moves that *should* make them more competitive, setting the stage for what could be an excellent playoff spot battle after Labour Day.

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Rider Report – Week 4: Riders vs. BC

coreyTHE RECORDS

Saskatchewan: 0-3 – Last in the West Division, and last in the CFL

BC: 1-1 – Tied for 2nd in the West Division

THE WEEK BEFORE

The Lions came back late in the 4th quarter to tie up the game and send it into OT where they beat the Riders in the first mini-game.

THE STATS

From CFL.ca:

Tough losses: Saskatchewan is 0-3 but their three losses are by a combined 9 points. It is the first time in 33 years (1982) they have lost three in a row by 4 points or less.

OT Heartbreak: Saskatchewan’s back-to-back OT losses is only the third time in CFL history that has ever happened (BC twice: 1991 & 2010).

1st down success: One of the keys to the Riders’ #1 CFL offence (504.3 yards per game) is their outstanding first down production.  They lead the CFL at 8.7 yards per play on first down and have had no less than 437 yards in any game this year.  They were averaging 324 yards after three games in 2014.

Turnover Ratio: The Riders rank #8 in T/O Ratio at -4 and have not won that aspect of any game this season.

Getting to 1-1: The win last week helped BC avoid another 0-2 start, something they did in 2008, 2009, 2011 & 2014.  They have been slow starters recently and since 2009 are 31-34 (.477) in the first half of seasons, and 41-22 (.651) in the second half.

Leaving it Late: In the win over Saskatchewan last week, BC scored on 8 of their last 12 possessions and that included 17 points in the final 8:00 of the game.

THE STORY LINES

How do you solve a problem like Corey Chamblin? Or is Corey Chamblin even a problem? Rider Nation seems quite divided on the performance of its head coach as of late, and this week’s game will either help Coach Chamblin begin to redeem himself in the eyes of the fans or continue his spiral downward.  While I’m not Coach’s biggest fan, I hope it’s the former.

The Lions will look to win their second game in a row, but this time in regulation.  To the best of my recollection, the Lions have a pretty good record at Taylor Field.

THE MATCH-UPS

Quarterbacks: Kevin Glenn continues to put up impressive numbers and keep the Riders’ offence at the top of the league. Travis Lulay appears to be getting his game back as he threw for over 400 yards last week en route to an OT victory.  Even

Offensive lines: The Riders’ offensive line is developing into a strong unit – although those ‘hands to the face’ penalties could stop at any time now.  The Lions’ offensive line played well last week, but honestly, the Riders didn’t even test them.  Edge: Riders

Receivers: Emmanuel Arceneaux got the last laugh last week as he scored the winning TD.  But Weston Dressler put up over 100 yards in the first eleven minutes of the game.  If the weather’s good, look for the QBs to put a lot of balls in the air.  Edge: Even

Running backs: From the CFL’s game notes, it appears that both Rider RBs Jerome Messam and Anthony Allen are on pace to break 1,000 yards this season. While it’s still early, this bodes well for the Riders’ offence come fall.  The Lions need to use Andrew Harris more.  He started to make a difference near the end of last week’s game and could be a game breaker if utilized properly.  Edge: Riders

Defensive lines: The Riders’ defensive line continues to rush 3 most of the time, which pretty much makes them invisible.  I don’t recall much about the Lions’ pass rush from last week either.  Even

Linebackers: It was Adam Bighill who kept Rider rookie QB Brett Smith from making the 3rd and 1 that likely would have given the Riders the game.  The Riders continue to go with their young’uns, and the learning curve is noticeable.  Edge: Lions by a football field

SecondariesThe Riders lost Weldon Brown to a season-ending injury and have brought in Geoff Tisdale as a reinforcement.  The Lions’ receivers couldn’t cover Weston Dressler in the 1st quarter, but eventually figured out how to keep him from scoring.  Edge: Even

Special Teams: Richie Leone nailed a 56 yard field goal last week to send the game into overtime.  Paul McCallum is 5/5 so far this year.  Even

INTANGIBLES

The Riders are in desperation mode these days.  Playing at home in front of a crowd that’s begging for a win and hasn’t been shy about voicing its displeasure with the 0-3 start may make the Riders a little tight.  Also, the Riders need to stop taking so many penalties (this is a recording).  BC comes in without any pressure, which is a definite advantage.  Edge: BC

Week 4 Preview

Dear CFL:

If you have to create infographics of penalties, you obviously:

a) think you have a problem; and

b) want to make it clear that you’re not the source of the problem.

