Week 1 Picks

And so it begins.

Welcome to Week 1 of the CFL season!  We survived the long, long off season, the doldrums of training camp, and the hard-to-endure pre-season games, and now it’s time for football that COUNTS.

Now, if I was to make my own power rankings for Week 1, they would slightly differ from those posted above.  My rankings would be as follows:

  • Edmonton Eskimos
  • Calgary Stampeders
  • Toronto Argonauts
  • Ottawa REDBLACKS
  • Saskatchewan Roughriders
  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers
  • Hamilton Tiger-Cats
  • BC Lions
  • Montreal Alouettes

Why?  Calgary has more questions on offence and defence than Edmonton.  Toronto and Ottawa’s QB situations are solid, while both the Riders and Winnipeg are in flux.  The Tiger-Cats need to take down Ottawa or Toronto before they deserve to move up the ladder, and the same with the Lions.  As for Montreal, well, they put a player on their list of cuts this past weekend and less than an hour later announced that the player hadn’t actually been released.

I know, I know.  But when Kavis Reed is in charge, anything can happen. #forensic

One more thing before we get to my weekly picks.  I have yet to make my predictions as to where the teams will stands in their respective divisions at the end of the regular season.  I’ve been avoiding it because I can’t figure out to do with the West Division.  But the time has come, so here goes:

West Division

  1. Edmonton Eskimos
  2. Calgary Stampeders
  3. Saskatchewan Roughriders
  4. Winnipeg Blue Bombers
  5. BC Lions

Note: If Winnipeg hadn’t lost its starting quarterback for the first few weeks of the season, I’d likely have placed Winnipeg above Saskatchewan.

East Division

  1. Ottawa REDBLACKS
  2. Toronto Argonauts
  3. Hamilton Tiger-Cats
  4. Montreal Alouettes

There.  Now fire away with your comments about how wrong I am.

And with that, let’s take a look at this week’s games.

Edmonton at Winnipeg

This would be a marquee match up if it weren’t for Chris Streveler being the Bombers’ starting QB.  But, Streveler, a University of South Dakota grad, is following in the footsteps of CFL great Anthony Cavillo in one way:

Here’s some footage of Anthony Calvillio from that year:

Streveler will rely heavily on RB Andrew Harris to not only move the ball, but block and get open when plays break down.

While these defences are fairly evenly matched, Edmonton has the advantage since it’s facing a rookie QB.  Therefore, expect Edmonton to get out to any early lead and never look back.

PICK: Edmonton by 9

Toronto at Saskatchewan

Come on.  Zach Collaros is starting.  He’s making $400,000 a year.  Brandon Bridge is not making $400,000 a year.  Like Kevin Glenn last year, Collaros will be given every opportunity to start.  But, like last year, don’t be surprised if Bridge comes into the game if Collaros struggles early on.

The key for the Riders is their offensive line.  If it cannot protect Collaros, it will be a long, long game.

This will be the first outing for Saskatchewan’s revamped defensive line.  I am really looking forward to watching Charleston Hughes, Willie Jefferson, and Zach Evans get after Ricky Ray.  These three need to get after Ray early and often, because if Ricky Ray gets in a rhythm, he’s very hard to stop.

It would also be nice if they kept James Wilder, Jr. in check.

The Argos’ lineup hasn’t changed all that much since last season.  I expect Collaros to continue to show a bit of rust since it’ll be his first regular season action in nearly a year.  Given the changes on offence for the Riders, the defence will need to keep the game close in order for Collaros and Company to have a chance.

PICK: Toronto by 4

Hamilton at Calgary

Let’s recall what happened last year when the Tiger-Cats visited the Calgary Stampeders.

You read that right.  The Tiger-Cats were beaten by a score of 60-1.

Hamilton has a lot to prove this year.  It wants to prove that the latter half of the 2017 season wasn’t a fluke.  It wants to prove that it can compete with the other top teams in the CFL.  And it wants to prove that its decision to largely stand pat in free agency was the right move.

Calgary, on the other hand, wants to prove that it can win the big game, i.e. the Grey Cup.

Hamilton will be looking to put the bad memory of last year’s humiliation behind it, while Calgary will want a fast start to prove that it’s shaken off what happened in the waning minutes of the 2017 Grey Cup game.  From those perspectives, this game has a lot of meaning for both teams.

The fact of the matter is that Calgary’s roster is solid on both sides of the ball, while Hamilton’s just isn’t.  In my opinion, this will come down to: (a) whether or not Hamilton’s offensive line can keep Calgary’s defensive front seven at bay and allow QB Jeremiah Masoli time to set up; and (b) if Hamilton’s defensive backfield can prevent Calgary QB Bo Levi Mitchell from making big plays.  I think Calgary wins both of those battles.

