2018 CFL Preview: West Division

westdivisionIt has been the best division in Canadian football over the last few years as it is home to some of the best talent in the league.

When looking through the rosters it is a pretty interesting site to see the names leading the way in the west.

The quarterbacks alone mark some of the best in the league including Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell as well as a young up and comer Johnathan Jennings.

Along with some terrifying defences, the west has been a tough division both for the east and for teams inside the division.

In order to make the playoffs, these teams really need to be complete and they need to be able to compete in every part of the team.

A few weak spots will be exposed every year and that makes this one of the best battles in the CFL.

Calgary and Edmonton remain two of the best teams in the league and usually, they are finishing their season on top of the west.

Their great play has led to there being a scramble to find the last spot in the playoffs for the west.

It means that BC, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan are all looking towards beating each other to try to get that last spot.

The last two years that fight brought about something that hadn’t really been a concern for years before.

That fight was so good that the western teams would put together teams that were just good in the league.

They were better than the east and that meant that the east would only be getting two playoff spots.

In each of the last two years, the west has taken a crossover spot in the east and take away a spot from those four teams.

They have simply been the better division as the process of trying to keep up has made these teams all tough to beat.

Yet despite the dominance through the regular season they have failed to translate that into the playoffs.

In both of the last two years the Calgary Stampeders came out of the battle for the west but in both years they fell to eastern teams.

Despite their great play through the last two years, they haven’t been able to find the success in the most important game of the year.

Instead, two eastern teams that were never supposed to win were able to knock off the best team in the league.

The stamps and the other teams in the west are all looking to end that mini-streak and prove once and for all that they are the better division.

Although they prove it every regular season without those Grey Cups it doesn’t really mean a whole lot.

As a new season approaches these teams are looking to continue that regular season dominance and then finish it all off with a title.

Only one team can come out of the west though and it is going to be a battle once again with great teams staying great and the others attempting to reload in order to compete.

bc-lions

There was a lot of promise in BC last season as they had finished one win short of going to the Grey Cup. They seemed to be a team getting to be competitive and were looking to finally be a consistent part of the battle for first in the division. A lot of it had to do with the development of Jonathan Jennings who was proving to be one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. A lot was riding on Jennings to come through in 2017 and become the leader they needed. If he could they were set for a big year as the Lions might just find themselves in the Grey Cup and unseated the Stamps as the power in the bc-lionswest. It didn’t quite get there though as Jennings was hurt early on in the season and that shoulder injury clearly affected him throughout the rest of the season. He couldn’t find his touch as accuracy became a big issue throughout the year and as a result the Lions struggled as a team. This season they are hoping to find themselves back on track towards the top of the division and into the Grey Cup. One of the biggest changes was when Wally Buono stepped down from the GM role and decided to coach for another year. Ed Hervey stepped in and immediately went to work trying to rebuild the once great BC defence that has always led to success for the Lions. With Solomon Elimimian in place in the centre of the defence Hervey looked to bring stars around him. The Lions added Otha Foster who will look to solidify the secondary after a few major losses. He will get some support up front too with the addition of Odell Willis who remains one of the most consistent pass rushers in the game. Those additions plus a few others could be big for the team if they all pan out as the Lions need the defence to step up. They will get plenty of support on the offensive side of the ball the talent is there but the execution was lacking. Jennings needs to be better this year and hopefully a fully healed shoulder can make the difference. He has the talent to throw to as Manny Arceneaux is back along with Bryan Burnham and new additions Kevin Elliott and Cory Watson. Along with Jeremiah Johnson in the backfield this group is deep and talented but it will take that one key player under centre to drive it all. If Jennings is back to what he was in 2017 the Lions are headed to the playoffs and could make a deep run but that is a big if for this team.

