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Road to the Grey Cup 2019

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We’re just past the halfway point of an NFL season that has seen some great moments and more than a few not-so-great ones. It has been exhilarating to watch, but the reality is that we’re still weeks away from games that will have any real implications with regards to the postseason.

However, as far as the league’s gridiron neighbor to the north is concerned, the postseason is already upon us.

The CFL postseason is set to begin, with six teams vying for the right to hoist aloft the Grey Cup. This year’s championship game – the 107th in the league’s history – is set to take place on Nov. 24 at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, marking the first time since 2009 that the city has hosted the game and the fifth time overall.

So who’s going to win?

Well, we’ll start with the two top divisional seeds, who will get a week off following the 21-week grind of the regular season. In the West, the Saskatchewan Roughriders have usurped the Calgary Stampeders atop the division courtesy of a 13-5 record. In the East, we’ve got the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on top after they led the league in wins with 15. These squads will get to catch their respective collective breaths and await the outcome of the first round of playoff games.

(Due to the unbalanced nature of the league, with five teams in the West and four in the East, the playoff breakdown often gets a little wonky. This year, just two East teams – Hamilton and the Montreal Alouettes – made the postseason. This means that four West teams are in; the fourth team – the Edmonton Eskimos – will cross over to play Montreal, while the other two West contenders – Calgary and Winnipeg – will face each other.)

Saskatchewan unseats the Stampeders from their accustomed spot atop the West, thanks to a strong offense (third in the league in total points scored) and an even stronger defense (second in points allowed) – they averaged just over 27 and just shy of 21.5, respectively. The offense was led by quarterback Cody Fajardo; in his first season as a CFL starter, he led the league with 4,302 yards passing. He threw for 18 TDs against just eight INTs. He also rushed for over 600 yards (611, good for seventh in the league) and scored 10 times (second) on the ground. One of the few to outrush him was teammate William Powell, who was second overall with 1,093 yards – one of just five to cross the 1,000-yard threshold – and tied for first with 12 rushing TDs; Powell was good for 296 yards receiving and two scores on 37 catches. On defense, the Roughriders tied for the league lead in sacks, led by the 16 of all-timer Charleston Hughes, who will crack the league’s top-five in the category next season. All-everything linebacker Solomon Elimimian was elite in his first year with the team as well.

In the East, Hamilton had one of those years where everything went right. They won 15 games, including all nine at home. They led the league in both scoring offense (30.6 PPG) and scoring defense (19.1) – an apt illustration of their season-long dominance. The offensive superstar has to be receiver Brandon Banks, who led the league in catches (112), receiving yards (1,550) and receiving TDs (13). Those numbers somewhat overshadow the performance of his fellow receiver Bralon Addison whose 95 catches, 1,236 yards and seven TDs rank fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. Meanwhile, QB Dane Evans – who took over from the injured Jeremiah Masoli after the first month – still managed to throw for over 3,700 yards and 21 scores against 13 picks in just 13 games. Defensive end Ja’Gared Davis helped lead the dominant D, putting up 13 sacks and forcing three fumbles. Linebacker Simoni Lawrence led the league with 98 tackles while adding four sacks and three interceptions, all in just 15 games. And the Ti-Cats also dominated on special teams – return man Frankie Williams had over 2,000 yards returning kicks and punts, while Lirim Hajrullahu was the best two-way kicker in the CFL.

As for the four hitting the field this weekend:

The Calgary Stampeders aren’t used to playing on the first weekend of the playoffs – they’ve won this division (and made their way to the Grey Cup) the last three years. And they’ve played for the Cup five times in the last seven years, winning twice, including last year. This season saw them come back to Earth a bit, finishing fourth in both offense and defense, and yet even that regression left them with a dozen wins as one of the CFL’s best squads. Many of their offensive issues came from star QB Bo Levi Mitchell missing nearly half the season (though he still threw for almost 3,500 yards and 19 TDs in just 11 games). Reginald Begelton was one of three to catch over 100 passes, with 1,444 yards and 10 TDs. Fellow receiver Eric Rogers was almost as good – 85 for 1,080 and 10 scores. Tre Roberson was a terror in the secondary, picking off seven passes and returning two for scores; the Stamps led the league in interceptions. Cordarro Law’s 10 sacks on the D-line led the team. On special teams, returner Terry Williams managed over 1,600 yards, while placekicker Rene Paredes kicked 43 field goals.