Needless to say, we all have yelled ‘C’MON REF!‘ at some point early on in this season.

Personally, I have been rather frustrated with the amount of penalty flags I see each and every game.

And I’m faaaaaaaaaaaar from the only one.

So, in response to those who think that the referees have been abusing their penalty powers, the CFL released these infographics yesterday:

penaltiespenalties2

(You know, these infographics might be the most professional material the CFL has ever put out.)

My first question in looking at these infographics is since when do we refer to penalties as fouls?

My second question is: aren’t roughness fouls also preventable fouls?  I would think that shoving a guy after the whistle is somewhat preventable.

My third question is what is a technical foul? And really, aren’t all fouls predictable and therefore preventable in some way?  If a kicker kicks a kickoff (heh) out of bounds, it may be more of a technical foul because there isn’t any roughness involved, and it’s not as if the kicker wanted the ball to go out of bounds.  But couldn’t it have been prevented had the kicker kicked the ball better?  Maybe he should’ve squib kicked it if there’s a substantial wind…

ANYWAY…

The CFL’s argument is that nearly 60% of the penalty flags that have been thrown thus far this season didn’t need to be thrown.  And of those, only a small fraction have anything to do with the new rules.

While I would agree with this in part, the fact is that more penalties are being called in general according to someone who has a lot more time on their hands than me. It’ll be interesting to watch how this analysis changes as the season goes on.

Regardless, the CFL and its players need to figure out how to deal with the epidemic of penalty flags, because nobody has enjoyed watching these flag fests over the past couple of weeks – not even ME.

Here are this week’s games:

Week 4

And here are your previews:

  • The Kitty Cats come off a bye week where they said BUH BYE to running back Nic Grigsby ($10 says he ends up with the Riders by Labour Day).  The Als are smarting a bit after losing a close game to those awful Blue Bumblers.  While the Cats are a better team on paper and also have game-breaker Brandon Banks (hmmm…he needs a nickname), the Als are rather formidable when they’re playing at home.  So…I’m going to go out on a limb and say Montreal wins this one. Prediction: Montreal by 4
  • I can’t believe the spread in this game is only 3.5 points – especially after the Schmoes shredded the RODBLACKS last week.  I think this is the week where we actually find out if the RODBLACKS are, as they say, ‘for real’ (I hate that phrase), or if they’re the scout team I think they are.  I still don’t think that MATTY ICE (Matt Nichols) is a good QB.  Must I link to the most hilarious interception you may ever see to prove my point?  Okay.  I will.  The Schmoes’ defensive was back in gear last week, but I expect the RODBLACKS to come out with a bit more fire since they’re playing at home.  Nevertheless, the Schmoes will still win this game.  Prediction: Edmonton by 12
  • What can I tell you about this game that you don’t already know?  I can tell you that Weldon Brown won’t be suiting up for the Riders again this season.  And I can tell you that this spells trouble.  Up until he had to leave last week’s game due to injury, he had pretty much shut down Emmanuel Arceneaux.  I fear the same won’t occur this week.  For some reason the Lions don’t run the ball much, which I always think is a mistake because Andrew Harris is a goooood running back.  So let’s put it this way: if the Lions start running the ball, the Riders are going to have even more problems.  The Riders are desperate to win at home and keep the boo birds at bay.  Therefore, I think they Riders will play ‘not to lose’ instead of ‘to win,’ and that never works out well.  Prediction: BC by 6
  • The Stumps have juuuuuuuuuuuust been getting by the last couple of weeks.  A one point win over the Kitty Cats and a five point win over the Arblows doesn’t exactly scream ‘COMMANDING’.  Maybe it’s still a bit of a Grey Cup hangover, but they’re just not all that sharp.  Lucky for them, though, they get to play the Bumblers.  The Bumblers have shown that their defence will make teams pay for their mistakes, so if the Stumps’ offence can keep from turning over the ball, the Stumps should cruise to a win.  Plus, I just don’t think that Free (Drew) Willy will be able to put up enough offence to keep pace with the Stumps. Prediction: Calgary by 10

