With two weeks left in the Canadian Football League, you would assume that first place has been locked up in both divisions as it has in past seasons. However, every season is a new one, and this season is no different.
In the East Division, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers just need to win their two remaining games to lock up the East for the first time since 2001.
Meanwhile, the West Division is still up for grabs as well with Edmonton currently leading the pack. Edmonton has lost the season series to B.C. but has won over Calgary. They will play B.C. this weekend in what could determine the divisional winner.
Elsewhere, Calgary continues to make changes as quarterback Drew Tate will make his start this week against Montreal, who is looking to keep pace with Winnipeg.
The first game of the week will have the Winnipeg Blue Bombers playing host to the Toronto Argonauts. Toronto will be looking to play the spoiler role once again after being eliminated from the playoffs.
With their win over divisional rivals Montreal Alouettes last Saturday, the Bombers are now just two straight wins away from clinching first place in the East, but you wouldn’t know it around Winnipeg.
Winnipeg head coach Paul LaPolice asserted that any player or coach making any mention of the words "Grey Cup," "first place" or "East Final" will be fined $5.
This will keep the team levelheaded as they move forward and make a serious run at the Grey Cup. They are also heading into the postseason as a team with one of the fewest injuries. This will certainly bode well.
Chris Garrett has put together a solid case of the runs over his last four starts, putting up 353 yards rushing and another 51 receiving while contributing three touchdowns. Two of these touchdowns were crucial in last week’s win over Montreal.
Offensively the team has not been as good at the end of the season as they were at the start of the season. A lot of the team’s success has to be contributed to their defensive play. However, in the big game, defenses do win championships.
Toronto will continue to work with quarterback Steven Jyles, whose return hasn’t lived up to much excitement. Through seven games, Jyles has thrown only five touchdowns on ten interceptions and completed 56.1 percent of his passes for 1,330 yards.
Jermaine Copeland will be looking for 32 receiving yards to join the 10,000-yard club while return man Chad Owens needs 135 yards to set a new CFL single-season record in kickoff return yards.
This team as a whole will be scrutinized under a microscope in the offseason, and one of those changes many expect will concern the head coaching duties that current General Manager Jim Barker retains.
Defensively, Toronto has worked to clean up the yards given per game. Against the run, they have continued to lead for most of the season and currently average 136.3 yards given up.
Winnipeg, on the other hand, has been solid against the pass, averaging just 231 yards a game. The team has done well for the majority of the season.
Their run defense has been questionable, especially as of late, and that has prompted Paul LaPolice to rotate defensive end Odell Willis out of suspected running plays.
Overall, this is a game that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will focus on and mentally prepare for. Whether or not they execute their game plan properly will remain to be seen, but I suspect nothing less than a win.
Saturday will feature another double header with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats heading to Saskatchewan for the first game.
Hamilton already won the first game 33-3 back in Week 3. They are coming off a dominant win over the B.C. Lions, winning 42-10 behind seven field goals by kicker Justin Medlock.
Kevin Glenn will once again share the quarterback duties with Quinton Porter as head coach Marcel Bellefeuille insists on using a two-quarterback system as they head into the playoffs.
Hamilton has struggled to contain the run game after limiting teams to less than 100 yards before their bye week. Since then they have given up an average of 125 rushing yards per game.
Hamilton joins Toronto as the only other team in the league that allows the opposition to put up more than 400 yards of offense per game against the defense.
In the last three games, Quinton Porter has outperformed Kevin Glenn, notching a touchdown in each of his three games and throwing over 300 yards.
With first place out of reach, Hamilton can still work towards second place against Montreal. Granted, those chances are slim with a tough game against Toronto in the final week.
As for head coach Ken Miller from Saskatchewan, it was announced that Barrin Simpson, Andy Fantuz and Darian Durant are all done for the season. This means that backup Ryan Dinwiddie will start in Durant’s place Saturday.
Through six games this season, Dinwiddie has thrown for 515 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. And through the last few weeks, Ryan Dinwiddie has demonstrated an inability to lead a team.