Meanwhile, we’ve got the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, whose elite offensive attack – one of just two teams to score more than 500 points this season – was undermined by a less-impressive defense and an odd tendency to struggle on the road; they won just three of nine away from home. Running back Andrew Harris had another elite season – a league-leading 1,380 yards rushing along with 70 catches for 529 yards (though he didn’t find the end zone as often as usual; just eight total TDs). As for the pivot – it was a tale of two QBS. The season started with Matt Nichols under center; he was on his way to an elite passing season before getting hurt. Pre-injury, in 10 games, he had nearly 2,000 yards passing and a 15/5 TD/INT ratio. After that, it was Chris Streveler, a scrambler whose less impressive throwing numbers (1,564; 8/14) were offset by his mad scrambling – his 726 yards rushing were sixth in the league and his 12 rushing scores tied for first. On defense, Winston Jefferson led the league with nine interceptions, while lineman Willie Jefferson put up a dozen sacks and a league-leading six forced fumbles.

On the East side, we’ve got the Montreal Alouettes. Few people expected the Als to make the postseason, but they managed to maximize their opportunities. Despite scoring fewer points than they allowed (479 to 485), they won 10 games. Much of the credit has to go to QB Vernon Adams Jr., who finished with just shy of 4,000 yards passing on the season to go with his 24 TD passes (good for second in the league). Adams also rushed for just shy of 400 yards and 12 TDs (tied for first). RB William Stanbeck rushed for over 1,000 yards and was third in the league. The explosive receiving tandem of Eugene Lewis and CFL newcomer Jake Wieneke combined for 113 catches for 1,702 yards and 13 TDs. Defensively, the Alouettes are led by linebacker Patrick Levels, who put up 86 tackles, five sacks and a pair of forced fumbles on the season. Fellow LB Henoc Muamba outtackled his teammate; his 93 were second in the league. Veteran end John Bowman has continued his elite performance with eight sacks in this, his 14th season in Montreal. Their special teams performance was, well … nothing special.

Last, but not least, we have this year’s crossover squad. The Edmonton Eskimos didn’t have a particularly impressive season, going just 8-10 as they barely scored more points than they allowed (406 to 400). Their QB for much of the year was Trevor Harris, who passed for over 4,000 yards despite playing in just 13 games. He also threw for 16 TDs against six picks and ran for six scores. The team tailed off under replacement Logan Kilgore, but Harris made it back for the season’s final week. C.J. Gable rushed for over 1,000 yards while also catching 52 balls for an additional 417 yards; all in all, he scored three times. Greg Ellingson and Ricky Collins both had over 1,100 yards receiving, Ellingson had 86 catches, Collins 78. They combined for eight scores. Defensively, their leaders are probably linebacker Larry Dean (86 tackles, one sack) and linemen Mike Moore and Almondo Sewell (17 combined sacks). They also have Sean Whyte, the CFL’s leading field goal kicker – he went 47 for 54 on the year. All in all, a pretty unimpressive season overall, but with Harris back, the Esks could potentially be no fun to play.

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Predictions

West Semi

Calgary 28 – Winnipeg 21

East Semi

Montreal 24 – Edmonton 20

West Final

Saskatchewan 31 – Calgary 28

East Final

Hamilton 38 – Montreal 17

107th Grey Cup

Hamilton 27 – Saskatchewan 24

Last modified on Tuesday, 05 November 2019 07:36

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