CFL Week 16: State of the League as Playoffs Draw Near
Week 16 has arrived, and we're just four weeks away before the postseason begins. With five teams already a lock, we're looking down the stretch at which two teams will earn a bye and home-field advantage with Saskatchewan and Hamilton fighting for the last spot.
With their playoff dreams all but shattered now, the Toronto Argonauts will spend the four remaining games looking toward the 2012 season.
The Toronto Argonauts were eliminated last Monday following their 29-19 loss to the Montreal Alouettes and will miss the playoffs for the third time in the last four years.
With the season winding down for Toronto, the locker room appears all but united, with several players taking to the social media over the last few weeks, airing their displeasures regarding their roles with the team.
One of the most active is that of running back Cory Boyd, who "wants to lose 20 pounds in the offseason to convert to a wide receiver."
Cory Boyd has not been as successful this season as he was in his rookie year, when he nearly claimed the rushing title from eventual winner Fred Reid and felt he was the best back in the season.
Wide receiver Jermaine Copeland does not want his career to end on a low note and wants more throws his way but knows his time is coming, and he is not the big playmaker he once was.
Head coach Jim Barker, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to mind the controversy, claiming the players are just airing their feelings and have no ill-will toward them.
This is a team that finished last season 9-9 and saw Jim Barker awarded the Head Coach of the Year award, but a documentary this season and poor play by now-gone quarterback Cleo Lemon has left the Toronto Argonauts in a large rebuilding mode.
Meanwhile for the Calgary Stampeders, they are still in a fight for top-spot in the Western division and with four games left (one against a Western opponent) will need to play some of their best football if they want that top spot.
Calgary has lost the season series to B.C. and Edmonton but holds the series over Saskatchewan following their Week 14 win.
They are currently second in the league at run defense at 88.36 yards and third in pass defense at 253.5 yards. And they sit second overall in total yardage per game at 341.93 yards.
Quarterback Henry Burris has thrown five touchdowns on two interceptions over the last four weeks after throwing three picks in two games but has finished 1-3 in his last four starts.
His yardage through the last four weeks has been down compared to earlier games, but his game has been smoother, and he had a tough loss to B.C. on a last-play field goal.
Quite simply, being matched against Toronto should not be a tough matchup, and a lot of questions and confusion should bring about a win for the Stampeders.
With their win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last Friday evening, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers secured their postseason berth, the first since 2008.
Next up on the agenda is to secure the top spot in the East, something Winnipeg has not accomplished since 2001, when they finished 14-4.
Quarterback Buck Pierce is slated to start his 10th game of the season, a far cry from last season after starting only five games for the Blue and Gold.
Buck Pierce has done his job this season in ensuring he is behind center as many times as possible, and last week he was almost completely untouched behind a solid job from the offensive line.
This was also the first time this season that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were able to rush for more than 100 yards by Chris Garrett after falling short several times.
At the same time, both receivers Greg Carr and Clarence Denmark were over the 100-yard receiving mark, at 101 and 110 respectively.
Defensively, they still lead the league in fewest passing yards per game at 234, however before the bye they were averaging 224 yards but since then have increased to 245 yards per game.
The defensive line has cleaned up their holes and, as a result, has noticed a two-yard drop in their run defense. Overall, however, they have increased from a combined 319 yards a game to 338 yards.
Odell Willis continues to lead the Bombers and the league in the sack department at 12, one more so far than the previous season.
Winnipeg has already defeated Edmonton once this season in Week 6 (28-16), which saw Edmonton’s first loss of the season after starting 5-0. They have gone on to finish 3-6 since.
During their win, Winnipeg held Edmonton to just 87 yards rushing while Fred Reid was on the brink of his first 100-yard game.
Winnipeg currently sits tied with Montreal for first in the East but has won the season series over Hamilton and has two games remaining against the East, one with Montreal and Toronto.
With a win for both Winnipeg and Montreal this week, it will set up first place in the East and the bye next Saturday afternoon.
For Edmonton, they are still in the race for the top spot in the West as well and will need to continue their rushing attack with Jerome Messam.
On Monday, Jerome Messam rushed for just his third time this season over the century-yard mark and will need to be included heavily to balance the attack against a very strong Winnipeg defense.
Fred Stamps was inefficient during their first meeting, receiving for just 41 yards. In that game, it was Jason Barnes that led all receivers at eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Through the last three weeks, the Winnipeg defense has held their opponents to just 202 yards passing per game.
Giving up the most yards on the ground this season three weeks ago at 180, Winnipeg has cleaned up their reads and has since only allowed 77.
Ricky Ray has an arsenal of receivers to throw the ball to, and it will require the full effort of the Winnipeg defense to keep them in check.
Through the last four games, Ricky Ray has thrown for an average of 233.5, five touchdowns to seven interceptions.
With the loss of Aaron Fiacconi and Kyle Koch at center, that leaves Gord Hinse to handle the duties, something the Winnipeg defense will exploit and take advantage of for sure.
Winnipeg has been tested before this season when the games mattered and will need another win as they build their case for first overall in the East. I see a win here for them to build upon as they get prepared for Montreal in Week 17.
