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Checking in with the CFL: 2018 Midseason Update

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While the NFL season is poised to kick off soon – and you can learn more through The Maine Edge’s annual NFL preview cover story from yours truly; you had to pass it just to get here – the gridiron of the Great White North actually just passed the halfway point of its season.

This year, the CFL’s regular season runs 21 weeks to allow each team a third bye week; this past weekend marked 11 of those weeks in the books. As such, it seems like a good time to check in with how things are going, an opportunity to take a look at how that season is progressing before the NFL behemoth and college football settle in to dominate the rest of the 2018 pigskin conversation.

Here’s a check on the progress of the nine CFL squads; please note that due to the schedule’s two bye weeks, different teams have played different numbers of games thus far.

(x = playoff team as of Week 11’s completion)

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West Division

Calgary Stampeders (8-1) – x

In what will surely come as a surprise to no one who follows the CFL, the Calgary Stampeders are once again the class of the league, with a significantly better 2018 record than any other squad.

They’re doing it thanks to the big right arm of QB Bo Levi Mitchell, who is once again having an MOP-caliber year, averaging just shy of 300 yards passing per game while putting up 20 TDs against just five picks. The big offensive surprise has been the play of slotback Kamar Jorden, who has broken out in a major way in his fifth year, with 52 catches for 895 yards and six TDs – all top-three totals.

Defensively, the Stamps have been elite at scoring prevention, giving up less than 17 points per game. They lead the league in forced fumbles (11) and are second in interceptions (10). Those numbers make up for a mostly middle-of-the-road pass rush. Linebacker Alex Singleton remains one of the league’s best all-around defenders.

Edmonton Eskimos (6-4) – x

Edmonton is once again in its by-now-accustomed spot just behind the Stampeders in the division. And again, the offense is led by QB Mike Reilly, who continues to put up dazzling numbers, leading the league in passing yardage (3,296) and TD passes (22). He’s also got the lead in rushing TDs with eight, just for good measure. The receiving tandem of Derel Walker and D’haquille Williams has been incredible, combining for 102 catches for nearly 1,900 yards and 15 TDs.

Defensively, well … things aren’t as rosy. They’ve struggled keeping opposing teams off the board, giving up nearly 25 a game. They are leading the league in sacks with 24 and tied for the lead in picks with 11, but those numbers mask performance near the bottom in most other categories. They spread the wealth – the closest to a standout is probably linebacker J.C. Sherritt. Still, when you score like the Esks, defense is less of a concern.

Saskatchewan Roughriders (5-4) – x

This squad seems to be outperforming preseason expectations, but it’s tough to see exactly how they’re doing it. QB Zach Collaros has dealt with injuries and ineffectiveness, while no skill position players have really stood out on the offensive side. Still, they’ve managed to score enough points to remain competitive.

That’s largely because of their defense. Their scoring numbers aren’t super impressive, but the D has consistently put the team in a position to win. Leading the charge is defensive lineman Charleston Hughes, in his first year with Saskatchewan after a decade in Calgary. All he has done is put up 12 sacks; no other player has more than five this year. It’s a CFL season record-breaking pace.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers (5-5) – x

It has been bombs away for the Blue Bombers thus far this season. They’re putting up over 31 points a game and allowing over 25 – more than a few shootouts for them. Offensively, they’re led by Andrew Harris, who is probably the best running back in the league; he’s rushed for over 800 yards and scored seven TDs to go with 40 catches for 311 yards and two more scores.

Linebacker Adam Bighill leads the defense as a force in the middle, while the Winnipeg secondary has shown a nose for timely big plays in terms of both sacks and interceptions. However, that reliance on big plays could wind up costing the Bombers in the season’s second half.

BC Lions (3-6)

The less said about the Lions, the better. 2018 has not been kind to BC. They’ve scored considerably fewer points than they’ve given up. Their offense has sputtered with Travis Lulay under center, though he has shown flashes. The closest thing they have to a playmaker is the aging Emmanuel Arcenaux. On the flip side, there’s D-lineman Odell Willis and … that’s about it.

East Division

Ottawa Redblacks (6-4) – x

Ottawa has been the class of the East Division for a number of years now; it doesn’t appear that they have any intention of stopping now.

Trevor Harris continues to cement his status among the upper echelon of CFL passers; he’s averaging 275 yards passing per game and managing the offense. Receiver Brad Sinopoli has a league-leading 63 catches for 775 yards and three TDs. Greg Ellingson also has 50 catches, while William Powell is second in the league in rushing with 714 yards and four scores.

Defensively, the Redblacks have been strong, giving up just a shade over 20 points per game. While there’s no real standout defender – defensive back Rico Murray is probably closest – the unit as a whole has been much greater than the sum of its parts.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats (4-5) – x

Despite a sub-.500 record, this Hamilton team actually feels as though it might be overachieving. Much of the credit for that goes to QB Jeremiah Masoli, who held fast to the starting job despite challenges from all sides. It paid off for the TiCats, with Masoli passing for well over 300 yards per game and even leading the team in rushing. Brandon Banks has been an offensive highlight as well.

Despite ranking second-to-last in sacks (15) and dead last in interceptions (six), Hamilton has been remarkably efficient at keeping opponents off the board. They’ve given up just 200 points in their nine game; just over 22 a game. They’ve displayed a strong “bend don’t break” mentality that has served them well thus far.

Toronto Argonauts (3-6)

I had high hopes for the Argos going into the season, but things simply haven’t worked out for them. The quarterback play out of guys like James Franklin and McLeod Bethel Thompson has been inconsistent and uninspiring. Not even the talent of a guy like RB James Wilder Jr. has been enough to elevate them.

On the other side, they’re last in sacks and tied for last in interceptions and are just generally bad, giving up the second-most points of any team in the league to this point. With the possible exception of lineman Shawn Lemon, there’s not much to like here.

Montreal Alouettes (2-8)

Last (and unfortunately least), we have the Montreal Alouettes, who are suffering through a nightmare of a season. They’ve struggled all year at the quarterback position, with the unimpressive Drew Willy starting the year. They even brought in Johnny Manziel via trade; he promptly got lit up and remains out of action. They’re even worse on defense. It’s this simple: the Als have scored the fewest points and given up the most. That’s a bad team.

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