2017 CFL Preview: West Division

western

If the eastern division is one where the battle is more about not being the worst the West is the exact opposite.

The Western Division is what Canadian football is all about as the rebuilding phase has been over in the west for a while now.

Where the East is simply looking to create competitive teams the same cannot be said for the west as the team in the west are looking to win Grey Cups.

Not having that in mind will be a guaranteed way to sit at the bottom of the standings and out of the playoffs.

There isn’t a lot of time for rebuilding in the West right now as teams are just too good to get a free week against your team.

It doesn’t mean that some teams haven’t been slow in catching on though as there are teams still undergoing a rebuilding phase trying to climb the steep hill set in the west.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders were the only team as bad as the Toronto Argonauts last year only taking 5 wins all season.

They are still in the midst of a rebuild and that rarely bodes well for teams that include some of the best players in the game.

They need to make something happen quickly or they will easily be put to the bottom of the division and have no chance at competing for the Grey Cup.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers know this and they are a step ahead of their prairie rivals as there is promise.

Once again though the division is so strong that it is hard for them to really stand out despite their great year in 2016.

As these two teams try to gain some consistent performances in 2017 the top three continue to battle it out in a great fight to be first.

The division has been consistently led by the Battle of Alberta with two teams similarly built fighting for first and for provincial pride.

With two of the best young quarterbacks in the game, both teams have been close to perfect.

Last year was a down year for the Eskimos though as they struggled to move on from their late coaching change but did pick things up near the end of the season.

Mike Reilly still ended up as one of the top passers in the league despite the struggles and they did make it to within a win of the Grey Cup after crossing over to the east.

Meanwhile, their long-time rivals in Calgary had one of the greatest seasons in the history of the league.

They only lost two games all year and finished with one tie making them the most winningest team in a single season, according to win percentage.football-sidebar

It was all great for the Stamps until they met the REDBLACKS in the Grey Cup and took a loss that spoiled their entire season.

Still, Bo Levi Mitchell took home MOP honours for the second time and was somewhat unofficially entered the top echelon of QBs in the league.

The Battle of Alberta is a big part of the western dominance but the often forgotten team in the equation is the BC Lions.

They have slowly put together a team that can challenge the best in the league with a tough defence led by the best defensive player in the league and one of the most promising young QBs in the league.

The Lions are just sitting on the outside of the battle for the top as they can’t seem to get by the Stamps but they are still a great team that is sure to fight all season.

As the new season begins the West will look once again to assert their dominance over the East.

The hope is that this run can last for a while but the East is coming and with more improved teams on that side of the country things might get more difficult.

The West is full of talent and some of the best talent in the league that will once again produce great teams.

As big as the battle between divisions is the battle for the top spot in the West is something different though as regional rivalries make it even more exciting.

It won’t be easy to sit on top of the division this year and with some teams hoping to throw their hat in the ring, it might only be getting tougher.

Watch for the Battle of Alberta to define the division again but they are not the only two teams putting everything out there in the best division in the country.

bc-lions

bc-factsIn the equation that determines the western division, the BC Lions are often the forgotten piece. They had fallen on hard times only a few years ago but have recovered very well in the latest stint of Wally Buono. The Lions have continued to rise and last year they were truly competing with the Stamps for first in the division. They look to continue their process as the new season approaches but they will need to overcome some big losses this year to get back to where they were. The motor of this team has been the defence for a while now and it will remain that way for 2017. The unquestioned leader is Solomon Elimimian but part of the dominant group that helped the Lions to be one of the top defences is no longer there. Elimimian is just one-half of the “Team 100” tandem that terrorised offences. His partner in crime, Adam Bighill decided to take his shot in the NFL and so Elimimian will patrol the centre of the field alongside new addition Tony Burnett but even with a new partner, Elimimian is still the best linebacker in the game. The line has not been the best at getting pressure but Mic’hael Brooks and Bryant Turner are still solid players in the middle while the loss of Alex Bazzie hurts and there is no real replacement for him. In the defensive backfield, Ronnie Yell and T.J. Lee provide some stability but the lack of Canadian talent is concerning. As the defence tries to figure out how to plug the holes the offence is just getting going under Jonathan Jennings. The young QB needs to work on making better decisions but he is still the leader of this offence and has new talent to work with. The receiving corps will welcome burner Chris Williams who joins a good group including Emanuel Arceneaux, Bryan Burnham and rookie Danny Vandervoort. In the backfield, Jeremiah Johnson leads the way while Chris Rainey should get a few more touches this year. The Lions are shifting from a defensive minded team to offensive minded and although their defence still looks good it might not be the pillar that they are used to. That means Jennings is going to have more responsibility to lead this team although the playoffs seems like a good bet.