2015 CFL Preview – Part 4 of 4: Saskatchewan Roughriders

For awhile there in 2014, you had to wonder…

For the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the 2014 season got off to a strong start. After winning the 2013 Grey Cup, the team sought to ride the success of the previous year – but without accounting for the loss of key personnel. The biggest loss for the team was the signing of Kory Sheets by the NFL’s Oakland Raiders. Other notable losses included Craig Butler, who signed as a free agent with the Hamilton Tiger Cats, Weston Dressler, who tried out with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, and Keith Shologan, who was picked up by the Ottawa RODBLACKS in the expansion draft.  And the list went on.

However, while a number of key players were no longer with the Riders during the 2014 season, the season actually veered off course due to a significant injury suffered by arguably the team’s most important player – QB Darian Durant.  After Durant’s injury, the team’s offensive output plummeted – even though it was already rather lacking – and the Riders’ season ended with a loss to the Schmoes.  In that game, the Riders sought to summon the spirit of 2007 Kerry Joseph. What they got instead was a QB long past his prime who threw 5 interceptions in one half of football.

Not content to dismiss the 2014 season as an aberration (thank goodness), the Riders set about making wholesale changes during the off-season. While the veteran core of the team remains intact, major changes to its coaching staff and the addition of a few key veterans, as well as what appears so far to be a much better recruitment effort, looks to put the Roughriders back in contention for first place in the CFL’s West Division.

 

COACHING

You and me both, Coach.

The biggest changes for the Roughriders during the off-season were the parting of ways with Offensive Coordinator George Cortez and Defensive Coordinator Richie Hall. The departure of Cortez was a welcome development for the majority of Rider Nation and not exactly unexpected given the team’s dismal offensive showing, particularly during the last half of the season. While the ineptitude of the offense was not completely Cortez’s fault (look what QBs he had to work with after DD went down), his inability to move away from schemes that obviously weren’t working and a refusal to adapt the offence to the strengths of his backup quarterbacks – even if there were few – showed a stubbornness and a lack of creativity that ultimately led to his dismissal.

Seeking to go in a different direction, the Riders hired former BC Lions Offensive Coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine. Notoriously known for his elaborate hand signals, Chapdelaine was not most fans’ first choice, particularly given the rumour that he tends to rub players the wrong way (see his affinity for hand signals). Even though he’s not known as being much of a players’ coach, Chapdelaine was brought on board. So, gone are the days of knowing with 100% certainty that there’ll be a running play on first down. Even though the Riders have only played two pre-season games to date, it’s plain to see that this offence will be much more dynamic and better suited to the players’ strengths, which was sorely lacking under Cortez’s direction. The running game will no longer be the focus of the offence, and the offence is probably more suited to Durant’s gun slinging (according to him) abilities. He will no longer be looked at as a point guard; rather, he will be the catalyst for the offence and be called upon to make plays.

On the defensive side of the ball it was somewhat surprising to see Coach Chamblin go in a different direction because it’s not as if the defence struggled in 2014.  The defensive line had a solid year led by John Chick, and the secondary was one of the best in the league, despite Coach Hall’s 10 yard cushions. The main issue was in the middle – the line backing corps was undersized and untested. However, this was not due to Hall’s coaching; this was a recruitment issue. However, Coach Chamblin has always been known for wanting aggressive defences. In this vein, he sought out former Montréal Alouettes assistant Greg Quick. Not much is known about Quick, as this is his first Defensive Coordinator position in the CFL.  It will be interesting to see if the defence improves under his watch, or if it remains relatively on par with last year’s team.  Regardless, hopefully the days of opposing teams converting “2nd and Balgonie” are gone.

