MONTREAL ALOUETTES (7-10) AT TORONTO ARGONAUTS (11-6)
DATE & TIME: Friday, November 1, 7 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: Champions of the East Division and the reigning Grey Cup title holders, the Toronto Argonauts finish off the regular season on Friday night as they host the Montreal Alouettes at Rogers Centre.
Last year, the Argos were an unlikely champion who finished just 9-9 during the regular season, winning only three of their final eight regular season bouts, but that just goes to show how anything is possible once the postseason begins.
This time around Toronto enters the final week of the regular season with back-to-back victories and wins in six of the last eight contests in order to take over the division.
Against Winnipeg last Thursday night, Ricky Ray was unstoppable as he converted 39-of-45 passes for a career-high 505 yards and three touchdowns as the Argos crushed the Blue Bombers in a 36-21 decision. At one point Ray, who had missed several games due to injury before making his return, connected on a team-record 21 straight passes, while his 39 connections also set a new club standard as well.
For his efforts, Ray was named the CFL Offensive Player of the Week, the third time he has captured the honor this season and the fourth time in his Toronto career.
Because the Argos were able to lock up the division title, head coach Scott Milanovich made the early decision to keep Ray out of the final regular season game which means the signal caller, who won't return to the field until Nov. 17 at Rogers Centre, will break the CFL's single-season mark for completion percentage (.777), formerly held by Dave Dickenson at 73.98 percent.
Also coming back strong for Toronto was Chad Owens who set game highs with 11 receptions and 105 yards. The all-everything performer also accounted for 82 yards on five kickoff returns and brought back five punts for an additional 39 yards as well.
Even though he missed time due to injury, Owens is still the leader in the league as far as receptions are concerned with 94, leading to 979 yards, but it is somewhat puzzling to find that he has scored only twice on all of those catches. Owens again leads the league in combined yards as well with 2,298, 155 yards ahead of Calgary's Jon Cornish.
Romby Bryant, playing in just his second game for Toronto, reeled in eight passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns, proving he too can be a valued threat down the field for Ray and the Argos offense.
As for the Alouettes, last week they battled the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the second time in a span of just six days and went from blowing up Hamilton on Oct. 20 by a score of 36-5 at home, to falling by a field goal, 27-24, on the road.
In that latest meeting, played in front of barely 13,000 at Guelph's Alumni Stadium, former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith made his second start for the Als and threw for 340 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but that still wasn't enough to get Montreal over the hump. Smith converted 23-of-39 passes and was picked off twice in the setback.
Duron Carter and S.J. Green helped Smith along the way as they both caught six balls for more than 100 yards and a TD, while running back Tyrell Sutton led the charge on the ground with his game-high 101 yards on 16 carries.
Defensively, the Als limited Hamilton to just 323 yards of offense and Geoff Tisdale made the 'Cats pay in the first quarter as he picked off a Henry Burris pass and returned it 64 yards for a score.
Even with all the changes at quarterback this season for the Alouettes, the one constant on offense has been the play of Green who is currently second in the league in receiving yards with 1,183, and has turned his 83 catches into a league-best 13 majors.
In terms of the all-time series between these two squads, Montreal owns a 109-85-3 advantage in regular-season matchups dating back to 1946. However, Toronto won the most recent battle in early September by a score of 37-30 on the road, and has now taken two of the last three encounters.
Regardless of how this meeting plays out, both teams know what they'll be doing next week with Montreal being pitted against Hamilton in the playoff semifinals and Toronto sitting back waiting for the victor of that clash to arise so they can compete on Nov. 17 back here at Rogers Center. With that said, don't expect the teams to take many chances with key personnel, but still expect to see the Argonauts come out on top.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Toronto 28, Montreal 25.
CALGARY STAMPEDERS (14-3) AT BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (10-7)
DATE & TIME: Friday, November 1, 10 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: Two teams finish the regular season just as they began back in late June, as the Calgary Stampeders meet up with the British Columbia Lions in a West Division showdown, this time at BC Place on Friday night.
While this is still a heated rivalry, regardless of the outcome the teams already know what stands before them as far as the postseason is concerned. As the division champions, Calgary will have extra time to prepare for their division finals outing on Nov. 17, and will face the winner of the BC/Saskatchewan matchup which takes place at Mosaic Stadium on Nov. 10.
Last weekend, the Stampeders put an end to the race for first in the West Division as they slipped by Saskatchewan, 29-25, at home to mark the team's fifth straight victory and the ninth in the last 10 outings overall.
In what was being billed as a battle between the top running backs in the league, Calgary's Jon Cornish and Kory Sheets of Saskatchewan, it was the former who came out on top in both personal stats and the win column, forcing the latter to eat his words after claiming he was superior to Cornish.