cgy-stampeders

cgy-factsThings went almost perfectly for the Calgary Stampeders in 2016 as they were clearly the best team in the league. Nobody even came close to being as good as the Stampeders last year but things didn’t end exactly the way they had hoped. A great regular season led to a good playoff run and eventually to Toronto where they were the clear favourites in the 104th Grey Cup. That is where things went bad though as the Stamps couldn’t get past the REDBLACKS in the final game and the great season came up short. Despite all of the success in the regular season the Stamps couldn’t finish things off and they finished one win within completing of the greatest seasons ever. Now they enter 2017 looking for redemption as the best team in the league from 2016 has some unfinished business. They will head into the new season with a very similar team and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a team that totalled 15 wins last year. The talent is everywhere as they had both the best offence and the best defence in the league last year. The offence is led by reigning MOP, Bo Levi Mitchell who is building a case as one of the greatest QBs of all time. The talent behind him is great as well with Jerome Messam back for another year while Anthony Woodson could provide a change of pace. In the receiving corps, one of the pieces is gone as Bakari Grant left in the off-season but it should give more room for the Most Outstanding Rookie DaVaris Daniels. Along with Marquay McDaniel and Anthony Parker, the receiving corps makes it easier for Mitchell to put up big numbers. The defence will once again be good but they will have to overcome some injury issues to start the season. Brandon Smith, Codarro Law and Deron Mayo will all miss time to start the season testing the depth of the Stamps this year. They still have plenty of talent though as Charleston Hughes continues to lead up front while Joe Burnett and Jamar Wall lead from the defensive backfield. Beau Landry will also provide extra depth at linebacker alongside Alex Singleton making him a key addition. The Stamps are still one of the best teams in the league if not the best and despite injury issues this year they are still the team to beat.

edm-eskimos

edm-factsThe Edmonton Eskimos were meant to be the biggest challenger for their rivals last year but things changed quickly in the off-season. All of a sudden the coach that lifted them to be contenders in the West had moved on to Saskatchewan and took a number of players to the prairies with him. That change hurt them out of the gate as they struggled at the start but turned things around at the end of the season. They hope to translate that strong end to last season into success for the 2017 season and they still have the talent to do it. When the Eskimos were Grey Cup champions they depended a lot on their defence but with an offensive minded coach, things have changed. The offence is now the leader for the Eskimos with Mike Reilly leading the way. If there is one quarterback in the league that can challenge Mitchell as the best in the league it is Reilly who had the most passing yards last year. A big part of that was the receiving corps he has but that group will be one short this year. The breakout season of Derel Walker translated to an NFL job leaving a gap. Brandon Zylstra hopes to be the deep threat that Walker was as he hopes to help out alongside a returning Shamawd Chambers and veteran Adarius Bowman. In the backfield, John White looks to continue to be one of the more underrated backs in the game while Travon Van hopes to provide some relief. The offence is a leader now but the defence is still strong and it still focuses on the front to get pressure. Odell Willis and Almondo Sewell lead the way while the addition of Euclid Cummings and drafting of Kwaku Boateng could provide an even bigger boost. J.C. Sherritt is still one of the top linebackers in the game and hopes to get back to record breaking numbers this year. In the defensive backfield, there is still some questions as they are not the greatest group but they are made better if the line can do what they do best. The Eskimos are in a more stable place this year and that should be the biggest difference for this team. If they can take advantage of that stability they could be challenging the Stampeders once again for the top spot.

