2019 CFL Preview: East Division

eastdivisionThe east division has been in rough shape for the last few years as the expansion marked a stark contrast in the two divisions.

When the REDBLACKS came into the league things began to shift in a major way and it just expressed what was already there.

For years the west was always the stronger division but there was always a little bit of balance as there seemed to be a chance every year for the balance to shine through.

The expansion draft seemed to take that balance away and since that draft, the east has never recovered.

Teams in the east have been struggling since that time and the imbalance is becoming a bigger and bigger story every year.

Last year the same thing happened as for a third year a team made the playoffs with fewer wins than they had losses.

Two teams will always make the playoffs in the east but for the last few years, that has meant that a bad team has made it into the playoffs.

Last year that was the Hamilton Tiger-Cats who went 8-10 yet took the second spot in the playoffs for the east.

That has become a theme in the CFL and for many, it is a sign that things need to change to allow the best teams into the playoffs.

The fact that better teams were eliminated because they happened to be in the west among better teams.

Eastern teams are being rewarded because they are the best of the worst rather than truly being the teams that deserve to make it.

Every year it seems as though one team impresses enough to make a real impact and make their way to the Grey Cup.

Beyond that one player though things get pretty bad as losing records are becoming more common thanks to their struggles against the west.

There are stars throughout the east and great players who can make things exciting but it just doesn’t seem to be a division with the certainty it needs.

That won’t change this year as the division has questions throughout the four teams without one being a true favourite.

The Ti-Cats might be the early favourite but a coaching change and a fair amount of turnover in a once stout defence have people questioning if they can do it this time around.football-sidebar

The REDBLACKS have been one of the best teams in the division since they entered the league but for the first time, they are undergoing major changes that leave doubt in their ability.

The Argonauts were one of the worst teams in the league last year only one year removed from winning the Grey Cup and have rebuilt looking to compete.

Then there is the Alouettes who head into the season with uncertainty everywhere and will have to get through a lot of distraction to take the eastern title.

Those questions are going to dominate the season for the division and who can make their way through those distractions will be the one who takes their shot at a Grey Cup title.

Then again if things do work out for more of these teams they could finally get back to that balance that has been lacking for years.

It is going to be a challenge and the pattern of the last few years will tell everyone that this is going to be the same old east with more questions than answers.

What those questions due provide is unpredictability whether for good or for bad there truly is no way to predict what the east will look like when the year ends.

hamtc

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have been one of the few teams with a more steady team over the last few years. They have always seemed to find more talent and replace the best players that were forced to leave or just left on their own. Yet for all of their success in staying consistent, they have struggled to translate that to success when it comes to the most important games. Last year they seemed like they were going to take over the east with a sure-fire MOP candidate in Jeremiah Masoli and a strong defence. Yet they could only manage eight wins and a second place finish and then took a loss in the eastern finals to the REDBLACKS. The Ti-Cats have been plagued by the inconsistency when it matters and although they enter this year with the least amount of concern in the east the question remains whether or not they have what it takes to win a Grey Cup. The biggest change for the team this year will be on the sidelines where June Jones has stepped down giving Orlando Steinauer a chance at taking over the team. The move was largely to ensure that Steinauer wouldn’t leave as he was one of the most sought after coaches in the league. The defensive back turned into a great defensive coach and now takes the reigns as the head coach of the Ti-Cats. The need to keep him is mostly due to his ability to manage a defence that has seen a lot of change over the years but remains strong. With Ted Laurent leading the charge up front and host of great backs like Delvin Breaux, Rico Murray and Mike Daly they have a solid group. The biggest change comes at linebacker where Terrell Davis and Larry Dean are gone leaving Justin Tuggle and Nick Shorthill to fill some big shoes. They will still have the emotional leader on the second level though as Simoni Lawrence remains. With Steinauer at the helm and plenty of talent, this defence could remain good enough to get them to the top. The traditional struggles have always been on offence but with Masoli leading the way the Ti-Cats have the firepower to challenge other teams. Two such targets are Brandon Banks and Luke Tasker who look to take on big roles in the passing game this year. What they might lack though is a big target that takes on those 50-50 balls. With only three receivers at 6’ or above it will likely fall on Brian Jones or Josh Crockett to be the deep threat. The backfield has a very Canadian look with Sean Thomas Erlington, Jackson Bennett and Maleek Irons all likely to get plenty of touches this year. This team has everything to be the best in the east but nobody really knows how they will come out. Looking at the team right now they are the best in the east and have a shot at the Grey Cup but follow through will be the key to their season.