Named the top Canadian for yet another week, Cornish registered his fifth straight 100-yard game, finishing with 109 yards and a score on 20 carries, none of them being more important than the one that he used to bull his way into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Quarterbacks Drew Tate and Kevin Glenn combined to convert 22-of-33 passes for 301 yards, with Glenn tossing a touchdown and an interception while being sacked three times. Calgary generated 426 yards in the meeting, compared to only 256 yards for the Roughriders, but the Stamps put themselves in a precarious position by fumbling the ball away four times and committing eight penalties for a loss of 79 yards.
However, the Stampeders were bolstered by the play of Charleston Hughes who was named the CFL Defensive Player of the Week for the third time this season. Hughes registered three sacks in the meeting with Calgary, coming up with five stops overall as he helped limit Sheets to only 42 yards on 11 carries. For the season, Hughes paces the rest of the league with 18 sacks and is one sack away from tying Harold Hallman's team record of 19. The six-year defensive end has six multi-sack games this season.
Last Friday night, with Thomas DeMarco starting at quarterback, the Lions fell behind 10-1 in the first quarter, prompting a move to Buck Pierce who went on to have a hand in four touchdowns over the final three quarters to get BC over the top in a 43-29 final at home.
Pierce, who was acquired in a trade with Winnipeg early last month, stepped in and converted 11-of-14 passes for 141 yards and three touchdowns, adding another on the ground as well in the comeback victory. Running back Stefan Logan registered a 54-yard TD run in the second quarter as he finished with a game-high 121 yards on 10 carries, his yardage total more than double what Edmonton was able to produce as a unit.
Andrew Harris and Emmanuel Arceneaux combined for a modest seven receptions, yet four of those ended up in the end zone for the Lions.
Somewhat surprisingly, the BC defense allowed more yards (448) than the Lions were able to produce themselves (421), but that stat did not matter much after factoring in the nine penalties for 95 yards assessed to the Eskimos.
From an offensive standpoint, specifically in the passing department, the Lions are somewhat lucky to be where they are when you consider they rank second-to-last with only 4,217 yards through the air. Then again, the squad has had a series of different players stationing themselves as quarterback, so it is understandable to find that there have been some struggles in that area.
With respect to the series between these two clubs, one that recognizes only regular-season matchups going back to 1954, the Stampeders own a 97-78-5 advantage. Calgary won the most recent encounter less than a month ago, 40-26, at home which means the Stamps have now taken three of the last four matchups.
British Columbia, which is trying to even the 2013 regular-season series at two games apiece, posted a 26-22 victory back in the middle of August.
The squads have the potential to meet at least one more time in a few weeks, so perhaps showing all of their plays this week would not be a wise move. Putting it all on the line on Friday really doesn't give either team an advantage anyway, so playing smart will be the key to the game on both sides.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 26, Calgary 23.
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (9-8) AT WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (3-14)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 2, 2 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: A painful 2013 season draws to a close for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday afternoon, as the team hosts the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in an Eastern Division showdown at Investors Group Field.
After winning only six games all of last season, the Bombers probably figured it couldn't get much worse, but in fact it did with the team logging a mere three victories through 17 games this time around. Last week, Winnipeg also served as the sacrificial lamb to Toronto as the Argonauts captured the East Division title with a 36-21 triumph.
The Blue Bombers were at the mercy of the Toronto offense last week, more specifically, they just couldn't stop Ricky Ray who ended up throwing for a career-high 505 yards and set a new Argos franchise record for consecutive completions with 21 in a row at Rogers Centre.
Winnipeg, which surrendered close to 600 yards of offense and generated just 337 yards on 75 snaps, didn't do itself any favors with 12 penalties for a loss of 95 yards. Then again, Toronto left plenty of doors open by committing 14 infractions for a loss of 139 yards.
Max Hall, who was taken out of the game late after suffering an injury, converted 17-of-32 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns and, while he wasn't sacked according to the stats, he was under constant pressure and knocked to the turf a number of times.
Wallace Miles, who caught a five-yard TD pass late in the first quarter from Hall, tallied six receptions for an even 100 yards.
While Winnipeg players will be cleaning out their lockers following this contest, no matter the outcome, Hamilton on the other hand already has a date set with Montreal for Nov. 10 in the playoffs thanks to a second-place finish in the division, courtesy of the 27-24 victory over the aforementioned Alouettes last weekend.
Against Montreal, the Tiger-Cats needed a spark late in the game and were rewarded by Brandon Banks who raced 107 yards with a missed field goal for a touchdown with under four minutes remaining in regulation. Banks, who finished with 210 combined return yards in the outing, was named the CFL Special Teams Player of the Week.
Hamilton registered only 323 yards of total offense, so it was critical that Banks stepped up and made such a huge impact. Quarterback Henry Burris had a mediocre outing as he completed 16-of-23 pass attempts for 163 yards and an interception, while backup signal caller Jeremiah Masoli showed up in the third quarter to deliver a 12-yard TD strike to C.J. Gable.
Masoli also led the 'Cats in rushing with 61 yards on 10 attempts, while Banks generated 47 yards and a TD on only two carries.