PICK: Calgary by 10

Montreal at BC

Well this quote inspires confidence, doesn’t it?

Like usual, the Kavis Reed-led Alouettes managed to create problems for themselves this week:

SERIOUSLY, KAVIS?!  GOOD. LORD.

This match up doesn’t usually take place until later in the season.  A part of me wonders if the CFL scheduling gods took pity on the Alouettes and decided to get their annual jaunt to the West Coast out of the way as early as possible.  Historically, Montreal has not done very well when it plays BC in BC.  Alternatively, maybe it was a gift to the soon-to-retire Lions GM Wally Buono to help him start off his season on a winning note.  Goodness knows we’re going to hear every single week about this being Buono’s last season.

At this point, Montreal is just looking to be competitive.  Drew Willy will start, and while I don’t think he’s starting QB material anymore, he has the confidence of his boss, which is really all that matters.  Willy faces a revamped BC defensive line, so his offensive line had better be ready.

Lions QB Jonathon Jennings is going to want to put together a solid, clean performance in order to try and put last season’s issues behind him.  He has more than enough weapons with Emmanuel Arceneaux, Bryan Burnham, Jeremiah Johnson, and Chris Rainey.  If the Lions play mistake-free football, they’ll win this game in a walk.

PICK: BC by 12

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Back in the Black

For the REDBLACKS, the 2017 season was the one that got away.  It started out well, with a Grey Cup rematch that saw the REDBLACKS tie the Calgary Stampeders in a high scoring affair.  After that, the REDBLACKS lost the next 4 out of 5 games by a combined 10 points.  Ultimately finishing with an 8-9-1 record, the REDBLACKS failed to capitalize on a weakened East Division and let the Toronto Argonauts slip into first place, leaving the REDBLACKS to take on – and subsequently lose to – the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the East Division Semi-Final.

One of the major issues the REDBLACKS had throughout the 2017 season was turnovers.  The REDBLACKS had a -12 turnover ratio, with only BC and Montreal having a worse ratio.  This means that not only did the REDBLACKS cough up the football a lot, they didn’t produce many turnovers.

Enter: Noel Thorpe

Noel Thorpe’s defences are far more aggressive than anything former defensive co-ordinator (now linebackers coach) Mark Nelson ever ran.  The additions of Kyries Hebert – even at age 37 – and Loucheiz Purifoy will help inject the REDBLACKS’ defense with a more hard-nosed style of play.  However, the REDBLACKS will need to overcome the losses of DL Zach Evans, who signed with the Riders during free agency, and LB Taylor Reed, who is now a member of the Argos.

While the REDBLACKS’ defense got a makeover, the offensive core remains intact.  QB Trevor Harris and star receivers Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson, and Dionate Spencer all re-signed with the REDBLACKS in the off season. RB William Powell also re-signed.  If he can stay healthy, he may well lead the league in rushing yards.  Despite missing 6 games last season, Powell only finished 9 yards behind Andrew Harris for the league rushing title.  With the addition of Richie Leone as field goal kicker, the REDBLACKS shouldn’t have any trouble putting up points this season.

Last year the REDBLACKS lost a number of games as their defence couldn’t close out teams.  This season the REDBLACKS are looking to rectify that problem and get back on top of the East Division.

Coach’s Challenge

It’s Year Three of the Chris Jones Plan, and the goal is to make it to the Grey Cup.

DON HEALY / REGINA LEADER-POST

Of course WINNING the Grey Cup remains the ultimate goal.

Last year the Riders came within 23 seconds of the championship game. In one of the odder East Division finals in recent memory, the Riders scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to storm back and take the lead, only to watch future Hall of Famer Ricky Ray pick the Rider defence apart and drive down the field for the winning touchdown.

Being so close – and yet so far – from the ultimate goal hopefully caused the coaching staff to reflect on its 2017 performance, as the same mistakes cannot be made this year if the Riders want to go through the West Division this season.

It all starts with Rider offensive coordinator Steve McAdoo.

I am not a McAdoo fan. (I think I even called for his firing after the East Final.) His schemes lack all imagination, his plays take too long to develop, and he refuses to use a running game to set up the passing game. As far as I’m concerned, there are far better offensive coordinators out there. But McAdoo has a close relationship with Chris Jones, so he’s not going anywhere.

Some will argue that the Riders’ offence sputtered at times in 2017 because of the guy throwing the ball. Kevin Glenn had a solid, if not great, first half of the season. Then he hurt his hand, missed a few games, and wasn’t the same. Brandon Bridge had a few good performances when he came in to jump start a sputtering offence, but by the end of the season, it was fairly clear that neither Glenn nor Bridge were helped by the lack of a running game.

Don’t believe me?  The Riders finished dead last in rushing in 2017.

