Here’s how I rank the Canadian Football League teams heading into Week 19:
1. Calgary Stampeders (unchanged)
- Record: 13-2-1
- Streak: Lost 1
- Remaining: @Edmonton/Winnipeg
Not impressed with this team the last two weeks. A tad uninspired versus Hamilton, the Stallions were completely out of it against Saskatchewan at home and were embarrassed in front of their fans. OK, enough spanking. Breaking off the 17 straight home victory record was going to happen sometime, so that’s immaterial. Rather, the problems are more workaday. With first wrapped up thanks to the Winnipeg loss at Toronto, coach Dave Dickenson has definitive goals ahead. One, get these guys back up to the level everyone expects — dominant, decisive, depressing for everyone else to contemplate. Two, put the offence back on track (168 net yards was putrid … darn, there I go again), and stop taking dumb penalties.
2. Edmonton Eskimos (up from 3)
- Record: 10-6
- Streak: Won 3
- Remaining: Calgary/@Saskatchewan
Mike Reilly. Aaron Rodgers. ‘Nuff said. As the latter has been the best QB you want with the ball down a TD and time on the clock in the NFL (before his injury of course), Reilly is that in northern league. With 5:38 to go at Vancouver and down 16, he brought a sense of inevitability to the proceedings. Two long completions and a little sneak (the little sneak) cut the deficit in half, then a snappy, classic two-minute drill tied it. Both needed two-point converts. Yeah, they won in overtime. Amazing. Eskimos had been pretty bad for 54 minutes, at one point punting five straight times. They also gave up a shocking 302 yards on kick returns. But hey, they got Reilly. Can’t you just see four minutes left in a tied Grey Cup game, Reilly on one side, Toronto’s Ricky Ray on the other? That could be spectacular.
3. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (down from 2)
- Record: 11-5
- Streak: Lost 1
- Remaining: B.C./@Calgary
You must not blame Moe Leggett’s season-ending injury for what happened to Big Blue’s defence this week as the club has been struggling on the other side of the ball all season. The scoreboard said a one-point loss, thanks to a solid offence and self-inflicted wounds by the Argonauts. That’s most important, of course. However, these guys aren’t going to beat the other studs for a Grey Cup by giving up 556 net yards, allowing Ricky Ray to keep the ball for almost 38 minutes, watching opposing receivers run up and down the field for 423 total. More worrisome is Justin Medlock was 2-for-4, missed a 39-yard field goal for the win and hasn’t been himself since three pooched kicks a few games ago. He must bounce back, as playoff games are as often decided on a foot as on an arm.
4. Saskatchewan Roughriders (unchanged)
- Record: 9-7
- Streak: Won 1
- Remaining: Montreal/Edmonton
This was all great defence and special teams as the Riders wrapped up a playoff spot, so naturally we have to talk about Duron Carter, who played cornerback all night instead of receiver. Pardon me for complaining about a runaway narrative, but having your best offensive threat on the other side of the ball makes no sense, seems unneeded, and could have been a disaster if Carter had been hurt. It’s not that hard to find a cornerback at this time of year. Besides, you have Ed Gainey back there, and he now has 10 picks on the year. Brandon Bridge replaced Kevin Glenn at QB in the first quarter and was awful, throwing two interceptions and putting up the rarely seen QB rating of 31.3. He’s young, don’t worry. Offence created exactly two field goals. Defence and specials did the rest.
5. Ottawa Redblacks (unchanged, bye)
- Record: 7-9-1
- Streak: Won 2
- Remaining: Hamilton/Bye
Two byes in the final three weeks is terrible scheduling, and that’s one of the reasons why new commissioner Randy Ambrosie is determined to add a 10th team so this can be avoided. Have to deal with it, however, and the dark side in me thinks it’s better to lose to Hamilton this week so the club doesn’t have a chance at the first-round week off. Otherwise, it would be 23 days between games by East Final day, the kind of break that did in the Stampeders at the Grey Cup a year ago. Now healthy QB Trevor Harris has transformed the look of the defending champs, strong in a two-game West trip. If the Rollers win this week, they will finish with the same regular season record as last year, and considering there is a rare tie in there that’s quite a coincidence.
6. Toronto Argonauts (unchanged)
- Record: 8-9
- Streak: Won 1
- Remaining: Bye/@B.C.
Marc Trestman (who is gambling lately like an outcast from Poker Flats) has coached two of the top four quarterbacks in CFL history. After the win over Peg, he said there are so many similarities between Anthony Calvillo and his current pivot Ricky Ray, including preparation, belief, leadership, and will to win, he’s simply honoured for the privilege. The occasion was Ray becoming the fourth QB over 60,000 yards for his career, while tossing for 423 in a dominant performance that saw his attack with the ball for 37:55. What almost sank the Boatmen were too many major penalties (including three in four plays on an early Peg score), and a defence that still leaks in the late going. A Grey Cup contender such as this should not have to bail that hard just to stay afloat.
7. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (unchanged)
- Record: 5-11
- Streak: Won1
- Remaining: @Ottawa/Montreal
With eight games now to look at the “new” Kitties, coached by June Jones since Labour Day, we’ve concluded the rest of the league may have a wildcat on their hands next year. Now 5-3 under Jones, one notes each of the losses was by just one score, including last week to Calgary. This time around they shellacked Montreal on the road by 27, in a penalty-filled affair that saw each team take 14 each. Jeremiah Masoli was 19-for-28, 230 yards and two majors before taking a seat for Zach Collaros. There were some concerns, including two-for-five in the red zone, but no matter. Kicker Kenneth Allen, who took over two weeks ago for the injured Sergio Castillo, went five-for-five. Best for the Cats is this type of finish, pushed through the last two games, can sell a lot of season tickets.
8. B.C. Lions (unchanged)
- Record: 6-10
- Streak: Lost 5
- Remaining: @Winnipeg/Toronto
An entire disappointing season summed up in six minutes of play. Just as the Leos looked to be going down fighting, they pulled in the claws, rolled up in a little ball and started playing with a ball of string. They blew a 16-point lead fairly gained through tough defence, excellent special team play and steady, though unspectacular, work from QB Jonathon Jennings. He only had six incompletions all night by tossing mostly underneath and to the flats. Then came 172 yards given up on two Edmonton drives over less than six minutes, coupled with a TD allowed in overtime. B.C. could not respond. Boy oh boy. A small crowd of 19,816 made lots of noise, and did its part. Rebuilding the defence will be job one in the off-season. Along with regaining the faith of the fans.
9. Montreal Alouettes (unchanged)
- Record: 3-13
- Streak: Lost 9
- Remaining: @Saskatchewan/@Hamilton
Play 131 late in the loss to Hamilton was deeply concerning as this franchise looks for a way out. Trailing by a mile, Als were third and goal on the Kitty 13, rookie QB Matt Shiltz at the controls, when GM/interim coach Kavis Reed chose the field goal. Why? Three points were meaningless, and you could have given what was left of the crowd something to watch while building Shiltz’s confidence. That the snap for the kick was high and the play turned into a 1920s Keystone Cops silent film wasn’t the point. What did that decision say? We give up? QB Darian Durant returned from long injury and was rusty (8-for-14), and they used Shiltz in the second half (15-for-22). If you want to sell tickets for next year, give Durant a fair chance to impress back in Regina by playing well around him.