Gable, who generated minus-one yard on just two attempts, is actually the best option Hamilton has at running back this season. Currently fourth in the league in rushing, Gable has turned his 130 attempts into 782 yards and crossed the goal line seven times. Just as important, the back has also reeled in 54 passes for close to 600 yards and five more TDs to make himself a dual threat coming out of the backfield.
However, while Gable has been viable producer on the ground, the Ticats are still a team that operate most efficiently when Burris is hitting all his marks. The quarterback has converted 65.6 percent of his pass attempts in 2013 and now needs just 210 yards through the air for another 5,000-yard campaign, but still it is hard to get beyond the fact that he has almost as many interceptions (19) as he does aerial majors (22)
With respect to the all-time, regular-season series between the teams, going back as far as 1961, the Bombers are the ones who own a 59-49 advantage over Hamilton, although the latter won the most recent encounter at home in late August by a score of 37-14. With that decision the Cats delivered on their fourth win in a row versus Winnipeg.
With both teams already knowing their fate beyond the final game of the regular season, Winnipeg has nothing to lose by letting it all hang out this week and at the same time the Tiger-Cats gain nothing by putting key players in harm's way. What that all means is that you can expect the unexpected, perhaps with seldom-used players picking up significant minutes in a meaningless game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Hamilton 27, Winnipeg 25.
EDMONTON ESKIMOS (3-14) AT SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (11-6)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 2, 5 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: In their final game of the 2013 season, the Edmonton Eskimos try to finish on a high note as they contend with the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium on Saturday.
Edmonton has been simply dreadful this season, winning a total of three games in 17 opportunities. Making it even worse is the fact that two of those victories came against Winnipeg, the other team in the league that is a mere 3-14 this year.
Edmonton had the Lions clutching at straws through the first quarter of action last week, but then the Eskimos got a full dose of BC backup quarterback Buck Pierce and the visitors ended up on the wrong side of a 43-29 final. The Esks held the Lions to just a single point until the second frame, and after that Edmonton surrendered 14 points in each remaining period.
Quarterback Mike Reilly tried to hold it together for Edmonton, converting 20- of-34 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns, but at the same time he tossed a couple of interceptions and was sacked four times. Backup quarterback Jonathan Crompton stepped in and connected on four of his six pass attempts for another 67 yards and also scored once on the ground in the fourth quarter, but by then it was too little, too late.
Adarius Bowman did all he could to support the cause by turning his six receptions into 199 yards and two majors, but turnovers and penalties were simply too much to overcome.
The loss for Edmonton was the team's fifth straight after capturing back-to- back wins over the Blue Bombers in September.
While the Eskimos will be heading off into the sunset once the weekend draws to a close, the story is quite different for the Roughriders who already know that, regardless of the outcome on Saturday, they'll be matching up against British Columbia in the playoffs on Nov. 10.
Last week, Saskatchewan scored just three points in both the first and third quarters, making it that much more difficult to keep up with Calgary on the road in a meeting that eventually went in favor of the Stampeders, 29-25.
In spite of falling by just four points, the Riders were dreadful on offense as they generated a mere 256 yards on 71 snaps, compared to 426 yards for the hosts. Quarterback Darian Durant went the distance for Saskatchewan, converting 17-of-31 passes for 202 yards and a score, but not only was he intercepted once, he was also sacked seven times as the team lost a chance to possibly grab first place in the division standings as they had a three-game win streak draw to a close.
Durant, who had a one-yard TD run in the second quarter to give the visitors a 15-10 advantage at the break, also tossed a 28-yard TD to Taj Smith in the fourth frame to make things interesting.
Running back Kory Sheets, who engaged in a verbal feud with Calgary's Jon Cornish throughout the week, carried the ball only 11 times and finished with 42 yards, a far cry from the 109 yards and a score put up by his counterpart in what was being billed as the showdown of the week in the CFL.
Kicker Chris Milo helped to keep things interesting for the Riders as he knocked through all four of his field goal chances and finished with 13 points overall in the setback.
Saskatchewan's Weston Dressler went over 1,000 yards receiving on the season, the fifth time he's done that in his career, as he caught five balls for 48 yards. Unfortunately for the Riders, fellow receiver Chris Getzlaf finished the game on the sidelines due to injury, but not before he caught three balls for 49 yards, en route to his second career 1,000-yard campaign.
Defensively, Tearrius George was a terror for the Riders as he came up with four tackles, one sack, a forced fumble and a couple of recoveries. Because of efforts like that, Saskatchewan ranks first in the league in points allowed, permitting a mere 21.6 ppg. It also doesn't hurt that the team is second in scoring with 29.0 ppg.
With respect to the all-time series, one that takes into account regular- season battles dating back to 1949, the Eskimos own a 113-85-2 edge over the Riders. However, Saskatchewan won not only the most recent matchup a few weeks back, 14-9, but has taken three in a row and five of the last six encounters overall.
Edmonton should make things interesting this week, if for no other reason than the Eskimos would like to cause some measure of discomfort for a team heading to the playoffs before they head home and start planning for 2014.