mtla

It’s another year and another offseason full of questions surrounding the Montreal Alouettes who continue to be a problem for the league. After celebrating a year full of history the Als rebranded in an attempt to grow their standing in one of the major markets in the country. After that effort though the Als ran into a real issue when longtime owner Bob Wettenhall decided to sell the team but couldn’t find a buyer. It forced the league to take over the team as they look for an owner that can bring stability to one of the league’s biggest markets. Along with the ownership woes came the firing of their head coach only a week before the season began and the constant search for Anthony Calvillo’s replacement, a search now six years old. It seemed like they might have something in Johnny Manziel who seemed to get more comfortable as the season moved on last year. Although he likely wasn’t a long term solution he was heading into 2019 as the starter for the Als until he apparently violated his agreement with the league and was cut from the team. It left the Als in a familiar situation as they looked to find a new star and when the season starts that will be Anthony Pipkin. The real question will be whether or not the team will stick with him through good and bad or if they will continue to rotate and bring Vernon Adams Jr. in after the first signs of struggle. Whoever ends up taking most of the snaps will have at least one new weapon to work with as DeVier Posey signed in the offseason giving them a real deep threat. Beyond Posey, the receiving corps is not the strongest with B.J. Cunningham and Stephen Adekolu serve as good secondary options but aren’t major threats. In the backfield, the Als will likely use the tandem of Jeremiah Jackson and Stefan Logan to provide some different pace and it should be pretty effective as both are great backs. Surprisingly the Als have had success in one aspect of the game as their defence has been a bright spot. That could change after defensive coordinator, Noel Thorpe left for Ottawa and took with him one of the best defensive minds in the game. The Als will go forward looking to Henoc Muamba to lead the way from the centre of the defence. Jon Bowman tries to show he still has a motor but he continues to age and nobody really knows how much he has left. In the backfield, Ciante Evans provides a boost while Taylor Loffler serves as one of the more accomplished players on the team. The defence could be solid but without Thorpe leading the way there is doubt. That will only continue to grow if the offence can’t do their part to keep the defence off of the field. The biggest issue for the Als this year will be the distractions off of the field and whether or not the struggling Als can put it all behind them and focus on football.

ottrb

Since the REDBLACKS came into the league they have been surprisingly consistent as one of the best teams in the league. They struggled big time in 2014 going 2-16 but immediately got better and made the Grey Cup in their second year then won the Grey Cup in their third year. They have been near the top of the east since that second year and they continue to compete every year. In their sixth season though they will undergo what every team has to eventually go through. The team is changed from a year ago as some of their biggest contributors are now with other teams. They will need to adjust and figure out how to win without those stalwarts but that is going to be easier said than done. The biggest of them will be Trevor Harris who came to prominence as the leader of the REDBLACKS offence. To replace him Ottawa brought in Jonathan Jennings from BC but Jennings was beat out training camp leaving Dominique Davis as the leader for the start of the season. Not much is known about how well Davis will do but he gets his shot after years of being a backup. He will be without one of the best weapons in the passing game as well with Greg Ellingson leaving for Edmonton. Brad Sinopoli remains though and with new additions like Caleb Holley and Nate Behar, there are still plenty of targets for Davis. He will also get some support in the backfield where Mosses Madu looks to take most of the carries while Brendan Gillanders could be a good option on the goal line. The defence continues to run through an original REDBLACK in Antoine Pruneau who sets the tone for this defence. New addition Chris Randle hopes to provide some support in the backfield as a CFL veteran who is among the best defensive backs in the league. Another veteran addition in Nicholas Boulay looks to be the centre of this defence from the linebacker position. Up front, the REDBLACKS look to Michael Klassen and Ettore Lattanzio to lead the way and create more pressure. The REDBLACKS are still a talented team and with a number of additions, they hope to only build on their success. Still, the loss of Harris is a big one as that stability at quarterback is an essential part to success. Davis is the unknown in this season and he could turn out to be the next star under centre or a complete bust leaving them with Jennings who struggled in BC and clearly wasn’t good enough this offseason to warrant a starting spot. Success for the REDBLACKS could depend heavily on how they move on from their losses as they could continue a spectacular run for an expansion team or fall victim to the first real changes for the team.

