CFL 2019 Playoff Preview - 107th Grey Cup
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Sunday, November 3, 2019
With Week 21 in the CFL wrapped up, the playoff picture is set for another thrilling road to the 107th Grey Cup at McMahon Stadium.
The East Division - Final
After breaking multiple franchise records on the field, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats secured the Bye to the East final in Week 18 for the first time since 2014. Led by one of the many backup-turned-starters across the league, Dane Evans and the Ticats are trying to win their first title in the 21st Century, with their last coming in 1999.
Evans finished the season with the highest completion percentages in the league among current starting quarterbacks at 72.2%. Only Nick Arbuckle and Zach Collaros are better, with a much smaller sample size.
The 25-year-old has put up career numbers in every category in his sophomore season in the CFL and has a real shot at finally bringing the cup back to Hamilton.
Brandon Banks topped receivers in the league with 1550 yards and 13 touchdowns, both career highs for the seven-year veteran. Bralon Addison was fifth in receiving with 1236 yards and 7 touchdowns, also career-highs for the 26-year-old sophomore.
Simoni Lawrence was just shy of 100 tackles, knocking down his opponents a career-high 98 times this season. Hamilton only added depth and experience to their secondary in the off-season when they signed Ja’Gared Davis, Justin Tuggle and Rico Murray. The combination of experience and young talent made them the most foreboding defence in the league and the team with the fewest points against.
Their arsenal of weapons in their receiving core carried them to the top, while outscoring the rest of the league by 43 points. Banks and Addison meshed with Rookie of the Year candidate Jaelon Acklin, Luke Tasker, and Mike Jones out wide, along with an incredibly deep running game led by the recently acquired Tyrell Sutton makes them one of the scariest Hamilton teams of the century.
Hamilton will go against either Montreal or Edmonton after the East Semi-Final on November 10th.
The Ticats were 2-1 in the season series against the Alouettes but, haven’t really had the opportunity to be measured up against Montreal’s official squad. The two teams split a home-a-home in Weeks 3 and 4 of the season and didn’t commit to playing their starters the entirety of Week 20.
Meanwhile, the Tiger-Cats swept the Eskimos in their series and disposed of them easily 42-12 at Tim Horton’s Field in Week 17. Hamilton has not played Edmonton with a healthy Trevor Harris this season but, hasn’t lost to the Eskies since Week 7 of 2017.
The East Division – Semi-Final
For the 15th time in CFL history, a Western team has crossed over to play in the Eastern Semi-Final. The Edmonton Eskimos clawed to an 8-10 record and scored a playoff berth, despite a worse record than their 9-9 record last season when they missed the cut.
Trevor Harris should be ready for Sunday’s game in Montreal, along with their three staples on offence, C.J. Gable, Ricky Collins Jr., and Greg Ellingson. Harris was activated off the six-game injured list on Oct. 21st after leaving the Labour Day Classic in the first quarter with an injury to his throwing arm. He did not play in Edmonton’s 23-13 loss to Saskatchewan to close out the season.
Montreal is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2014 under the newly-tuned arm of Vernon Adams Jr.. After bouncing around the league for two seasons, he returned to Montreal in 2018 and finally got his shot when an injury to Antonio Pipkin early this season left an opening in the pocket. Adams Jr. has posted career numbers across the board and finished fourth in passing yards with 3942 and 24 touchdowns, good for second in passing majors.
Head Coach Khari Jones, who stepped in six days before their season opener, has been able to motivate this Montreal team to more consistent victories as the season went on, a coaching style that has worked well for Adams Jr..
Montreal and Edmonton haven’t met since Week 6 in Montreal, when the Als doubled up the Eskimos 20-10. This low-scoring affair at Molson Stadium saw zero touchdowns for the Eskimos while Harris threw two interceptions and 271 yards.
Edmonton just 3-6 on the road but, Montreal 6-3 at home. So not impossible, but a hill to climb for the Eskimos. No crossover team has ever made it to the Grey Cup.
The West Division – Final
The Saskatchewan Roughriders clinched their first division title since 2009 in their final game of the season. The win against Edmonton, their 13th, solidified them as best in the west, a title many didn’t think was possible early on in the season.
With the long-term injury to Zach Collaros leading to his trade, 27-year-old Cody Fajardo answered the call and put up career numbers in every category for his best season in the backfield. First in yards with 4302 thrown, 18 touchdowns, and just eight interceptions, second only to Harris of the playoff starting quarterbacks.
The Riders rallied behind their new starter and closed out the season with three straight wins, two against Edmonton to clinch the title. William Powell was second in rushing yards behind only Andrew Harris with 1093 but, a league-leading 12 touchdowns among running backs.
Shaquelle Evans had a breakout season out wide with 1224 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
Saskatchewan will face either the Calgary Stampeders or the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the final. The Riders only saw the Stampeders twice this season and dropped both contests. Saskatchewan went 2-1 against Winnipeg and secured both wins at home, while losing in Week 13 on the road at IG Field.
The West Division – Semi-Final
McMahon stadium will see two playoff games this November but, the first one isn’t what most Calgary fans were hoping for. Calgary hasn’t hosted a Semi-Final since 2015. That’s because they’ve won the division every year following, until 2019.
Bo Levi Mitchell has been good since he returned from injury for the Labour Day Classic but, not fully the Bo Levi Mitchell the CFL is used to. Having played just 11 games this season, Mitchell has thrown at an interception per game pace, while off-setting that with 19 touchdowns and 3464 yards passing. He also has the second-lowest completion percentage of quarterbacks who have played at least 11 games at just 66%.
Calgary shakily steps into the playoffs having gone 3-2 in their last five to host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, another team that suffered detrimental injuries and fell off the mark this season.
Matt Nichols went down mid-August for the Bombers and that’s when they began to fall out of first in the West, a position they had held all season. Nichols was on pace for another career year across the board.
Chris Streveler was doing all he could to keep Winnipeg afloat but, it wasn’t enough. The Bombers decided to acquire Collaros from the Argonauts who hadn’t used him since trading for him at the end of July. He stepped in for Week 20 versus Calgary and led the Bombers to a nail-biting 29-28 victory at home.
Calgary will also have to contain the league’s best running game with Harris on the ground for Winnipeg. The league’s leading rusher contributed 1380 yards to the Bombers’ total 2663-yard rushing offence.
The Bombers went 2-1 against Calgary with both wins coming at IG field. There was a difference of six total points in all three games, the biggest win for Calgary at McMahon stadium by just four points, 37-33.