OFFENCE

1. Quarterbacks

Darian Durant remains the key to the Riders’ success. But in 2014, it became very apparent that the Riders had no (pardon the pun) backup plan. When Durant went down with an elbow injury, it was left to Tino Sunseri and Seth Doege to pick up the slack.  You know, the Riders may even have actually been better off with Reggie Slack – the 1997 playoff version as opposed to the addicted to painkillers version.  (“We couldn’t win a football game – the QB was high…”). Sadly, both Sunseri and Doege showed to be woefully unprepared and under developed, although a certain partner’s son would say otherwise about Tino.

NO, NO, AND HELLLLLLLLLL NO!

While George Cortez’s schemes didn’t help either youngster, neither had the ability to make plays when things broke down. This showed in the Riders’ abysmal offensive displays during the second half of the season.

Enter Kevin Glenn.

Random factoid: if you ever go to Detroit and see a Tim Horton’s, it’s this guy’s (he actually owns 2)!

In a full circle moment, Glenn returns to the Riders after nearly 15 years in the league, mostly as a journeyman backup quarterback. Throughout the preseason, Glenn has shown that he can still play. If anything, Glenn might even have a stronger arm this year. The strikes he’s thrown across the middle have been impressive and provide the Riders with the comfort of having a QB that can step into Chapdelaine’s offense if Durant goes down with an injury again. Glenn did not have a successful season with the Lions last year, which was odd considering the number of weapons on that team. However, this was likely due to the Lions’ offensive line issues more than Glenn himself. Glenn is likely looking to redeem himself given last year’s poor showing.

The most important attribute that Glenn brings to the team is quiet leadership. He will not disrupt the locker room, as he knows that this is Durant’s team. He is here to be a team player, to win a Grey Cup and cement his legacy as the best CFL backup quarterback of all time.  And while that may not be every QB’s dream legacy, he enters the season only 500 and some yards shy of passing Matt Dunigan for seventh all-time in CFL passing yards. To accomplish this while mostly being a second stringer is rather astounding.

Now for the main event. We all know that Darian Durant is recovering from an elbow injury.

Darian’s owie caused even more pain for the Riders.
In fact, I have given his elbow a name. For some reason I have named his elbow “Steve.” Throughout the preseason and training camp, reporters constantly questioned Steve’s health. While Steve looked fine throughout camp, it was only when Durant finally played some meaningful football that Steve’s good health could be confirmed. Thus far, Steve looks to be in good shape.
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Woo – Darian’s back!

Chapdelaine’s offense will be a good challenge for Durant. But it may also provide him with some of the best statistical numbers of his career – if all goes well.

Make it happen, buddy!

Chapdelaine’s offenses are known for their high offensive output, so expect to see a lot of passing. Of course with more passing comes more chances for interceptions.  Hopefully Durant will be able to keep those to a minimum. While Durant has nothing left to prove to most fans, there are no doubt naysayers out there that will be clamouring for Glenn at the first sign of trouble and whom Durant would love to silence with a career year.

The only issue with the Riders’ top two quarterbacks are their ages. Durant is now 32 and Kevin Glenn is 36. The age of many starting quarterbacks across really is now under 30 years old: Bo Levi Mitchell is 25 and Drew Willy is 28 (older than I thought), while that Sad Sack Collaros is 26. While Durant is by no means near the end of his career – besides, Henry Burris is still playing at the age of 40 (and maybe he shouldn’t be) – the Riders do need to start developing some younger quarterback talent. Having only one young quarterback on the roster is concerning and the Riders will need to improve their depth at this position.

2. Receivers

If I’m Weston Dressler, Rob Bagg or Chris Getzlaf, I am salivating at the prospect of having a big season. If you look at the numbers of Geroy Simon during his time as a player under Jacques Chapdelaine’s offence, you’ll note that he had some of his most productive years. This bodes well for this veteran receiving corps. Look for these receivers have a much more productive 2015 than they did in 2014 – although really, last year couldn’t have been much worse.