tora

It wasn’t long ago that the Argos were the problem child of the CFL with unstable ownership and a stadium to meant for them. Just as they were gaining momentum with a new coaching staff it all fell apart only seeing four wins all year. That struggle led to mass changes for the team as they move into a new era hoping that it can bring some success to the league’s biggest market. The changes began on the sidelines when Marc Trestman saw his comeback in the CFL cut short. Clearly, something was not working in 2018 and so the team and the legendary head coach split ways after only two years. In his place comes a Grey Cup-winning coach in Corey Chamblin who took the Roughriders to the Grey Cup in 2013. He takes his first head coaching job since being fired from Saskatchewan in 2015. He has his work cut out for him this year as there are going to be some major changes to work through in order for the Argos to be competitive. The biggest one comes under centre where Ricky Ray has officially retired in what is both positive and negative. He was one of the greatest quarterbacks ever but spent so much time injured over the last few years that making way for the future was necessary. That future will be James Franklin who was always considered the best backup in the league. Last year he wasn’t all that impressive in relief of an injured Ray but this year it is his team with an offence built around his talents of getting out of the pocket. Franklin will need to shine for the team to be great and he will get support with S.J. Green continuing to play like he is ageless along with new addition Derel Walker who counts among the best deep threats in the game. There will be plenty of talent in the backfield with James Wilder showing the ability to run for 1,000 yards along with new additions Mercer Timmis, Tyrell Sutton and Chris Rainey all with plenty of potential to take over games. The defence was a revolving door a year ago so this time around the influence of Chamblin hopes to provide some stability. The addition of Kevin Fogg should provide Abdul Kaneh and Jermaine Gabriel with some support while Quidarrious Ford and Alden Darby showed plenty of promise a year ago. Mainstays like Marcus Ball and Bear Woods are gone from the linebacking corps leaving a young group led by the veteran Ian Wild to make up for those all-star gaps. Up front, the Argos brought back Shawn Lemon with the hopes that he and Cleon Laing can provide the necessary pressure up front. The talent seems to be there but a big question will once again be under centre where Franklin will take the focus in replacing a legend. If he can make good on his potential the Argos can compete but if he falters the team will follow.

Prediction:
The east is an unpredictable division where anything could happen but not for the fact that there are simply too many good teams. For the east, it is all about the number of questions that exist for every team and whether those teams can actually overcome their issues. The Alouettes seem to be the team that won’t be able to do it as they have too many distractions and too many questions under centre to overcome this year. The Argos could make a run at the top if Franklin shows up but until he proves that he can handle the load of the starter there is a big question hanging over the team. The battle could be between the REDBLACKS and the Tiger-Cats but with similar quarterback questions in Ottawa, they might not have the chance to take the top spot. The Tiger-Cats are a team with plenty of talent and fewer questions about what they are capable of. If they can meet their expectations they should be on top and fighting for a Grey Cup title this year.

eastpred

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