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The Great White North gridiron

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Some thoughts on the 2016 CFL season

It's the middle of June, and for NFL fans, that means an extended empty stretch with only the occasional OTA and trade rumor to tide us over, followed by a month of meaningless preseason games before real game action actually arrives.

For CFL fans, however, the season opener is almost upon us.

The 2016 quest for the championship begins on June 23 when the Toronto Argonauts host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at their new home at BMO Field. Once again, we'll watch the 18-game season unfold over the subsequent 20 weeks as nine teams all move toward their singular goal a spot in the 104th Grey Cup in late November, also set for BMO Field. The season ends where it begins; completing the CFL circle.

And so a CFL season preview.

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East Division

Hamilton Tiger-Cats - x

Ottawa RedBlacks - x

Toronto Argonauts- x

Montreal Alouettes

Hamilton has to be considered a favorite to go deep into the playoffs this season. The Tiger-Cats have perhaps the best combination of talent and experience of any team in the league. Sure, starting QB Zach Collaros is hurt, but both Jeremiah Masoli and Jeff Mathews offer fill-in upside. This might be the league's best team in terms of line play on both sides of the ball which will go a long way toward easing a quarterback transition. Also, don't be surprised if former all-everything Argonaut Chad Owens has a big bounce-back.

Ottawa made it all the way to the Grey Cup before succumbing to Edmonton in the championship game not bad for a team only in its second year of existence. Of course, when you've got an all-timer quarterback like Henry Burris having arguably the best year of his storied career, it certainly helps. Burris is back, as are 1000-yard receivers Greg Ellingson and Chris Williams, so there's no reason to think that the RedBlacks will have much trouble staying in contention, particularly with their solid defensive unit.

Toronto is a team that isn't quite sure what it needs to be. The Argonauts still have quarterback Ricky Ray, but there's a bit of a drop-off in terms of skill position players. Still, the East Division is wide open, leaving room for a flawed team like this one to potentially play in November. While it looks like the Argos might be able to squeak into the playoffs, the sad reality is that their new home field might be the most exciting development in 2016; they're unlikely to play for the Cup on their own turf.

As for the Alouettes, wellwho can say? Montreal does sport one of the CFL's best running backs; Tyrell Sutton put up nearly 1,100 yards in just 15 games. Quarterback Kevin Glenn could put up solid numbers if healthy, while S.J. Green remains one of the league's most potent receiving weapons and veteran slotback Nik Lewis looks to have a little something left in the tank. They've also got force-of-nature end John Bowman he of last year's league-leading 19 sacks on defense. They have some intriguing talent, but the Als are likely on the outside looking in.

West Division

Edmonton Eskimos - x

Calgary Stampeders - x

Saskatchewan Roughriders - x

BC Lions

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Winning back-to-back championships is no easy feat in the CFL. While Edmonton looks to be even more dynamic on offense they're looking to go more no-huddle behind quarterback Mike Reilly and incoming skill players like receivers Chris Getzlaf and Jacoby Ford but they did lose their head coach Chris Jones and a lot of personnel from last year's often-dominant defense. But if Reilly can stay healthy and the remaining defensive stalwarts can stand strong on defense, the Esks could well wind up defending the Grey Cup.

Calgary had a monster season in 2015, but came up short in their quest for the Cup. There has been a lot of turnover since then, though the biggest changes are the retirement of running back Jon Cornish one of the greatest Canadian-born backs in league history and the departure of dominating receiver Eric Rogers for the NFL. There's a lot of talent still here, though; for instance, Bo Levi Mitchell might just be the best QB in the league. The Stampeders have some obstacles, but ones they can certainly overcome.

Picking the Roughriders to go from a three-win season to the playoffs isn't nearly as extreme as it might appear at first glance. By bringing in the aforementioned Jones (who in turn brought most of his coaching staff) to clean house and the roster turnover is HUGE here Saskatchewan has shown that they are serious about turning things around fast. Jones pulled a handful of his Edmonton defenders most prominently linebacker Otha Foster as well. This team has the potential to get much better very quickly.

The BC Lions are another team where the big news is the guy running the show. CFL Hall of Famer Wally Bueno is returning to the sideline, coming down from the front office to coach the Lions. However, even the presence of a legend isn't likely to be enough to get BC into the postseason. That being said, if linebacker Solomon Elimimian 2014's Most Outstanding Player truly is healthy and young QB Jonathon Jennings continues to improve, the Lions could surprise.

Things aren't looking great in Winnipeg. The Blue Bombers certainly look better going into this season than they did going into 2015, but they are still looking at some issues. Specifically, the offensive line looks as though it could be a season-long concern. That could result in struggles for QB Matt Nichols and RB Cameron Marshall, as well as the rest of the Bombers offense. Barring something unforeseen, it could be another long season for Winnipeg fans.

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