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Actually Rob, it WAS that bad.
These three veteran receivers should also have much more productive years because they have a good young crop of Canadian receivers behind them. Or they did until GM Brendan Taman released them. 2015 draft pick Nick Demski looks like the real deal as he has been featured in the Riders’ offence in both pre-season games. Alex Pierzchalski and Alex Caroll also had strong camps.  Gone are the days of wishing that Jordan Sisco would develop into an actual receiver. NEVER MIND. PIERZCHALSKI IS GONE JUST AS I FINALLY LEARNED HOW TO SPELL HIS NAME.
In terms of imports, the Riders picked up former Alouette Jamel Richardson – and one-time Rider – at a bargain basement price (supposedly – it’s not like the CFL releases salaries). After sitting out the 2014 season,  Richardson seeks to regain his all-star form.  I hope and pray that he does not revert to how he was when he first played with the Riders ’cause he was T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E.  However, whether Richardson’s knee can stand up to a full season remains to be seen. But he does bring more veteran leadership to the receiving corps, and not unlike Geroy Simon in 2013, he’s a target that defences will always have to account for when he’s on the field. Naaman Roosevelt also appears to be a solid signing, and Greg Hardin also had a strong camp, even though he did not see a lot of action in the preseason games.  NEVER MIND.  HARDIN IS GONE.
Overall, the Riders appeared to have recruited a few new good receivers – until they cut most of them. If injuries start to pile up, there may not be the depth necessary to continue to compete with the Stumps and the Schmoes. And thus why I don’t really much like BRENDAN TAMAN right now.
3. Running backs
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Go Anthony, go – AND HANG ON TO THE BALL!

The running back merry-go-round of 2014 will likely continue into 2015. The Riders still have Jerome Messam and Anthony Allen on the roster. Neither running back ran away with (I know – *groan*) the starting position last year, and based on the pre-season, the Riders may just continue to use them both. This is not necessarily a bad thing as each back brings different skills to the table. While Messam is more of a fullback type with a bulldozer mentality, Allen is more of a finesse back, using spins and shiftiness to evade opponents. Unlike the Cortez offense though, neither running back will be the featured offensive weapon. While a running game is necessary in the CFL, especially come playoff time, the emphasis will be more on the passing game, with the running game used as a change of pace instead of vice versa. Look for both backs to be used as blockers as well, as the emphasis on the passing game will require the quarterback to be especially protected. The better blocker may end up winning the starting position.

4. Offensive line

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From practice roster to starter – Dan Clark is the CFL football dream personified.

2014 was a disappointing season for the Riders’ offensive line. The Riders spent a lot of money the previous year locking up Canadian talent such as Brendan Labatte and Dominic Picard and both underperformed in 2014. The offensive line is undergoing some change this season with the departure of right tackle Ben Heenan to the NFL. The Riders also released Dominic Picard and now need a new centre. After the pre-season, it appears that Dan Clark has won that job. Brendan Labatte remains at guard, as does Chris Best. The two major question marks are at left and right tackle. The Riders have been playing an import at left tackle for a while, using Xavier Fulton in that spot. After a stellar 2013 season, Fulton struggled last year, but he wasn’t alone in that. Levy Adcock has been brought in to play right tackle. The real issue is whether the Riders can afford to play two imports on their offensive line. If the Riders are going to go this route, both of their import tackles need to be worth the ratio shuffle. Thus far, it doesn’t appear that either has made a strong case. Yet the Riders may have no choice, as their back up offensive linemen require more development. Or they’ve been CUT (do you see a pattern?).

DEFENCE

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“Trust me – I’LL get the quarterback.”

1. Defensive line

The Riders had a relatively productive defensive line in 2015. John Chick led the league in sacks with 15 and was helped by fellow defensive end Ricky Foley and interior lineman Terrarius George. Ricky Foley was traded to the Arblows in the off-season, leaving the Riders to find a new lineman to anchor the line from the rush end position. To that end (teehee), the Riders signed former Bumbler yet all-star (I know – it’s weird that a Bumbler was an all-star, but as they say, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while) Alex Hall. Hall joined the Riders for their 2013 Grey Cup run, but was not all that noticeable. The Riders will look to him to have a better 2015.

