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Three-down renown! A 2022 CFL season preview

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If you’re like me, you’re starting to get that football itch.

Sure, you could watch the reborn USFL or the gimmicky Fan Controlled Football league, but is that really going to cut it? Do you really want to watch an inferior version of the sport you typically enjoy come September?

Wouldn’t you rather check in with our neighbors to the north?

That’s right – the 2022 CFL season is on the verge of kicking off!

As the preeminent (read: only) CFL pundit in northern New England, I consider it my duty to share with you my thoughts about the upcoming season. The slate is filled again after 2021’s truncated schedule – 18 games over 21 weeks – and looks to be one hell of a competitive season.

It all kicks off on June 9 with the Montreal Alouettes making their way to Calgary to take on the Stampeders. From there, we’re off to the races, with all nine squads competing for a chance to play in the 109th Grey Cup, set to take place on November 20 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan.

As with any efforts at prediction, there are going to be hits and misses. The truth is that while I consider myself to be reasonably knowledgeable about the Canadian game, I will inevitably miss on one or two of these predictions. A team that looks great now could wind up struggling and vice versa, and with just nine teams, well – there’s plenty of room for both over- and underperformance.

The Canadian game is definitely different than what we’re accustomed to seeing in our own NFL, but it’s those differences that make it fun to watch. It’s a fast-paced and wide-open game, one that offers its own energy and excitement. If you want to see for yourself, there will be plenty of opportunity thanks to ESPN’s broadcast partnership with the league; it might be ESPN+ or a broadcast arm, but keep an eye out and you’ll get your chance.

With all that said, here is one man’s opinion about how the 2022 CFL season will play out. Are you ready for some (Canadian) football?

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(x = playoff team)

East Division

Hamilton Tiger-Cats – 12-6 (x)

Toronto Argonauts – 11-7 (x)

Montreal Alouettes – 9-9 (x)

Ottawa Redblacks – 4-14

I know, I know – picking the Grey Cup teams from last year’s game to win their respective divisions is so very brave. But who else am I going to pick in the East? Hamilton had a hell of a run last season and are by far the most likely finalist here. Dane Evans gets the keys to the offense from the start this season; he’s looked great in the past, so one imagines he’ll be able to perform now that he has the gig seemingly locked up. Sean Thomas Erlington looked good in limited action last year; we’ll see if he can help the Hamilton running game get a bit of a boost. Figure on Tim White leading the way at wideout – he was tied for fifth in catches last season – and expect another outstanding season on the defensive side by all-everything linebacker Simoni Lawrence and his partner in crime Jovan Santos-Knox. The East is tougher this year, but the TiCats still look like the class of the division.

In a lot of ways, the CFL is better when the Argonauts are good – and it looks like they’ve got a shot to be quite good indeed. The addition of Andrew Harris, even with questions about the impact of heavy past workloads, can’t help but make the team better. Mcleod Bethel-Thompson was great in 2019; we’ll see if his regression last year was simply a bump in the road. He’s got some talented dudes to throw to, led by new addition Brandon Banks, and he likes to spread it around (shout out to UMaine alum Earnest Edwards, who could catch a few balls for the Boatmen). Toronto has a chance to make some noise this season; it’ll all boil down to the performance of the newly-added veterans and maintaining consistency on both sides of the ball. I think they’ll do just that and be a scary out in the postseason.

One thing that should always be noted in sports is the advantage that comes with having the best player in the game. Well, this season, Montreal will come out on top every week, because running back William Stanback might be the best player in the entire league. He’s been an absolute force the last two years and especially dominant last year, leading the CFL in rushing by 300 yards despite playing just 12 games. Vernon Adams had his struggles at quarterback due to injury, but he’s too talented not to bounce back. And with a guy like Stanback toting the rock, he won’t have to bounce back too far to make the Als a playoff contender – I’m expecting a monster year from Adams. Jake Weineke is looking to follow up a strong 2021 at receiver. If the Alouettes can keep getting after the passer on defense, they should be able to contend for a playoff spot.