ssk-roughriders.fw

ssk-factsThe first year of the Chris Jones era was not the best introduction to the biggest and loudest fan base in the league. The Roughrider fans are not ones to stay quiet and are not ones to accept losing which is why they made a change to bring in Jones. It was a rough season but every rebuild is and for Riders fans, it might be something they have to get used to for a few more years. The off-season didn’t start the best way for the Riders as they parted ways with long-time quarterback Darian Durant and for the team, it has left a massive hole that has yet to be permanently filled. They tried to fill the hole by signing Vince Young but an injury had him out of the league before taking even one real snap. Instead, the Riders head into a new season with Kevin Glenn leading the way as the veteran QB will take over the starting role. The interesting part for the Riders is that they also have the best Canadian QB prospect in years in Brandon Bridge who has the potential to be great and might get the chance if Glenn struggles this year. Whoever does take the most snaps under centre this year will have a lot to work with in the receiving corps as Naaman Roosevelt has turned out to be something special while the addition of Duron Carter, Chad Owens and Bakari Grant provide a very deep group. Meanwhile, at running back things are a little less settled as Kienan LaFrance will likely have the most touches but there might not be a true number one until someone can take over. On defence, things are a little more of a work in progress as Jones looks for a group that can be as good as his past defences. The defensive backfield is probably the best spot for the Riders as Tevaughn Campbell, Jeff Hecht and Ed Gainey provide some veteran leadership. The addition of Glenn Love and new draft pick Cameron Judge are hopefully going to provide stability in the linebacking corps. Up front, Eddie Steele and Linden Gaydosh hope to provide some pressure while youngster Ese Mrabure hopes to make an impact. The Riders could be in for a few more rough years as this team is built from the ground up.

wpg-blue-bombers

wpg-factsThe Winnipeg Blue Bombers are familiar with the place that their prairie rivals are at, although there is no sympathy for them. They have been in a rebuilding period for years but things finally started to look up for them last season when they made the playoffs with six more wins than they did a year before. The Bombers are now in a spot where the progress has to continue and things cannot go backwards after years of promise only to see things fall apart. The biggest solution last year was that Matt Nichols stepped in to be the quarterback that the Bombers have been trying to find for decades. As they enter the new season the biggest thing for them will be that same position and the debate about whether or not Nichols is ready to be a true starter in the CFL. There is no battle or question this year as Nichols is the starter and will be the starter all season, last year he fought with Drew Willy to earn the role. That stability should help as well as the fact that behind him the Bombers have one of the best running backs in the game in Andrew Harris. He provides not only a quota need but that ability to make an offence two dimensional. The receiving group remains the same as a year ago as Weston Dressler hopes to stay healthier this year while Darvin Adams and Clarence Denmark hope to take advantage of the stability under centre. The defensive side of the ball will see some of the bigger changes this year especially on the line. That is where the Bombers signed Tristan Okpalaugo to compliment Jamal Westerman on the end and immediately providing a scary pass rush. Behind them, Ian Wild and Sam Hurl have a hole to fill as Khalil Bass left for the east and takes a lot of tackles with him. Maurice Leggett and Chris Randle lead a solid group of defensive backs that will hopefully benefit from a better pass rush. The Bombers are riding a good season for the first time in a long time but the question will be whether or not the 2016 season was a fluke or if they are truly on the rise. A playoff fight could be in their future but an improving East might make it tougher this year than in years past.

Prediction:
The West Division is a fun division to watch as the battles between these teams are great and the fight to be the top team is even better. Last year could give some hint as to what will be happening but it also might have been a blip on the progress of the division. The Edmonton Eskimos will not struggle lie they did before and that alone is going to make things even more interesting. It will only make the fight for the playoffs that much tougher for every team. The Stamps are still the class of this division and they will still be the top team when the regular season ends. They will get a tougher test from the Esks this year as the stability on their team is sure to bring them back. The more interesting fight will be for third place in what is likely the final playoff spot for the West this year. The Bombers are better but the Lions have been better and they will come out on top despite a good year from the Bombers. Bringing up the rear will be the Riders who are just simply not in a place to compete this year or for the next few years.

west-prediction

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