2015 CFL Playoff Preview

playoff-preview

Last year the Grey Cup was travelling to Vancouver and one of the big questions at the start of the season was whether or not the BC Lions could find their way to a home win.

After all in 2011 they had started an interesting pattern winning the Grey Cup at home, the first time anyone had done it since the Lions did it in 1994.

It was a big win for a good team but it also kicked off a pattern of Grey Cup champions that had never been seen.

The next year the Grey Cup went to Toronto for the 100th version of the championship game.

That year the Toronto Argonauts built a winner and captured the 100th Grey Cup at home in the Rogers Centre.

In 2013 the Grey Cup made an appearance in Regina and once again the home team found their way to the Grey Cup.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders won that game and for the third year in a row the Grey Cup home team had taken their home field advantage and taken home the Grey Cup.

Last year the game was back in Vancouver and many wondered if the Lions could continue the pattern that they had started three years ago.

The Lions made the playoffs with the crossover spot but they couldn’t continue the pattern losing in the first round to Montreal.

This year the same thing will happen as the Grey Cup will travel to Winnipeg with the Blue Bombers out of the playoffs.

So the pattern of away teams winning will continue but which one will it be in a season that has been fairly unpredictable.

Aside from the BC Lions every team in the league has had their moments where people have said that they could win the Grey Cup.

The Lions struggled to make the playoffs and it seemed like they were ready to prepare for next year.

They surged in the second half and made the playoffs but the expectations are not big.

The Calgary Stampeders began the season looking like the favourites to repeat but a few key losses reserved them to second.football-sidebar

For Edmonton the start of the season wasn’t nearly as important as the end when they rose to the top and looked unstoppable.

In the east the Toronto Argonauts got on a roll in the middle of the season with many believing that they were only getting better until a terrible end to the season.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats looked like the team to beat for another year but an injury to Zach Collaros sent them back to second.

The Ottawa REDBLACKS looked good but not as good as the other two in the east until the end of the year when they sprinted to the top of the division.

There have been times of the season when it was clear that one of these teams was the favourite to win it all but that hasn’t been the case for the entire season.

Now the talk will become if momentum is truly a good indication of who can win the Grey Cup this year.

If it is a good indication then Edmonton and Ottawa should be heading to Winnipeg at the end of the month.

If not that it could be a repeat of the 102nd Grey Cup with Hamilton and Calgary facing off for the second year in a row.

Then again the surprises could come through as BC and Toronto are not expected to go far but still have a chance to win it all now that they are in the playoffs.

This year momentum could be under scrutiny as it has often been considered a great tell of who is playing the best football and who can carry that play into the important games.

If it is there could be some interesting matchups and if not it could be up for grabs but either way the playoffs are here and six teams will look to give everything they have to take home the 103rd version of the Grey Cup.

CFL East

The quarterbacks are the story of the eastern division as all three teams in the playoffs have been the focus of much of the QB news this year in the league. In Ottawa Henry Burris is having the season of his life at 40-years-old, breaking records and leading the league in passing yards. Burris is the MOP favourite right now but before his there was one clear winner out of Hamilton. Zach Collaros led the most prolific offence in the league before a week 13 injury ended his season. His replacement, Jeff Mathews, struggled at first but began to figure things out only to suffer his own injury leaving Jeremiah Masoli and Jacory Harris to finish the season and lead the team into the playoffs. In Toronto their offensive leader didn’t start the season as Ricky Ray was recovering from shoulder surgery. Trevor Harris took over and was the best quarterback to start the season but began to falter. After scoring only 17 points in two weeks Ray came back to lead the team in the last two weeks and continues to play under centre in the playoffs. All three teams have been focused on their quarterbacks, for better or for worse, and will continue to do so in the playoffs. The REDBLACKS don’t have anything to worry about right now with Burris playing great and getting an extra week to rest a knee injury that didn’t keep him out of any games. In Toronto, Ray will be the one they look to but you can bet that if Ray struggles Harris will come in to try to change things. As for Hamilton the decision has yet to be made between Masoli and Harris and could change by drive. For the team that has been to two straight Grey Cups it might lead to some issues as uncertainty under centre has been one of the big reasons they fell to second place at the end of the year. Luckily for them the rest of the team is solid as the receiving corps can help the QB out and the defence is sure to keep games close enough to give the Ti-Cats a chance. Their first opponent will be a team they have dominated this year in the Argos but all of those games had Collaros at the helm and none had Ray leading the charge. Ray will need to figure some things out as this offence finished the season with a whimper and needs to get something started. He will work with a young but promising receiving corps and should have the use of both Chad Owens and Chad Kackert who were both big reasons for their 100th Grey Cup win and should make an impact in the playoffs. For Ottawa there are a lot less to worry about as Burris will have his group of great receivers, they had four above 1,000 yards, and a solid defence. The battle for the east will be a good one as there are holes in many of the teams but the real question will be who can stop Ottawa?

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CFL West

The west is an old school division where defence and running are often first and that reflects in every team that made the playoffs in the division this year. The old school way of doing things in football is slightly against what many teams in the CFL do to win games. The CFL is all about powerful offences putting the ball up through the air and putting up big points. In the west the playoff teams are all concentrating on defence and the rushing game rather than the passing game. Some of the best rushers in the game are in the west as many teams look to punish defences on the ground before taking advantage through the air then their defences take over to shut down the other team. It is an old school strategy but a strategy that has been successful for a number of years. The last two years have seen a western team win the Grey Cup thanks in large part due to their attitude about defence and running only to open up a passing game. That strategy continued this year with all three teams, at least mostly, following the old school way of building a team and winning games. The top team in the west doesn’t follow this pattern to a tee though as the Edmonton Eskimos have a great passing game and an under-used running game. Their running game is good with Shakir Bell, Chad Simpson, and Akeem Shaves all getting time throughout the season. The problem is that they rarely use it with Mike Reilly leading the offence and a passing game that includes Adarius Bowman and the west’s rookie of the year nominee Derel Walker. The passing game is the focus on offence but where they don’t deviate from the western philosophy is the defence as the Eskimos have the best defence in the league thanks to head coach and defensive guru Chris Jones. The Esks’ long-time rivals are a team that follows the western philosophy a little closer though. They have a running game that ranks as one of the best in the league and although Jon Cornish won’t be playing the addition of Jerome Messam has not slowed them down as the league’s third leading rusher. Their defence is ranked third in the league and second in passing defence as they are truly one of the best in the league. The BC Lions are built much the same as they have the second leading rusher in the league with Andrew Harris leading the way. Their defence hasn’t been great all year but in the last few weeks of the season they have stepped up to the standard that they have been used to. The fight seems to be coming down to which defence can step up at the right time and shut down the other teams. It will be a tight battle between teams playing great football right now as all three have a chance, as long as their defence steps up, at taking a ticket to Winnipeg for the 103rd Grey Cup.

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103rd Grey Cup
The Edmonton Eskimos and Ottawa REDBLACKS are two teams playing better than anyone else as the season came to an end. They will take that into the Grey Cup in Winnipeg and although a great story would be the REDBLACKS completing a great season turnaround the Eskimos simply have too few weaknesses. They are the best defence and with Reilly under centre their offence can compete with Ottawa’s potent attack as they will take home the Grey Cup for the first time since 2005 and the first time since Chris Jones took over last year.

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