It’s all about timing in Ottawa. This roster has undergone a massive overhaul on both sides of the ball; the team’s success is going to be dictated by how quickly these new pieces are all able to click. Jeremiah Masoli is the undisputed man for the Redblacks; the QB will need to return to something like the form of a few years ago for this team to succeed. Receivers Darvin Adams and Jaelon Acklin are both accomplished CFL vets, but they’re new to the team – will they be able to gel with a new QB and scheme? Running back William Powell is here, but he’s got a lot of mileage on him and this offensive line is less than impressive. As for the defense, it has been significantly altered, but it remains to be seen just how much improvement the team will get. My guess? Not enough.

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West Division

Winnipeg Blue Bombers – 14-4 (x)

Saskatchewan Roughriders – 13-5 (x)

Calgary Stampeders – 10-8 (x)

Edmonton Elks – 6-12

BC Lions – 5-11

This is a team that has a shot at reaching some rarified air – they’ve won the last two Grey Cups and could be the first team to threepeat as champs since Edmonton’s dominant stretch from 40-plus years ago If you want to argue that this Winnipeg team won’t win 14 games, that’s fine. After all, they did say goodbye to the exceptional Andrew Harris this offseason, the key component of their running game. But they are going to win a lot of games even so, thanks to a largely intact defensive unit (led by Most Outstanding Defensive Player Adam Bighill) that was one of the CFL’s best last season – if you’re out there giving up fewer than 14 points per game, you’re going to win a lot. Oh, and just by the way, they’ve also got Zach Collaros under center, the reigning Most Outstanding Player and MVP of last year’s Grey Cup. Harris will be missed – as will pass catchers Kenny Lawler and Darvin Adams – but the Bombers will be just fine.

Will the Roughriders have a shot to win the Grey Cup on their home field? If they play to the level they’re capable, I wouldn’t bet against it. They’ve shown real talent for rushing the passer, with A.C. Leonard leading the league in sacks last season (though second-place finisher Jonathan Woodard is currently pursuing NFL opportunities). As for the offense, there’s talk that QB Cody Fajardo – entering a contract year – might be poised for his best season yet. He looked really good last season, and with an improved line and some extremely talented targets; Shaq Evans will lead the way. Saskatchewan really likes young running back Jamal Morrow to break out in a major way as well. Put it all together and you’ve got a team that might not quite catch the Bombers, but it’ll be awfully close.

It feels weird to put the Stamps this low – they had an extended stretch as the consistent class of the league. Alas, time waits for no man. Still, while QB Bo Levi Mitchell had his share of struggles last year, putting up some of the worst numbers of his career, his health was an issue. Now fully healthy, I’m anticipating a major return to form. Ka’Deem Carey looked like one of the best rushers in the league at the end of 2021; he looks poised to put up the first of what promises to be many 1,000-yard seasons in 2022. Mitchell will likely throw a whole lot of passes at Reggie Begelton, who had an elite 2019 for Calgary before moving to the NFL; he came back for two games at the end of last year and shone – he’ll be great. If the defense can keep up, this season could be a good one for the Stampeders.

In most respects, I am a CFL generalist – I follow the league. But I must confess that deep down, I’ve got real love for the Elks. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s going to work out in Edmonton this year. It’ll be interesting to see what Nick Arbuckle can do as a passer with a team all his own; he’s talented, but has struggled with consistency. However, the receiving corps is solid – I like Kenny Lawler to put up big numbers in this offense – and James Wilder looks more than ready to carry the load at running back. However, it’s unclear how ready the Elks will be to stop anybody, and with the league trending toward an offensive resurgence, it’ll be difficult for them to keep up. There are things to like in Edmonton, but the division is simply too tough at the top.

Let’s be clear – the BC Lions have some real talent on their roster. They’ve got a good young QB in Nathan Rourke, but he’s still inexperienced – he’ll be learning on the fly in a lot of situations. He does have some good players to throw to, to put it mildly; any quarterback would be thrilled to throw to the likes of Bryan Burnham and Lucky Whitehead. James Butler looked very good in his first CFL season, particularly in the last couple of games. The defense is a bit thinner, though defensive back T.J. Lee is still here to pick off passes and tackle everyone and the linebacker combo of Bo Lokombo and Jordan Williams is as good as any one-two punch in the league. There are good players … just not enough of them.

Last modified on Thursday, 09 June 2022 08:50

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