2017 CFL Preview: East Division

eastern

The Eastern Division has been having a rough time the last few years as they are constantly being told that they are so much worse than the west.

They haven’t done a lot to end that thought though as the season series have not been great and in a division with four teams having two of the worst in the league is not a great ratio.

Toronto and Montreal have really been dragging the rest of the division down with performances that rival some of the worst ever.

The Montreal Alouettes were once one of the most dominant teams in the league but the season they lost Anthony Calvillo everything changed.

They have continued to struggle to find a replacement that can come close to matching the performance of Calvillo.

It has led to some terrible seasons in “La Belle Province” and in turn some terrible turn-outs as they now rank among the worst attended games in the league.

Toronto might be the only team worse as the excitement around a new direction for the team in 2016 gave way to one of their worst seasons on the field.

They only won five games, most of those coming against other struggling teams, and their move outdoors became pointless with a terrible season on the field.

Both teams have not been the best over the last few seasons and that has ensured that the eastern division includes half of a division that can’t compete.

Meanwhile, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats continue to be the best team that simply can’t finish.

They have some of the top talent in the league but year after year they struggle with injuries that sink their chances early or late.

The excitement surrounding their potential has dissipated due to the fact that most believe something will happen to hurt their chances of becoming champions.

It was the bright spot last year for the east as the REDBLACKS bucked the trend of the terrible division and ran all the way to the Grey Cup.

It certainly wasn’t easy as they did struggle at moments and a big part of why they finished at the top of the division was because of the lack of performance of other teams.

Still, they fought through it all and took home the Grey Cup against the very favoured Calgary team that was supposed to blow them out.

The East has struggled and even last year’s champions were not considered to be the best team in the league until they won the championship.

They have had a tough time since the introduction of the REDBLACKS while the West has been happy to see the new team.football-sidebar

It has been a story of two entirely different seasons going on as the east often becomes a battle of who can simply last while the West is all about the best teams fighting.

Things might be shifting though and although that has been said multiple times throughout the last few years there are some more signs.

The Argonauts have a new team leading them into their second season outside and judging by the rumours things have changed in Toronto.

The Montreal Alouettes might finally have found their quarterback although it is not the most stable situation.

A new veteran that left his home of 11 years after injuries made him more of a liability in Regina, although he looks for redemption with the “Bleu, Blanc et Rouge.”

The Ti-Cats are much more of an unknown this year for the same reason that nobody trusts them to consistently compete.

They have talent but can they stay healthy? That will be the question all year as people wait for their top talent to fall and then write them off.

Of course, nobody on the Ti-Cats is willing to give up yet and they will look to make everyone second guess their opinions.

Ottawa may not have been the best team throughout the season and they are going to have to adjust to some changes but they might still be a team that can compete.

If they can a repeat Grey Cup appearance could be there for the taking and with the game in their backyard, they are looking for that chance.

The East may have been a team struggling in the past but things look like they might be turning around with important decisions made.

Of course, as with any season, the decisions made in the off-season can look great on paper but the real test is on the field.

The East looks to get back to being competitive and things are looking goo but it will always come down to what they can do on the field this season.

ham-tiger-cats

ham-factsThe Hamilton Tiger-Cats have been one of the more frustrating eastern teams in the league. They are constantly a team with plenty of talent to compete with the best of the best throughout the league but they can never quite get there. The biggest reason for that has been their issues with injuries, specifically with injuries to Zach Collaros. He is a different level of quarterback and could be the best pivot in the league. His combination of athleticism and arm strength make him a perfect candidate to be MOP for multiple years. Yet he has never played a full 18 games since joining the Tiger-Cats in 2014. Every year he seems to drop at some point in the year and sometimes it is far worse than others, see 2013 when he was injured just before the playoffs leaving Jeremiah Masoli to lead them into the playoffs and Grey Cup. The saving grace for the team has been that their defence is devastating and even without their leader on offence they can win games. Over the last few years that defence has begun to lose some key pieces though and in 2016 after two straight Grey Cup appearances the Ti-Cats couldn’t get past the REDBLACKS to get back to the title game. This year not much has changed for Hamilton as they stayed relatively quiet during free agency believing that they have the team to compete. They aren’t entirely wrong either as the team is still good with Collaros under centre and stars like Brandon Banks, who also adds danger to the return game, and Terrence Tolliver catching. Added to C.J. Gable in the backfield this offence has the pieces that can make life difficult. On defence, Simoni Lawrence still leads the way as one of the best linebackers in the game while John Chick and Justin Capiciotti returns for another season on the line. The addition of Abdul Kanneh and re-signing of Emmanuel Davis provide a great one-two in coverage. This team has the talent for another year as their defence has stars at every level and their offence is full of playmakers. The question will once again be how healthy they can be throughout the season because behind these stars there isn’t a lot of top-level talent. History says they will be good but not healthy enough to win the Grey Cup.

