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Road to the Grey Cup 2016

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Devaris Daniels (No. 89) of the Calgary Stampeders breaks a tackle during his team's recent game against the Ottawa REDBLACKS. Devaris Daniels (No. 89) of the Calgary Stampeders breaks a tackle during his team's recent game against the Ottawa REDBLACKS. (Photo courtesy of the CFL/Larry MacDougal)

Previewing the CFL playoffs

We've reached the halfway point of a thus-far rather underwhelming NFL season. We've got a long wait before we find out just who will be truly contending for a Super Bowl championship. Two months between us and the NFL playoffs.

But what if you could enjoy some playoff football right now?

All you have to do is look to our northern neighbors. The CFL playoffs are about to get underway, with six teams poised to begin traveling the path to their own ultimate gridiron goal the Grey Cup. The 104th Grey Cup is set to be contested on Nov. 27 at BMO Field in Toronto.

The top seed in each division will get to rest up with a much-deserved bye. In the West, the Calgary Stampeders get the weekend off; in the East, it's the Ottawa REDBLACKS. The remaining four teams are left to battle in two games this weekend to determine who gets to join those two teams in their respective division finals.

(Due to the unbalanced nature of the league, with five teams in the West Division and just four in the East, the playoff breakdown can get wonky. This year, due to an uncharacteristically weak East division, only two of their teams the REDBLACKS and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats made the postseason. As such, the fourth qualifying team in this case, the Edmonton Eskimos will cross over to play Hamilton, while the other two West contenders the BC Lions and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will face off.)

Calgary had another monster season, finishing with far and away the best record in the league at 15-2-1. They've been a powerhouse for a couple of seasons now and don't look like they're going away anytime soon. The offense is led by quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who had an incredible year he passed for just shy of 5,400 yards and led the league with 32 touchdown passes against a scant eight interceptions. The Stampeders also had the best ground game in the CFL - appropriate, given their name. Journeyman running back Jerome Messam a native Canadian blew up, leading the league with just shy of 1,200 rushing yards and 11 rushing TDs and adding 54 catches for 485 and another score. Oh, and they just happened to give up the fewest points in the league thanks to a phenomenal pass rush led by the dominant Charleston Hughes (16 sacks, three forced fumbles). Easily the team to beat.

Ottawa repeats as the regular season East winner, but this year hasn't been nearly as impressive as last they didn't even manage a .500 record, finishing at 8-9-1. They only won two of those games at home, dampening their advantage even further. There's some QB controversy, with both Trevor Harris and Henry Burris potentially worthy of snaps. The running game isn't much to speak of, with a leading rusher who didn't clear 500 yard. There is some strong receiving talent though, with the trio of Greg Ellingson, Chris Williams and Ernest Jackson combining for 243 catches for over 3,700 yards and 24 TDs. The defense was unspectacular for much of the season; their best player was probably linebacker Damaso Munoz and his 84 tackles and four sacks.

And as for the teams that will be playing this weekend:

The BC Lions played hard all year particularly after coaching legend Wally Buono returned to the sideline. They earned their 12-6 mark. BC's got an impressive offense across the board. QB Jonathan Jennings threw for over 5,200 yards and finished third in the league in TDs with 27. Emmanuel Arcenaux was a primary target 105 catches for 1,566 yards and a league-leading 13 TDs but Bryan Burnham (79 for 1,392 and three TDs) is a major weapon too. The running game is no slouch, with Jeremiah Johnson going for over 800 yards and seven TDs in just 11 games. On the defensive side, linebacker Solomon Elimimian is an absolute beast, putting up eight sacks and a league-leading 129 tackles. Adam Bighill's another big-time defensive player for BC.

As for their opponent, Winnipeg has managed a surprisingly strong season; the Blue Bombers finished the year at 11-7. Matt Nichols has looked good at quarterback, with over 3,600 yards and 18 TDs, plus another half-dozen rushing scores. His receving corps is made up largely of solid, unspectacular guys, while Andrew Harris finished just shy of 1,000 yards rushing. However, this team is all about big-play defense defensive back Maurice Leggett has seven picks, with three returned for touchdowns; recent addition TJ Heath also has seven picks on the season. Linebackers Kevin Fogg (79 tackles, four picks, 754 kick return yards) and Khalil Bass (85 tackles, four sacks, four forced fumbles) have also come up huge for the Bombers.

In the other matchup, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have to be feeling just lucky to be here, sporting a 7-11 record as they do. Their QB of choice Zach Collaros has struggled with injuries this season, though he's performed solidly when his health is right. He'll have to lean on Andrew Fantuz who caught over 100 balls this year and Terrence Tolliver, who has made some big plays. They'll need C.J. Gable to step things up in terms of the ground game. As for the defense, John Chick is a force up front, with 16 sacks and four forced fumbles, while linebacker Simoni Lawrence, lineman Adrian Tracy and defensive back Emmanuel Davis have all shone for the Ticats.

Of course, the reigning Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos must feel lucky too; their path to a return engagement has to look pretty good. Their offense is incredible QB Mike Reilly briefly threatened passing records before winding up with 'only' 5,554 yards passing to go with 28 TDs. The guys he threw to looked pretty historic as well Adarius Bowman (120 catches, 1,761 yards) and Derel Walker (109 catches, 1,589) finished one-two in the league in those categories; they also had 19 TD catches between them. Running back John White ran for 886 and eight TDs, adding 58 catches for 464 and another touchdown. Their defense hasn't impressed like last year, but linebacker J.C. Sherritt certainly went off, with 77 tackles, three picks and six forced fumbles. Other major contributors include linebacker Deon Lacey (87 tackles, three INTs) and lineman Almondo Sewall (11 sacks).

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Predictions:

West Semi

Lions 31 Blue Bombers 21

East Semi

Eskimos 35 Tiger-Cats 24

West Final

Stampeders 38 Lions 21

East Final

Eskimos 27 REDBLACKS 17

104th Grey Cup

Stampeders 27 Eskimos 24

Last modified on Thursday, 10 November 2016 23:51

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