The interior of the defensive line continues to be anchored by Terrarius George, who’s become a star tackle. Highly underrated, he continues to be a force in the middle. The question is who will line up beside him. Regardless, the Riders will likely continue to rotate defensive linemen in order to keep them fresh and ready to rush opposing teams. The best defensive line continues to be that of the Schmoes, painful as it is to admit, but the Riders will try and give them a run for their money this year.

2. Linebackers

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Sorry, Ricky – some things just have to be done.

Ever since I can remember, Roughrider fans have complained about the team’s lack of a solid middle linebacker. Last year was no exception. Knowing that they needed to upgrade at that position going into this season, particularly given how opposing offences seemingly ran over the Riders at will last year, the Riders traded for former Alouette and Rider enemy #1, Shea Emry. (He couldn’t be worse than Dwight Anderson, could he?) But despite my prejudice, Emry is not only a quality linebacker; he is also a Canadian and a ratio changer. The only issue with this strategy is that the Riders do not have an adequate Canadian back up middle linebacker ready to play if Emry is hurt. While the Riders appeared to have found another quality linebacker in Brian Peters, he decided to try his luck in the NFL and left the team. But Telvion Clark and Jeff Knox Jr. had very strong camps, helping to shore up the other linebacker positions. After a few years of struggling to recruit quality linebackers, the Riders appear to have stumbled upon a few players that appear to have the makings of full-time starters. If the Riders want to keep pace in the West Division, their line backing corps will need to step up to the likes of Jon Cornish, Andrew Harris and whomever the Bumblers and Schmoes decide to put in that position.

3. Secondary

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Defensive back or stormtroopers?

This group continues to be one of the Riders’ strengths. Led by Tyron Brackenridge at safety, Terrell Maze, Weldon Brown, Tristan Jackson and Macho Harris at defensive back, this group continues to excel. The biggest challenge the secondary faces going into the 2015 season is the new illegal contact rule. This will be a challenge for all defensive secondaries, but given Coach Chamblin’s desire for aggressive defensive back play, this will this will be a particular challenge for the Riders’ secondary.‎

SPECIAL TEAMS

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That moment you know when the game is lost…

Besides Grandpa Kerry Joseph’s 5 interceptions in the West Semi-Final, what else sunk the Riders that day? Ah yes – an STD or STI, also known as a Special Teams Disaster/Special Teams Implosion.

(Get your minds ‎out of the gutter, people. This is a family-friendly blog.  Besides – I did not come up with the name or acronym.)

‎Place kicker Chris Milo had a rough year, hitting more goal posts than Les Canadiens hit during their series against the Lightning (teehee). Aussie transplant/Rod Black’s favourite player, Josh Bartel, was awful. His punting almost made me wish the Riders still had Jamie Boreham. He couldn’t punt, either, but he did make some excellent hits!

This year, it looks like Milo has a bunch of new tattoos on his ‎left arm, so he’s clearly going to be better. The Riders punted (heh) Hobokicker (Hugh O’Neill, whose nickname I unfortunately cannot take credit for) and signed Ray Early, an import whose booming kicks remind me of the fun-loving Eddie Johnson and one-game wonder Louie Sakoda (2009 Grey Cup – see his punt in the dying minutes of the game). The Riders are going to win the field position battle more often than not with this guy.

Why Bob Dyce, the Riders’ Special Teams Coordinator, continues‎ to be employed by the Riders remains a mystery to me. I swear he’s blackmailing someone. But the good news is that his assistant, Cory McDiarmid, is back this season (although he’s still listed as a linebackers coach on the Bumblers’ website.  Silly Bumblers). McDiarmid helped the Riders’ special teams become one of the most solid units in 2013, and that solid play helped the Riders win the Grey Cup. The fact that the Riders re-hired him after last year’s atrocities shows that Bob Dyce needs help. The next step would be to promote McDiarmid to *actual Coordinator*, but I guess it’s one step at a time.

In conclusion, this year’s Riders are already better on paper than the team that took the field in 2014. I expect a solid offence that may take awhile to get going given the new offensive scheme, a very good defence that will go through a few ups and downs getting used ‎to the new illegal contact rules, and a special teams unit that doesn’t have to do much to improve on last year’s disaster.

Prediction: 3rd in the West