mtl-alouettes

mtl-factsIt has been a long time since Anthony Calvillo led the Alouettes and the shadow he has cast has been a tough one to get by for the team. The Als have tried everything they could to find a quarterback that could fill the big shoes of Calvillo, with free agent signings and drafts but they have never really been able to find the guy. Nobody could figure it out but this year with a new group leading the way the Alouettes hope that they have found their way out of the shadow of Calvillo. For the first time ever the Alouettes will have someone not named Jim Popp in the GM’s chair as Kavis Reed is the second GM in Montreal history and that has also led to some extra stability on the sidelines. Jacques Chapdelaine won over the roster last year and returns as head coach after years of uncertainty on the sidelines. Under centre, things have also stabilised as the Alouettes made a big splash in the off-season acquiring Darian Durant. He is a Grey Cup winning QB and is the best quarterback they have had in a long time but the Riders also let him go because he has had issues staying on the field. If he does go down Vernon Adams Jr. has shown promise as a quarterback in the league. They will have the talent to throw to this year despite some losses as Tiquan Underwood and Grey Cup hero Ernest Jackson join the Als as a great tandem while Nik Lewis is still doing his thing from the slot. In the backfield, the Als will likely use Brandon Rutley and Tyrell Sutton pretty equally throughout the year. On defence, the Als have a lot of changes to get used to as veterans linebackers Winston Venable and Bear Woods are no longer with the team. Chip Cox is back to fill the leadership void alongside defensive end John Bowman. The defensive line is still a strength for this team while the defensive backs are a bit of an unknown and could be their weakness. The Alouettes are finding stability and although they are still not the most talented team in the division, stability can do great things for a team. They will hope for that this time around as competing for the playoffs is possible but they might come up just short.

ott-redblacks.fw

ott-factsOne of the toughest things to do in sports is to repeat as champion especially in leagues where parity is king. The REDBLACKS are the latest to attempt that feat as they rode a surprising season to the Grey Cup title. Now expectations are high and the pressure is on as the fans are hoping for a repeat performance especially with the Grey Cup headed to Ottawa to celebrate the 150th birthday of Canada, there would be no better way to celebrate for Ottawa fans than to see their team take back-to-back championships with this one coming at home. They will do so without some of their biggest contributors to that Grey Cup win though as some big names are leaving big holes to fill. The biggest of them all is at quarterback where Henry Burris has left the game and the starting role to Trevor Harris. This was always the plan when the REDBLACKS signed Harris as they saw a future starter in the former Argonaut. He came in hoping to do that last year but back and forth with Burris kept him on a short leash. Now he is the guy and this team will fall or rise depending on how he performs under centre. They will also be without one of their biggest Grey Cup heroes in Ernest Jackson which takes away a big target from a great receiving corps. The loss of Chris Williams is another big loss for the team but it isn’t entirely depleting the group. Greg Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli, better known as “The Buds,” are both back to give Harris two very good options. In the backfield the REDBLACKS have often used multiple backs and could do it again as Mossis Madu and William Powell are set to potentially share touches. The defence will need to get over some losses as well with Abdul Kanneh and Damaso Munoz both no longer on the team. Khalil Bass should easily fill the hole of Munoz and AJ Jefferson hopes to help fill the hole left by Kanneh. Antoine Pruneau is still the leader in the defensive backfield while Jerrell Gavins hopes to take a bigger role in that same area. The REDBLACKS are a talented team but like every other championship team, they need to overcome the losses of great players and a rising eastern division to get back to the Grey Cup.

tor-argonauts

tor-factsThings got really rough last year for the Argonauts as the team that was on top of the league only a few years ago was all of a sudden terrible. Things needed to change heading into 2017 and they did in a big way as the top level of executives made some big changes in the off-season. Long-time GM Jim Barker was fired while Scott Milanovich headed to the NFL leaving room for a new regime in Toronto. That new regime is familiar to CFL fans as Jim Popp was hired as the GM and he joined Marc Trestman to breathe new life into the team. The off-season immediately took a new turn for the Argos as both Trestman and Popp made sure that nobody was truly safe in their roles from a year ago. Popp signed some big names from the past and promoted competition throughout camp to see who could make the team. The one place where there was no competition was for the starting QB role as from the start Trestman stated that Rickey Ray would be the starting QB. With that, the new regime went to work and the rest of the team began to take shape in a way that could be massive for the team or could completely bust. That is how all of the signings look this year like SJ Green and Jeff Fuller as both The Argos brought back Brandon Whittaker to lead the rush while it seems like they are committed to giving Canadian Anthony Coombs more chances to make plays. The theme continued on the defence as the linebacking corps could be one of the best but might bust as well. The newly named “Dreadpool” is made up of last year’s second leading tackler in Bears Woods and the returning Marcus Ball. Nobody really knows why Woods was released by the Alouettes while Ball hasn’t played in the CFL since 2013, although he was great at the time. Alongside Shawn Lemon and a retooled defensive backfield that includes Johnny Sears Jr. and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah this defence could be great but only if the players meet their potential. The talent on paper for the Argos is good enough to be a Grey Cup favourite but on paper means nothing as they will likely compete for the playoffs and beyond that, it is up to how well the players perform.

Prediction:
The East division is an interesting one this year as there are just so many questions that will shape everything about the division. If the Ti-Cats stay healthy they could be great, if Durant comes through in Montreal they could be competitive, if the REDBLACKS overcome their losses they could be back in the Grey Cup and if the Argos’ roster lives up to their potential they could create the best turnaround. It is a lot to be up in the air but for the sake of the division, they hope everything works out and real competition returns to the east. It is tough to predict but the Alouettes seem like there are too many questions and Durant can’t fix them all as they will sink to the bottom. Meanwhile, the REDBLACKS and Ti-Cats could fight for first place again with the Ti-Cats having a better shot this year at taking the bye. That leaves the Argos who might compete to avoid the crossover but will take the final spot and return to the playoffs.

east-prediction

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