One of the problems for the Saskatchewan Roughriders over the last few weeks has been their offensive attack. Through the last five games, they’ve scored 40 points, while allowing the opposition to score 153.
With the remaining two games considered garbage time with no real merits left, the team will simply take a look at some prospects and hope to at least not get blown out again.
This will be a simple win for Hamilton as long as everything stays according to plan.
That same night, the B.C. Lions will host the Edmonton Eskimos in a critical first-place game. Edmonton currently leads the West with one game up on both Calgary and B.C., and will need a win to keep pace for first place if stats need to be brought in.
If that wasn’t enough to deter the team, the mounting injuries that have piled on for the team should play a role.
Running back Andrew Harris will be out while quarterback Travis Lulay works through an ankle injury that will certainly limit his mobility as Lulay is known to spread the field behind his legs.
Receiver Akeem Foster is also considered out with a sprained medical collateral ligament. To ensure there is some depth on the team, the Lions went out and signed 38-year-old Ryan Thelwell and linebacker Neil McKinlay.
A win for B.C. followed by a loss by Calgary will allow B.C. and Edmonton to clinch a home playoff game. It will certainly be something to play for, considering this team started the year at 0-5 and was written out of the playoffs early on.
With a sling of injuries to work around, Wally Buono will have his hands full Saturday night. But if there is a coach capable of making the proper adjustments, Buono is the guy you’d want.
The only issue is that Edmonton is starting to pick up steam and has won their last three games. Quarterback Ricky Ray has a large pack of receivers he can throw to, and he knows they’ll come up with the play.
In the last four games, Ray has thrown five touchdowns on just two interceptions while throwing for 1,019 yards.
Running back Jerome Messam has rushed for over 100 yards twice in the last four games, as well as two touchdowns, but has fumbled twice against Toronto last week.
With the steady hand of Ricky Ray and his receiving core, this will be a tough injury-filled day for B.C. to overcome.
A Sunday afternoon game will have the Calgary Stampeders head into Molson Stadium against the Montreal Alouettes who are looking to keep pace with Winnipeg in the East, while Calgary looks to build towards first in the West.
Drew Tate will make his second straight start against the Montreal Alouettes after a credible start to his "career." Tate has been on the Calgary roster for three years, learning all he can behind Henry Burris.
It’s been rumoured that Burris’ time in Calgary is coming to an end, along with running back Joffrey Reynolds'. If Tate can continue playing strong, it is possible that we may never see Burris take another snap for Calgary.
In his last two games, Tate threw for 514 yards and three touchdowns but had a tough break against Saskatchewan with two picks.
Jon Cornish has continued to increase his stride over the last few weeks, busting out two games of 100 or more yards rushing as well as four touchdowns.
Joffrey Reynolds saw playing time last week for the first time since LaMarcus Coker went down with an injury.
Both players are expected to suit up for a second straight week with Cornish taking the bulk of the reps.
Montreal were a win away from the Eastern final and let it slip away after succumbing to 16 straight points by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers a week ago.
Now they will play from behind, needing Winnipeg to lose just one of their next two games.
If knowing Anthony Calvillo was behind center wasn’t scary enough, you have to factor in Jamel Richardson and S.J. Green, both combined for 2,695 yards while Brandon Whitaker adds another 1,894 all-purpose yards.
The Winnipeg defense was able to contain the receiving core and get to Anthony Calvillo by getting him to scramble.
This will certainly be something that Calgary will need to exploit if they want to win. Keeping Anthony Calvillo contained will do nothing for you other than watch Montreal celebrate touchdowns.
Calgary has already won against Montreal back in Week 9 and has won four of their last eight visits against Calgary at home.
During that win Calgary was just a few minutes away from losing, but a pick and a rushing touchdown by Henry Burris gave them the lead.
Things will be different this game around and while there will be pressure on Anthony and company, Tate will have his hands full in one of his biggest tests of his young career.
Essentially Tate will need to be nearly perfect if he wants any chance at beating the great Anthony Calvillo. Although he has shown poise and good structure so far, this will be too much for him to overcome.
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