The road to the Grey Cup goes through Calgary. If you want to win this year’s CFL championship game, you must do what only two teams were able to do in 18 games, beat the Stampeders.
Calgary’s season is simply incredible. The team went 15-2-1, including a 16 game unbeaten streak. The lone losses for Calgary came in the team’s first and last games of the season. Calgary lost to British Columbia by just two points in the first week of the season. In the team’s regular season finale, Calgary elected to rest key starters rather than chase the record books. A win would have given them the best record in CFL history. Instead, Calgary lost by nine points to Montreal. Since the opening weekend, Calgary has seemed unbeatable. It is very difficult to pinpoint any weakness that the Stampeders have.
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, will likely win the league’s Most Outstanding Player in a landslide. The offensive line is the best in the league. Derek Dennis will likely be named the league’s Most Outstanding Lineman. The line was able to keep Mitchell upright, surrendering just 20 sacks and open up massive holes for Canadian running back Jerome Messam. Messam could very well walk away as the league’s most outstanding Canadian, after he led the league in rushing and totaling over 1600 yards and 12 touchdowns. Defensively, the Stampeders have no obvious weakness. A strong defensive line, led by CFL sack leader Charleston Hughes. It’s just hard to move the football against the Calgary defense.
Even more incredible is that Calgary is winning with first year Head Coach Dave Dickenson. John Hufnagel was one of the best head coaches in the CFL, but the transition to offensive co-ordinator Dickenson as the new Head Coach has been flawless.
The only adversity Calgary has faced this season was the murder of rookie defensive back Mylan Hicks outside of a Calgary nightclub after a game. Despite the tragedy, the Stampeders continue to win, and win with relative ease. With a week 20 bye, and bye week in the first round of the playoffs, Calgary will have three weeks off before playing again. The Edmonton Eskimos were in the same situation last season, and went on to win the Grey Cup.
If Edmonton wants to win again this season, they will have to go on the road and win three games. With Edmonton crossing-over into the east, they will have to go through Hamilton and then Ottawa before a potential match up with Calgary in the Grey Cup. While Edmonton has a dynamic offense, with quarterback Mike Reilly, receivers Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker, defensively teams can move the football and put up points. While Alberta football fans are licking its lips, at the chance to determine which team owns the province’s football rivalry, it is no easy tasks for the Eskimos to reach the Grey Cup.
Unfortunately, for Hamilton and Ottawa, facing Edmonton team in the playoffs, makes both team’s road to the Grey Cup challenging. Both Hamilton and Ottawa are deeply flawed incomplete football teams. The strengths of both teams is their offenses. But both have taken drastic hits, as they both lost their top receivers. Hamilton’s Andy Fantuz and Ottawa’s Chris Williams both tore their ACLs. To make matters worse, neither defense can stop anyone. Both teams routine allow teams to pass for whatever they want. Special teams have gone from strength to weakness. Both kickers have gone from dependable to inconsistent, as both have missed their share of kicks as the season has progressed. If either team is to advance to the Grey Cup, it will be from hot quarterback play and home field advantage. Both starting quarterbacks Zack Collaros and Henry Burris are capable of putting up points to win one game. But the odds either team winning consecutive games is unlikely.
If a team is going to upend Calgary, it will be either Winnipeg or BC. Both are the most complete teams next to Calgary, and just a single win separated the two teams in the standings. The one win separating the two, is BC’s week one victory over Calgary.
Winnipeg started the season slowly, but capitalized on a quarterback change. After a 1-4 start, Head Coach Mike O’Shea replaced turnover prone Drew Willy with veteran game manager Matt Nichols. The Bombers turn their season around, finishing 10-3. If either team is to beat Calgary in the west final, they must get to the quarterback and create turnovers. Disrupt Mitchell and you have a chance to win. Winnipeg led the league in takeaways behind Maurice Leggett’s seven interceptions. Winnipeg’s formula to victory is simple, control time of possession, and win the turnover battle. If they do both, they have a chance of winning.
BC is led by young quarterback Jonathan Jennings and coaching legend Wally Buono. The Lions defense is filled with play makers with the ability to get to the quarterback and take the football away. Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill are two of the league’s best linebackers. Chris Rainey is the league’s top returner. If the Lions have one weakness, it is their kicking game. Richie Leone is one of the best punters in the league, but he leaves a lot to be desired as a field goal kicker. With home field advantage, the Lions have to be favoured to get to Calgary for the West Final.
If no team can get hot at the right time, generate a pass rush and score points, Calgary will be celebrating a Grey Cup victory for the second time in three years. Additionally, a Grey Cup win would put this year’s Stampeders’ team in the conversation as one of the greatest teams of all time.