cgy-stampeders

The Stampeders have been the class of the league for years now thanks to the teams they have built and their ability to beat you just about everywhere. They have the best quarterback in the league and have always had a punishing run game. Their defence never lags too far behind either with a great defensive line and one of the best linebackers in the league patrolling the centre of the defence. It is a group of players that is constantly a favourite to win it all each year but the last two seasons didn’t go entirely according to plan. In 2016 a dominant season where they only lost two games ended with cgy-stampedersa Grey Cup loss to Ottawa and a year later another dominant season ended with a loss to Toronto in the Grey Cup. In both years their regular season had people wondering who could ever beat them and yet they could not take the biggest game of the year. It has left them with a sour taste in their mouth and the building of a reputation that they can’t finish. They head into 2018 looking to prove everyone wrong but a few key losses in the off-season have people wondering if they are able to be just as dominant. The Offence remains in the hands of Bo Levi Mitchell who remains a constant MOP candidate. He always seems to make everyone better around him and so the Stamps continue to see young receivers step up. DaVaris Daniels, Marken Michel and Kamar Jorden all came out of nowhere but all are legitimate threats leaving the passing game in good hands despite some veteran departures. The backfield is the biggest difference this year as Jerome Messam is now in Saskatchewan leaving them with some questions. Trey Williams looks to take over but one of the best running backs in the game is a tough act to follow. On the defensive side the loss of Charleston Hughes is a big one as he had been a constant on the line for Calgary and replacing that rush is never easy. Derek Wiggan and Junior Turner will try to make up for it while Ese Mrabure provides a Canadian option in the middle. The leadership role is now fully on the shoulders of Alex Singleton who remains one of the top linebackers in the league. In the secondary, a few losses have left less depth but with Jamar Wall and Brandon Smith at corner, they are still solid. The Stampeders are a team with plenty of talent but every year the holes grow and questions arise. Expect them in the playoffs but another appearance in the Grey Cup might not be there this year.

edm-eskimos

The Eskimos have been the one team that everyone has looked to in order to knock off the Stampeders but they often come up just short. It isn’t for a lack of talent as the Eskimos are the one team that can rival the Stamps in terms of talent on their roster. Often some key injuries have hurt them though as they tend to lose a key player every year and it takes them some time to figure things out. The Eskimos head into a new season hoping to finally get past their provincial rivals but this year the roster will look a little different than usual. Some big names are gone and it leaves them with some pretty edm-eskimosbig questions in terms of how they are going to replace those players. The biggest difference this season comes in the receiving corps where two of their top receivers are gone. Long-time Eskimo, Adarius Bowman was released early in the year while Brandon Zylstra is taking his chance in the NFL. With both Bowman and Zylstra no longer in Edmonton the passing offence will shift to Walker, Kenny Stafford and Vidal Hazelton. All three have the ability to be great but Mike Reilly will likely see Walker as the go-to while Stafford and Hazelton carve out their own roles. Reilly has the targets and after an MOP campaign last year he solidified his place among the best in the league. In the backfield the Eskimos have seen great players but every year their depth is tested. This year C.J. Gable will take over as the starter while the backup plan seems to be any combination of CFL rookies like Alex Taylor, Chris Amoah and Shaquille Cooper. On the defence the Eskimos may not be up to the standard of their more recent Cup runs but they are still a good group. Aaron Grymes leads the group from the back where Neil King helps with a veteran presence and younger players like Godfrey Onyeka and Arjen Colquhoun try to prove they can cover the best in the league. J.C. Sherritt returns from an Achilles injury to solidify the centre of the defence as when healthy he is one of the best in the game. On the line the Eskimos will look to new addition Alex Bazzie to provide some extra pressure alongside Almondo Sewell and Kwaku Boateng. The Esks are still a talented team and they have the potential to unseat the Stamps but they need to stay healthy. The depth is still a worry, especially at running back, and their history with injury issues has not been great. A healthy Esks team can make a run but some key injuries could keep them limping into the playoffs.

