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Road to the Grey Cup 2021

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We’re a bit 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 108th in the league’s history after the cancellation of last year’s season due to the pandemic – is set to take place on Dec. 12 at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s the 11th time the city has hosted the game, but the first since 1996; it will also be the first Grey Cup played at this stadium. This will be the latest in the year that a Grey Cup has ever been contested.

So who’s going to win?

Well, we’ll start with the two top divisional seeds, who will each get a week off following the truncated 16-week grind of the regular season. In the West, we have the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who put up the best record in the league this season at 11-3. On the East side, we’ve got the resurgent Toronto Argonauts, who come in at 9-5. These squads will get to catch their respective collective breaths and await the outcome of the first round of playoff games.

Let’s start with Winnipeg. The Bombers have had little trouble as they’ve marched through the CFL this year (though they did hit a bit of a bump at season’s end, dropping their last two). Now, when you lead the league in both points scored (361) and fewest points allowed (188), odds are that you’re looking at a successful season. Basically, they scored twice as many as they gave up. The offense is led by QB Zach Collaros, who led the league in TD passes with 20 and was second in passing yardage. Kenny Lawler leads the way at receiver; he’s the sole pass catcher to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in the abbreviated season, thanks to 64 catches. The run game is iffier, and it doesn’t look like stud back Andrew Harris is going to make it back from injury. Still, they score points. And on the defensive side, the team has linebacker Adam Bighill leading the way, with pass rushers Jackson Jeffcoat and Willie Jefferson combining for 16 sacks. They’ve also been one of the best teams at forcing fumbles. Put it all together and this squad looks poised for a Grey Cup run.

As for the Argonauts, I’ll confess I didn’t see this level of performance coming. Now, to be fair, the Argos have had a ton of luck – they went 9-5 despite actually being outscored on the season – but wins are wins, no matter how they come. They’ve got McLeod Bethel-Thompson under center; the QB took a step back from last time out, with just 2,300 yards passing and a 12:11 TD-to-INT ratio. Still, he gets wins. You won’t find a lot of Toronto players on the league leaderboards, either – receiver DaVaris Daniels is probably the best of the bunch – but again, wins. On the defensive side, there aren’t many standouts either, though first-year CFL lineman Shawn Oakman showed out quite well in his inaugural season. In truth, Toronto’s secret weapon might just be their work on special teams. They’ve got the best two-way kicker in the league in Boris Bede, who is fifth in both field goals made and punting yardage. They’ve also got a stellar return game – Chandler Worthy is near the top of the league in every aspect of returning, totaling over 1,200 yards all told.

As for the four teams playing this week?

Saskatchewan has been up and down this season – they’ve struggled a bit on offense as one of just three teams to score fewer than 300 points this year (and the only playoff team to fail to reach that mark), though the numbers look a little better on the defensive side. That said, QB Cody Fajardo was third in passing yards, finishing just shy of 3,000, and tied for second in TD passes. The star of the receiving corps is probably Kyran Moore, who was tied for second in the league with 64 grabs. On the ground, William Powell had a solid campaign, rushing for 733 yards and adding another 299 on 38 catches. It’s not a particularly explosive attack, but it’s a functional one. On the defensive side, the pass rush is the star of the show – A.C. Leonard and Jonathan Woodard were one-two in the league in sacks for the season with 11 and 10, respectively. Defensive backs Nick Marshall and Ed Gainey had strong seasons as well. It’s a big play unit – and they’re going to need those big plays.

The Stampeders are 8-6 and so will be the road team, but that record is deceiving – the team was third in the league in both scoring and points allowed. They’ve had their struggles, but they’ve got a seasoned gamer under center in Bo Levi Mitchell. Mitchell dealt with some injuries and wasn’t quite the guy he’s been in previous years, but the truth is that the guy knows how to win – expect him to have a big performance when it counts. It helps that he has a running back like Ka’Deem Carey to carry some of the load – Carey was second in both rushing yards (869) and rushing TDs (7). On the receiving side, Kamar Jorden and Markeith Ambles lead the way. Defensively, linebacker Darnell Sankey led the league in tackles with 97, while linemen Shawn Lemon and Mike Rose have shined in the pass rush, helping to cover for an occasionally iffy secondary. Oh, and the Stamps have the most prolific kicker in the league: Rene Paredes made 44 of his 48 field goal attempts on the season.

Hamilton will be looking to play for the Grey Cup on their home field. Whether they get the opportunity to do that will come down largely to the play of QB Jeremiah Masoli, who has struggled a bit with his consistency this season. Still, he’s a talented guy who should be up to the challenge. He’ll need to be, because the Ti-Cats run game has been less than impressive this year. There are a couple of good Hamilton wideouts, though – Tim White and Jaelon Acklin have both had solid campaigns. It’s on the defensive side where Hamilton really shines, though. That unit is led by all-purpose linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who had 73 tackles to go with his four sacks and three picks. Defensive back Cariel Brooks led the league in INTs with five. It’s a tough team to pass against, to be sure. Still, it’ll be an uphill battle for them – it will all boil down to how well Masoli rises to the challenge.

I’ll be real – I didn’t expect much from the Alouettes this year. I had them pegged for 4-10, a far cry from their performance here. Sure, 7-7 might not seem like much, but you have to bear in mind that this is a team that was second in the CFL in scoring with 346 points. Montreal traded for QB Trevor Harris late in the season – his performance in four games was solid, albeit unspectacular, but there’s plenty of room to improve. Of course, when you can hand the ball to CFL-leading rusher William Stanback – the only player to rush for more than 1,000 yards this year (and in just 12 games no less) – that takes some of the pressure off. Eugene Lewis and Jake Weineke are absolute studs, sitting all over the leaderboards; when they fully align with Harris, expect fireworks. As for the defense, well … it’s not quite to the level of the offense, though lineman David Menard had a hell of a year. The Als have been good on the road this year – better than at home – which bodes well for their chances here.

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Predictions

West Semi

Calgary 24 – Saskatchewan 21

East Semi

Montreal 28 – Hamilton 17

West Final

Winnipeg 31 – Calgary 14

East Final

Montreal 17 – Toronto 14

108th Grey Cup

Winnipeg 30 – Montreal 21

Last modified on Tuesday, 23 November 2021 09:48

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