Source: CFL Game Notes – Game 94, 2017

With Jerome Messam in the fold this season, McAdoo has zero excuses for not running the ball and creating a more balanced attack. Otherwise, teams will key on the Riders’ receivers and take away the passing game, leaving the Riders in second and long situations more often than not.

One thing McAdoo does not have control over is when the quarterbacks get pulled. The 2017 East Final was a lesson in how NOT to manage quarterbacks, as Jones yanked Kevin Glenn, only to put him back in when Bridge struggled. The two quarterbacks took turns throughout the rest of the game, leaving it difficult for either to his rhythm.  Here’s hoping that new quarterbacks coach Steve Walsh will be able to step in and keep Jones from making the same mistakes this season.

On the defensive side of the ball, Jones’ continual use of two and three man fronts drove many fans crazy last season, as it provided opposing quarterbacks with far too much time to deliver the football.  A revamped defensive line featuring perennial all-star and league sack leader Charleston Hughes opposite Willie Jefferson on the ends, along with Canadian Zach Evans at tackle, should be able to get pressure despite Jones’ tendency to drop linemen into coverage.  Jones is a guy who has a certain system; he finds guys to fit his system rather than tailoring his system to fit the skill sets of his players.  He may now have the players he needs for his system to create the havoc it’s supposed to for offenses.

The other major issue with Jones’ defense was that it was prone to caving in the waning minutes of games, allowing teams to drive the field and score game-winning points.  Remember the Ottawa game where Trevor Harris marched his team down the field for a game-winning field touchdown?  That game foreshadowed what happened in the final minute of the East Division Final.  This propensity is also a symptom of a lack of a pass rush.  In order to compete in the West Division, Jones needs a consistent pass rush in order to keep quarterbacks like Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell guessing.

Chris Jones’ coaching staff has seen little change over the past three years, which is a rare feat in the CFL.  He and his football operations staff have had carte blanche over the past three years to do whatever it takes to make the Riders successful.  This is the year that fans expect results.

Week 3 Recap

This was me on Friday night…

OMG

Except with a few expletives thrown in (and a few things that were actually thrown.)

But do not fear Rider fans, as history may be on our side!

For example, in 2011, the BC Lions went 0-5 to start the season, but still ended up winning the Grey Cup.

(Of course their first win was against the RIDERS for a 1-6 record after 7 weeks.  And of course I was at that game.)

Here are some further spooky similarities:

  • BC lost its first game in 2011 by 4 points.
  • Saskatchewan lost its first game in 2015 by 4 points.
  • BC lost its second game in 2011 by 2 points.
  • Saskatchewan lost its second game in 2015 by 2 points.

And then there’s this: the score in BC’s first game in 2011 (30-26) was identical to the score in Saskatchewan’s first game in 2015.

MIND. BLOWN.

Anyway, I was a better than average 3-1 in my predictions this week.  And I was about 40 seconds away from going 4-0.  *Sigh*  On that note, let’s recap the week that was in the CFL.

  • Apparently I spoke too soon last week.  The RODBLACKS looked more the training camp team I thought they were on Thursday night.  Henry Booris was absolutely terrible.  It was fun to watch.  But I have to question why the commentators called it ‘The Matt Nichols Show’.  First of all, it should be the MATTY ICE SHOW, as that is his team nickname.  Second, if he’s going to have his own show, his goatee absolutely needs to go.  Third, does a QB who flips the ball to a defensive lineman really deserve his own show?  If so, I think his impromptu pass to Zach Evans should be the first clip. Regardless, I think it was more a case of the RODBLACKS imploding and taking far too many penalties than the Schmoes’ offence actually dominating.
  • Oh, Bumblers.  I so despise you.  This was yet another case of where it looks like the winning team put up more of a fight than it actually did.  Those Bumblers were lucky, I tell you, as without a blocked punt returned for a TD, they would’ve put another game in the loss column.  While The Rookie (Rakeem Cato) did not have as good of a second game as his debut, he bounced back from his mistakes and showed a lot of resilience by bringing the Als within two points of a win.
  • Do I even need to tell you what happened when the Riders visited the Lions’ Den on Friday night??  Fine.  I will.  The Riders’ offence started out strong, but struggled later on in the game.  The defence yet again gave up big points when the game was on the line.  Both offence and defence took aggravating penalties.  It other words, it was deja vu (BUT NOT DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN, CHRIS CUTHBERT.  ‘All over again’ is redundant).
  • I have immensely enjoyed watching the Stumps stumble out of the gate this season.  I also really enjoy watching Jon Cornhole get stuffed at the line of scrimmage play after play.  And what do I love more?  Watching Jon Cornhole fumble.  This game delivered on both points.  Alas, the Stumps somehow managed to get by the Arblows, who shot themselves in the foot multiple times throughout the game.  Again, both teams took far too many penalties.  All teams need to be more disciplined, because no one is enjoying watching these flag-fests.