ssk-roughriders.fw

The Roughriders have been through some tough years after they took home the Grey Cup in 2013. They took home the Grey Cup in front of a hometown crowd that year but quickly saw a decline as some of their key players were getting older or leaving. Last year though there were some real signs of progress as the end of their year turned into a legitimate playoff race. This year the Riders were a part of some of the biggest deals in the off-season bringing in some very big names to help them take that extra step and make a serious run. Struggles throughout the preseason have tempered expectations a ssk-roughridersbit but the fact is that the talent is there, now they have to put it all together. The biggest moves were on offence where it seemed like the CFL was going to see a Canadian QB be the starter. Brandon Bridge was set to take over with Kevin Glenn moving on but Jones clearly didn’t have that much faith in the young Canadian. Instead, he traded for Zach Collaros. The former Ti-Cats QB has shown that he can be one of the best but a number of injuries seem to have thrown him off track. The Riders are depending on him to find his game again or the other moves they made will mean little. He will get a big boost in the backfield though as Jerome Messam takes over and is likely to be the driving force of this offence like he was in Calgary after putting up over 1,000 yards in the last two seasons. In the passing game, Collaros will have some big targets in Naaman Rosevelt and Duron Carter that should give them the ability to be explosive. On defence, the biggest addition is Charleston Hughes who has terrorized defences for years and has put up 10+ sacks in the last three seasons. If he can continue that pace and his age doesn’t catch up with him the Riders have a legitimate pass rusher to terrorize some of the best QBs in the game. Sam Hurl returns to lead the linebackers while Ed Gainey hopes that his 10 interception season was just the start of his prime playing years alongside Mike Edem. The Riders added some very good names in the offseason but they aren’t without questions. Messam and Hughes are on the other side of 30 while Collaros has struggled over the last few seasons. If all can play like everyone knows they can the Riders might have a more consistent team this year. Without these three playing up to their standard the Riders could struggle for another year.

wpg-blue-bombers

Things have been building in Winnipeg for the last few years as every season it seems like they are one step closer to breaking a 27-year Grey Cup drought. Last year they looked the best they have in years earning second place in the west ahead of Edmonton and right behind Calgary. Yet they couldn’t get over the hump, losing to the Eskimos in the Western Semi-Finals. The promise of that season took a back seat near the end of training camp though. That is when Matt Nichols went down with a non-contact injury that will reportedly keep him out for 4-6 weeks. A lot of the hopes for this team rode on wpg-bluebombersthe shoulders of Nichols continuing to develop into a top QB after putting up over 4,000 yards last season. Without him the start of the season has a lot more uncertainty as the Bombers have to go with an unknown under centre. As of the last week of training camp that person will be Chris Streveler who will get his first CFL and first pro football start in Week 1. He has a lot to work with as his adjustment to the CFL will be helped by some pretty big names in the league. In the passing game he can rely on Weston Dressler to be a great outlet while the addition of Adarius Bowman gives him a veteran wideout who can still be one of the best in the league. Along with Darvin Adams and the potential of Nic Demski and Rashaun Simonise there are a lot of options for the rookie. The running game will take the pressure off as well with Andrew Harris leading the way as one of the best backs in the league. With Timothy Flanders and Keinan LaFrance behind him the depth is good leaving three great runners to take the pressure off. On defence the loss of Jamaal Westerman is a big one and will hurt their pass rush but Tristan Okpalaugo is up to the task of replacing his output. The addition of Adam Bighill is an important one as the combination of him and Ian Wild together in the centre is going to make it tough on other teams. In the secondary the group is a good one with Kevin Fogg, Chris Randle and Maurice Leggett all return and are joined by Anthony Gaitor to create a pretty tough group. The Bombers looked to be a great team this year but the loss of Nichols is a tough one and it will not easily be overcome. They will have to weather the storm at the start and they have the talent to do it but if they cant a playoff run might be tough to come by this year.

Prediction:
The West division is going to be a battle for another year as there is a lot of talent in these five teams. It is tough to figure out exactly who will perform up to their potential and who will fall off far from what they could be this year. The Stamps and Esks look like they could be the best teams again this year as their long history of fighting for the top spot could continue. The Stamps might have just lost some steam though and the Esks could take advantage this year. The Lions will make a surge and could be #1 if Jennings can step up but too much is still uncertain. The Bombers could rise to the top as well but without their star quarterback for at least the first month if not more they might start from behind. Saskatchewan is another team that could do a lot but their big additions might not pan out and they have some major questions leaving them as the potential odd one out. Any of this could change though as there is no one team that seems so much worse than the rest but everyone has questions in what should be another interesting year for the west.

westprediction

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