103rd Grey Cup Preview

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The CFL is enjoying a period of parity in the league which is only going to make things that much more exciting over the year.

There are those who believe that having one dominant team makes everything better in professional leagues.

They believe that it is great to have one dominant team that can universally be hated as it provides easy allegiances when they make the championship game.

It becomes one of those teams where you are either against them or for them and no matter who they play there are fans on either side of the equation.

It is an interesting theory but one that isn’t that great as dominant teams create boring races.

They definitely bring that sense of them against the world but when they are in the league the race to the championship becomes pointless.

It creates a boring regular season and the playoff, although somewhat more exciting, are written off before they even begin.

The CFL has had their fair share of these great dynasties with Toronto winning three in a row during the 1940s and Edmonton winning three in a row in the 1950s and another five years in a row during the late 70s and early 80s.

There have also been a number of teams that have won two in a row throughout the years and even more that were favourites every year but since the greatest dynasty in the CFL that being the Eskimos in the 80s, there has rarely been another big dominant team.

There have been multiple-time champions but rarely a team that can win any more than two Grey Cups in a row.

The last four years have seen a new champion every single year with the only common thread being the last two years in the east.

Both of those years saw Hamilton win the east but lose the Grey Cup as they marked the closest thing to a dynasty.

This year will follow the pattern of new Grey Cup participants as the Ottawa REDBLACKS and Edmonton Eskimos have found their way back to the Grey Cup.football-sidebar

The Eskimos have waited slightly less time as they travelled to Vancouver for the 93rd Grey Cup.

They took the title that year but they have yet to be back in the Grey Cup since that year.

This marks the tenth year anniversary of that win and they hope that they can see the same result and not wait another decade for a title.

For Ottawa it has been far longer as the REDBLACKS are only in their second season as a franchise while Ottawa football fans have been waiting for a winner for more than one decade.

The drama has been plenty in Ottawa as they have seen three different franchises in the city and so far two of them have folded due to lack of interest from the fans.

The lack of interest came somewhat thanks to the lack of performance on the field especially during the time of the Renegades.

That change in teams has meant that the last time Ottawa fans got to see their football team in a Grey Cup was in 1981 when the Rough Riders lost to the Eskimos.

There has never been another team in the Grey Cup form Ottawa since that time and finally they are back.

It is two teams that haven’t seen much of this game in a long time and for the league that is great.

More teams having more of a chance to win means the start of every season is truly the point where anyone can win in the end.

Nobody expected the REDBLACKS to make it this year while Edmonton had questions about whether or not they could get by the Stampeders.

Both have answered most of those questions with only one left to answer, which team is the best in the CFL?

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The Edmonton Eskimos were a pretty terrible team in 2013 but the signing of Chris Jones as the head coach changed everything. Jones had come off of a Grey Cup win with the Toronto Argonauts as the defensive coordinator and was one of the most sought after coaches in the league. The Eskimos got him and they went from the bottom of the west to competing with the Calgary Stampeders at the top. In his first year Jones gave the Eskimos hope of winning their first Grey Cup since 2005 but there was one problem. That problem was their provincial rivals as the Stampeders were the better team in all of their matchups sweeping the season series and beating them in the western final. It was a frustrating part of the season as the Eskimos looked good enough to compete with anyone except for the team they wanted to beat more than anyone else. This year that all changed as the Eskimos found that new gear that they needed to compete against the Stamps. They won two out of three of their regular season games against the Stamps including a win in Calgary, their first since 2011. The series against the Stampeders seemed to be a sign as their season didn’t start great when they travelled to Fort McMurray for the season opener against Toronto. That game resulted in a loss and the loss of their starting quarterback Mike Reilly which left the offence in a bit of a flux. They continued to juggle starting quarterbacks between Matt Nichols and Jonathan Franklin with mixed results. Reilly returned after Labour Day and proved that he was the key for this team as they beat the Stampeders and began a run. Since Reilly’s return they haven’t lost a game winning their last eight games of the season to move into first place above their provincial rivals. That winning streak continued against the Stamps in the western final where they went to work again with a comfortable 45-31 win. That win solidified their claim to the best in the west beating the defending champions and earning their spot in the Grey Cup.

