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Road to the Grey Cup 2022

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We’re just now arriving at the halfway point of the NFL season, a season that has seen a handful of great moments and rather too many not-so-great ones. It has been exhilarating to watch, as per usual, but the reality is that we’re still many weeks away from seeing 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 on the verge of its beginnings, with six teams vying for the right to hoist aloft the Grey Cup. This year’s championship game – the 109th in the league’s history – is set to take place on Nov. 20 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan. It’s the fourth time the city has hosted the game, but the first Grey Cup played at Mosaic; previous games were contested at Taylor Field.

So who’s going to win?

We’ll start with the two division winners, the top teams that will be awaiting the winners of the East and West’s respective semifinal games.

We’ll start with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the West Division champs and the winningest team of the 2022 CFL season. The Bombers won 15 of their 18 games, thanks to the league’s second-highest scoring offense and the stingiest defense – they averaged just a hair under 30 points scored per game while giving up barely 20. A double-digit gap in those two numbers sure speaks well to the overall quality of the team. The offense is led by QB and MOP frontrunner Zach Collaros, who threw for over 4,000 yard and led the league with 37 TD passes, a dozen more than anyone else in the league. In addition, receiver Dalton Schoen balled out in his debut CFL season, catching 70 balls and leading the league in both yards (1,441) and TDs (16). On the defensive side, the charge is led by veteran linebacker Adam Bighill and lineman Willie Jefferson. Throw in a first-rate return game and it’s no wonder Winnipeg is the best in the West.

On the East side, the Toronto Argonauts sit atop the division with an 11-7 record. It’s a team that has taken advantage of their opportunities and benefitted from more than a little luck. But hey – they’re all Ws in the standings. The Argos are fifth in points and fourth in points allowed, with a differential (443 for, 425 against) that implies more of a .500 performance. Toronto managed a bit better than that thanks in large part to the work of McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who led the league in passing yards with over 4,700 to go with 23 scores. They’ve got a solid run game; A.J. Ouellette filled in admirably for an injured Andrew Harris, but Harris – who is by most reckonings one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) Canadian running back in CFL history – looks to be ready to go. Defensively, the Boatmen look to guys like defensive back Jamal Peters, who led the league with six INTs, including one pick-six. Toronto might not have the impressive numbers of Winnipeg, but a bye is a bye.

On to the weekend’s matchups:

In the West semifinal, the BC Lions will play host to the Calgary Stampeders. In the East, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will head to Montreal to take on the Alouettes.

The Lions had a heck of a year, going 12-6 thanks to third-place showings in both points scored and points scored against. Among the more exciting aspects of this BC squad is the fact that QB Nathan Rourke, with 3,349 yards and 25 TD passes against 10 INTs in just 10 games, is the best locally-grown pivot prospect to hit the league in decades (he ran for over 300 yards and seven scores as well, just FYI). Having a guy like RB James Butler helps – he was second in the league in rushing, one of just three guys to pass the 1,000-yard mark, and caught 53 passes as well. There’s also Dominique Rhymes, whose 85 catch/1,401 yards/11 TD line would have made him the best passcatcher in the league in a season without Dalton Schoen in it, as well as two more 1,000-yard receivers in Keon Hatcher and Lucky Whitehead. On defense, prime performers are guys like d-back Garry Peters and linebacker Jordan Williams. There’s a solid collection of talent in BC.

Meanwhile, we’ve got the Calgary Stampeders, who have come back to Earth somewhat in recent years after a dominant stretch in the mid-10s. We’ve gotten used to seeing high-flying offense from the Stamps, but while QB Jake Maier had a solid season, passing for 2,389 yards and 14 scores against seven picks after a season-ending injury to Calgary star Bo Levi Mitchell, this season was a much more grounded attack, courtesy of league-leading rusher Ka’Deem Carey; he rushed for 1,088 yards and 10 TDs, adding 28 catches as well. Wideouts Malik Henry and Reggie Begelton are no slouches either. Defensively, Calgary’s tradition of getting after the passer continues courtesy of Shawn Lemon’s big year – 14 sacks and five forced fumbles – and an excellent all-around season from Cameron Judge. And don’t sleep on the special teams – Rene Paredes was the most productive placekicker in the CFL this year.

It’s a good matchup, but I think that BC has just a bit more on both sides of the ball. It’ll be a hard-fought game, but I think the Lions will stamp out the Grey Cup hopes of the Stamps.

Over in the East, the Alouettes have had a down-the-middle season. Their 9-9 record is reflected in their scoring differential, as they scored just 10 more points than they allowed over the course of the year. Quarterback Trevor Harris had a heck of a year, clearing 4,000 yards passing and 20 TDs, which always helps. Meanwhile, wideout Eugene Lewis is the East’s MOP finalist, thanks to 91 receptions for 1,303 yards and 10 TDs. Oh, and there’s William Stanback, an elite talent who was injured for much of the year but is back to join fellow backs Jeshrun Antwi and Walter Fletcher to form a rather scary committee. Over on D, Montreal doesn’t have a ton of star power, but they’re a unit that has demonstrated an ability to make plays when necessary, particularly in the team’s last 10 games, of which they won seven.

Hamilton didn’t quite live up to preseason expectations – heck, I had them winning the East, rather than squeaking into the playoffs – but they’re here. They’re the sole postseason qualifier to score fewer points (421) than they gave up (473), but they’re here. Dane Evans had a bit of a roller coaster season under center; he put up almost 3,900 yards passing, but his one-to-one TD-INT ratio of 16 and 16 isn’t ideal. He’s got a pair of 1,000-yard receivers in Tim White (who led the league with 94 catches) and Steven Dunbar, but not much to speak of in the running game. Defensively, linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox is always around the ball, one of just two players with over 100 tackles, while defensive backs Kameron Kelly and Richard Leonard are both ballhawks, with five and four picks respectively.

Kudos to Hamilton for fighting their way into the mix, but I think Montreal is going to handle the Ti-Cats with relative ease thanks to a stacked collection of skill position players.

From there, I’m taking the extremely boring chalk route, as you’ll see by the rest of these positions. I think both top seeds will make their way to the Grey Cup and, in the end, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will triumph in Regina to become the first CFL championship threepeat since Warren Moon was leading Edmonton to five straight back in the ‘80s.

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Predictions

West Semifinal

BC Lions 28 – Calgary Stampeders 17

East Semifinal

Montreal Alouettes 30 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats 14

West Final

Winnipeg Blue Bombers 38 – BC Lions 24

East Final

Toronto Argonauts 24 – Montreal Alouettes 21

109th Grey Cup

Winnipeg Blue Bombers 34 – Toronto Argonauts 27

Last modified on Sunday, 06 November 2022 06:30

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