Around The CFL: Setting up the Grey Cup

By: Andrew Bucholtz

Friday, November 24, 2017

The 105th Grey Cup is set for Sunday (6 p.m. Eastern, TSN/ESPN2), with the 13-4-1 West Division Calgary Stampeders facing the 9-9 Toronto Argonauts. Here's a special preview of how each side's offence, defence and special teams compare.

Offence: This one has the potential to be a great quarterback duel, as Toronto's Ricky Ray and Calgary's Bo Levi Mitchell are both terrific players. Mitchell won the league's Most Outstanding Player award last year and was the West Division nominee in 2015 as well, and he claimed the Grey Cup MVP in 2014. Ray has been the East Division MOP nominee three times, including this year, and he won the 2005 Grey Cup MVP. Ray had the better season, posting 474 completions on 668 attempts for 5,546 yards (second in the league), 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, a 71.0 per cent completion mark, but Mitchell wasn't far behind, completing 349 of 546 passes (63.9 per cent) for 4,700 yards (third in the CFL) with 23 touchdowns and an interception.

Both teams also have strong ground games, with Calgary's Jerome Messam rushing for 1,016 yards (with a 4.7 yards per carry average) and nine touchdowns and Toronto's James Wilder rushing for 872 yards (a 7.1 yards per carry average) and five touchdowns. And they have deep receiving corps, with the Argonauts featuring S.J. Green (104 catches for 1,462 yards and 10 touchdowns), Armanti Edwards (83 grabs for 962 yards and four touchdowns), and DeVier Posey (52 receptions for 744 yards and seven touchdowns) and the Stampeders featuring Marquay McDaniel (108 catches for 860 yards and four touchdowns), DaVaris Daniels (47 grabs for 743 yards and four touchdowns) and Kamar Jorden (52 catches for 717 yards and six touchdowns).

Overall, the Stampeders were second in the league with 29.1 points per game this year, but fourth with 25.8 points per game from their offence. The Argonauts were further behind with 26.8 (sixth) and 24.2 (seventh), but they put up better yards per game numbers (393.4, second, to 360.7, fifth). Both tied for first with 6.7 yards per play.

Ratings: Five stars for Toronto, four for Calgary.

Defence: Both of these teams have great pass rushes, each recording a league-high 50 sacks. Calgary's Charleston Hughes led the CFL with 11 sacks, while Toronto's Victor Butler was second with 10. The Stampeders also received nine sacks each from Micah Johnson and Ja'Gered Davis, with the latter only playing in 10 games.

Overall, Calgary's defence was quite dominant this year, leading the league in offensive points allowed (16.7) and offensive touchdowns allowed (28). Toronto was fourth in both of those categories, conceding 23.2 offensive points per game and 42 offensive touchdowns. These teams were first and second in yards allowed, with the Stampeders giving up 314.7 per game and the Argonauts allowing 329.1. They were also first and second in yards allowed per play, with 5.7 and 6.1 respectively.

Ratings: Five stars for Calgary, four stars for Toronto.

Special teams: The Stampeders seem to have a bit of an edge here. Roy Finch was one of the league's best returners again this season, picking up 1,200 return yards and three touchdowns on 72 punt return attempts (an average of 16.4 yards per return) and adding 696 return yards on 26 kickoff return attempts (26.8 yards per return). Toronto's Martese Jackson did pretty well too, though, picking up 824 punt return yards and two touchdowns on 70 attempts (11.8 yards per return) and adding 1,133 kickoff return yards on 52 attempts (21.8 yards per return).

Calgary also looks to have an edge in the kicking and punting game. The Stampeders' Rene Paredes made 53 field goals this year, second in the league, and connected on 91.4 per cent of his attempts, best among anyone who's played more than six games, and punter Rob Maver averaged 43.7 yards per punt and 35.6 net yards per punt, leading the league with 13 punts inside the 10. Toronto's Lirim Hajrullahu made 41 field goals this season, third in the CFL, but connected on 81.0 per cent of those attempts. He also averaged 44.0 raw yards per punt and 34.5 net yards, with four inside the 10.

Ratings: Five stars for Calgary, three for Toronto.

Prediction: The Argonauts would seem to have a better chance here than the record disparity indicates, as they've gelled as the year has progressed and finished this season quite strong. Meanwhile, the Stampeders had a bit of a season-ending slump. Toronto's main path to victory would appear to be winning the quarterback duel, and Ray has played so well this year that it's possible he could go off and lead them to a win. However, Calgary isn't far behind at quarterback thanks to Mitchell, who might be better on any particular day even if Ray put up better season-long numbers. And the Stampeders seem stronger on defence and special teams. We'll see how it plays out, but the prediction here is an entertaining game with a narrow Calgary win.

Calgary 35, Toronto 31.