The Eskimos struggled to find a real attitude and an offensive leader when they traded away Ricky Ray in 2012. Jones brought the attitude and Reilly provided the leadership when both joined the Eskimos in 2013. For Jones the attitude came with his defence that has won two Grey Cups in Calgary and in Toronto. His defence loves to get pressure on the quarterback and although they didn’t have the sack numbers they did a year ago they definitely make things uncomfortable. Odell Willis, Eddie Steele, and Almondo Sewell are a fearsome group up front for Jones and they don’t let the opposing QB get comfortable in the pocket. Added pressure comes from JC Sherritt and the linebacking corps who are just as good at stopping the run. The defensive backfield benefits the most from the pressure and John Ojo took advantage throughout the season with five interceptions. It is the base of everything that the Eskimos do as they are the top defence in the league this year and have shut down great offences all year. The difference from this year to last year is that their offence has caught up to what their defence has been doing. Reilly is the quarterback they had been missing since Ray was traded as he provides a strong arm and the threat of a long run to keep defences on their toes. The emergence of Derel Walker has given Reilly a secondary target alongside Adarius Bowman who once again was the top receiver in the league. They have, at times, ignored their running game but when given the opportunity it is a potent attack led by Shakir Bell. The offence was the concern at the midway point of the season and might take a step backwards in a big game that they have not seen. It isn’t likely though as they are just getting better right now and depending less on their great defence to win games. The only thing that might hurt them is getting too confident and believing that Ottawa has nothing to challenge them. Thinking like that could put them behind early against a potent offence and with a lack of experience in the Grey Cup it could bury them before they get a chance to comeback. Anything can happen in a game like this but the way the Eskimos are playing right now it is going to be a very tough task for a very good team in Ottawa.

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The excitement for the return of football in Ottawa was in the air in 2014 as the REDBLACKS had brought the game back to the nation’s capital. The fan support was there as well selling out every game in their first season even after a terrible year. The REDBLACKS only took two wins in their first year as a franchise as they had to build everything from scratch. More often than not that process takes a few years but after their two-win year in 2014 the REDBLACKS went to work in the off-season. They completely overhauled the receiving corps signing Greg Ellingson, Chris Williams, Maurice Price, Brad Sinopoli, and Ernest Jackson. Those additions along with the hiring of Jason Maas as their new offensive coordinator turned this team around in a single offseason. Their first year was marked by offensive struggles that made it difficult for the defence. Last year the offence struggled to extend drives and stay on the field making it much more difficult for the defence. This year it was different as Burris had complete control of the offence and was able to extend drives that gave the defence some time to breath. It made the defence look better and throughout the season and gave everyone a little hope in their second year. It was far from perfect though as they had periods where they looked like their old selves losing both games against Edmonton and all of their games against Toronto. That last loss against the Argonauts was a turning point though as the REDBLACKS knew they needed to be better if they wanted to get a playoff spot. They started a run to the top of the division and two games against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to end the season were the proving ground. They won both games and took over first place in the east while also showing everyone that they were playing at a different level heading into the playoffs. Another win over the Ti-Cats gave them a berth into the Grey Cup and gave the loyal fans a reason to cheer bringing Ottawa back to the top of Canadian football.

The REDBLACKS are almost the opposite of the Eskimos as they have been the offensive power of the league this year. It wasn’t always that way though as the REDBLACKS did struggle at times likely due to the host of new receivers. Eventually that group came together and did so in a big way in not only one of the most potent offences in the season but of all time. Four different receivers, all of them new additions, earned 1,000-yard seasons behind the arm of the eastern MOP Burris. It has been a different level for Burris this year and especially in the last five weeks of the season. He is the leading passer in the league at 40-years old and broke the record for most completions in a single season. This new group of receivers keep defences on their toes in trying to cover more than a couple of great receivers. The impact of new offensive coordinator Jason Maas can’t be understated either as he has had a massive impact on the offence this year. That great passing game has led to a sacrifice in the rushing game though as they only rank 6th in the league. William Powell has come on in recent weeks though as he cut through the Ti-Cats defence in their last three games as the offence is beginning to get more balanced. The defence is benefiting from this offensive ability as extended drives have given them the breaks they needed in 2014. They are the league’s best rushing defence as a line led by Justin Capicciotti, Jonathan Williams, and Moton Hopkins have been able to get the push they need. They not only stuff the run but have gotten to the quarterback more than all but one team this year with a team total of 50 sacks, Montreal had 55. Their linebackers get in on the action as well with Ashton Whiteside and Damaso Munoz both putting up great numbers in the rushing game. Their only issue is the passing defence though as it ranks fourth in the league and despite their turnover numbers they do allow some big plays in the passing game. The REDBLACKS are firing on all cylinders right now though and although they have a big test in a team they have not beat this year they are playing at a different level. There are more weaknesses in this team than the Eskimos but it is all about how they play on the day and with a former Grey Cup champion under centre they are sure to make things difficult for Edmonton.

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