On Sunday, the CFL will feature a double-header starting at 1 p.m. EST between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes.
Hamilton is still trying to insert itself in the playoff picture as the final sixth team and will have another chance against Montreal.
During their game the week prior against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Hamilton was never really able to establish their game. Quarterback Kevin Glenn was held to just 109 yards before being pulled in favour of Quinton Porter.
They had to wait until the final second of the first half before getting their first set of points behind a Justin Medlock field goal.
Avon Cobourne and the running game were virtually non-existent, and the only real offense came behind Chris Williams, who caught seven passes for 93 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively it got worse for the Tiger-Cats, as they let up 33 points and allowed two receivers to go above the century mark. Chris Garrett was able to rush for over 100 yards, a first for the Bombers this season.
Their next task will be to stop quarterback Anthony Calvillo and their stingy offense. Toronto was looking like they would be able to do that job, but it appeared more that Montreal was struggling offensively than defensively.
Now that Anthony Calvillo has put the all-time passing leader title behind him, there won’t be any media circus surrounding the game this week, so both teams can focus on the task at hand—football.
Montreal in its last three wins saw Calvillo average over 300 yards passing and throw six touchdowns to just one interception while Calvillo ran one in Monday afternoon.
Avon Cobourne will look to help his team win the season series Friday night against his former team as well, with Hamilton winning the first two meetings, outscoring Montreal 78-47.
In their two wins over Montreal, Avon Cobourne managed to rush for 169 yards, two touchdowns and a fumble, while adding 71 yards through the air.
Meanwhile, Hamilton’s defense held Anthony Calvillo to just one touchdown. However, Jamel Richardson racked up 292 receiving yards and one touchdown.
During their loss in Week 11 to Montreal, their defense held Avon Cobourne to just five all-purpose yards while Anthony Calvillo threw four touchdowns to four different receivers.
Hamilton will be going up against the leagues’ best run defense with a struggling Avon Cobourne, while Montreal is fifth in yards given up through the air.
It doesn’t get easier, as Hamilton is second in most plays given on the ground and through the air, averaging over 400 yards of offense given per game.
Before the bye week, Hamilton was averaging just under 100 yards of rushing offense allowed but has since increased that to 136 in the last seven weeks.
Montreal has also fallen short on their run defense after holding teams to just 73 yards, a league-best to 96 per game since their bye.
A trade between Hamilton and Toronto has seen receiver Maurice Mann shipped out of Steeltown in what Marcel Bellefeuille calls an emergence of receivers and depth.
Unfortunately, there is more depth on the Montreal side of the ball for me to believe Hamilton can take the series away and look towards second place.
For a team that is looking to find the sixth final spot and make the playoffs won’t have it easy Sunday afternoon as the Saskatchewan Roughriders host the B.C. Lions, who come in on a seven-game winning streak.
A win for Saskatchewan won’t do much for their matchup with B.C. who holds the season series after winning the first two meetings, rather dominantly, outscoring Saskatchewan 66-16.
Saskatchewan has lost their last three games by a combined 99-9 score, and the future of the club is undecided.
The club announced on Wednesday that they traded running back Hugh Charles to the Edmonton Eskimos for a 2014 conditional pick.
The future surrounding slotback Andy Fantuz remains unclear as well, as Fantuz has made it clear he still has NFL aspirations and will also be a free agent this coming offseason. You can bet that several teams will be in the bidding for Fantuz’s services.
Interim-head coach Ken Miller has also stated that he will not be on the sidelines come the 2012 campaign and just who will fill that role is of course undecided at this time.
Defensively, things have been rough for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who are fourth overall in pass defense but sit sixth in run defense. Since the bye week, the Roughriders have also given up 30 more total yards per game.
The health of starting pivot Darian Durant will be called into question that was secondary to Ryan Dinwiddie last week but came in relief after Dinwiddie struggled in the first half.
With many questions surrounding the club the B.C. Lions will most likely have an easy time against the Roughriders, who last fell flat against the Lions losing 42-5 three weeks ago.
Quarterback Travis Lulay appears to have made his chemistry with several of his rookie receivers while the run game has been spot on.
Through the first seven games where the Lions would put together another slow start to their season at 1-6, Travis Lulay threw for 1,764 yards behind seven touchdowns and six interceptions.
On their current seven game win streak, Travis Lulay has become a starter many had hoped and believed he would become, amassing 1,944 yards on 15 touchdown passes behind just three interceptions and throwing just one pick in his last four starts.
On the defensive side, the Lions have given up just 252 yards through the air, second in the league but sit in fourth in run defense with 98.5 yards.
Arland Bruce has become a target for Travis Lulay and key, clutch situations such as last week when Lulay needed an open receiver to extend the drive that ultimately set up Paul McCallum’s game-winning field goal.
The B.C. Lions season is not over yet and with two games remaining against Western opponents, locking up first overall after their slow start is not out of reach yet and a win against Saskatchewan will only help their drive.
Saskatchewan, much like Toronto as well, is too distracted from the items off the field that their play has dwindled and the desire is lost. This will be another easy win for the B.C. Lions.
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