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CFL Previews - Week 18 - October 24-26From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (3-13) AT TORONTO ARGONAUTS (10-6)
DATE & TIME: Thursday, October 24, 7:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: Meeting for the third time this season and the second time in a span of only five days, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Toronto Argonauts tangle on Thursday night at Rogers Centre.
While the teams for the 101st Grey Cup Playoffs have already been identified, there are still some determinations to be made when it comes to order of finish. For Toronto, the team with the best record in the East Division at the moment, a win or a loss by second-place Hamilton versus Montreal would give the Argos first place in the standings for the regular season.
Unfortunately for the Blue Bombers, at this point they can do little more than play the role of spoiler and perhaps delay what might be inevitable anyway. With a mere three wins in 16 opportunities, Winnipeg is all alone in last place in the division, and is tied with Edmonton over in the West for the worst record in the league.
Last week, the Bombers scored just three points in the first half against Toronto and trailed by 20 at the break, which is why their 17-point outburst after intermission simply wasn't enough to keep them from suffering the 26-20 loss at home.
The Blue Bombers wasted what statistically was one of their strongest outings of the season, as they registered 25 first downs and 466 yards of total offense. Quarterback Max Hall threw for a career-high 385 yards, the second- highest total for the club in the last four campaigns. Hall completed 30-of-50 passes, but had just a single major and one interception.
Making a major impression during his CFL debut, Winnipeg receiver Mike Sims- Walker reeled in eight passes for a game-high 137 yards, while Rory Kohlert was the recipient of the lone passing score from Hall. Will Ford scored the other TD on a one-yard run in the third quarter, one of his 13 carries which led to a game-high 75 yards.
For the Bombers, who were flagged for nine penalties amounting to a loss of 99 yards, the setback was the fifth in the last six outings.
Meanwhile the Argonauts, who snapped a two-game slide with the victory last week, were led by Ricky Ray who converted 21-of-35 passes for 246 yards and a score. Backup signal caller Zach Collaros, who carried the load for Toronto while Ray was on the injured list this season, stepped in and tossed a one- yard TD pass to Dontrelle Inman in the second quarter.
During those times when the Toronto offense stalled, kicker Swayze Waters stepped in and knocked through all four of his field goal attempts, finishing with 14 points overall.
Chad Owens, who regained the CFL lead for combined yards (2,072), caught eight passes for 71 yards and tacked on another 50 yards on kickoff returns and 31 yards on punts returns. Even though he missed four games this season, Owens has now generated at least 2,000 combined yards for the fourth year in a row, one of only five players in CFL history to achieve the feat.
While posting victories is always first and foremost in the mind of Owens and the rest of the Argos, there are still some personal marks that the sprite Hawaiian can shoot for over the final two regular-season outings. Should Owens find a way to come up with another 428 yards before the playoffs begin, he'll be the first player ever to post at least 2,500 yards in four straight campaigns.
Giving Owens an opportunity to set even more league standards as the regular season winds down, Ray is perhaps the best quarterback in the league to aid him in reaching those goals. Granted, Owens does a lot of the work on his own when it comes to kick returns and rushing, but Ray's league-leading 123.4 efficiency rating means he consistently makes the right choices in the pocket.
Unfortunately for the Bombers, there's very little to play for aside from pride and trying to prevent Toronto from asserting itself as the top team in the division. Winnipeg has the weakest passing attack in the league this season, sporting a woeful 65.9 efficiency rating, due to the fact that the team has thrown a mere 11 TDs and a staggering 24 interceptions. On a positive note, Hall does have seven of those aerial majors, but at the same time has tossed nine picks so you better believe that Toronto defenders will be aiming to add to the latter total.
As far as the all-time series is concerned, the Argos own a 55-51-2 edge in regular-season meetings dating back to 1961. With the victory last weekend, Toronto has taken two in a row and six of the last seven encounters with the Bombers.
A perfect 9-0 this season when scoring at least 30 points, the Argos are well aware of the threshold that they must meet in order to outpace the competition. While last week Toronto won for the first time in seven games when scoring under 30, you can be sure the team will aiming even higher this time around against Winnipeg with so much on the line.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Toronto 33, Winnipeg 24.
EDMONTON ESKIMOS (3-13) AT BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (9-7)
DATE & TIME: Friday, October 25, 10 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The British Columbia Lions try to bring an end to an ill-timed three-game slide on Friday night when they host the Edmonton Eskimos in Week 18 action at BC Place.
Less than a month ago, the Lions where in the thick of things when it came to competing for the top spot in the West Division standings, but this current slide has knocked the team down to third place behind both Calgary and Saskatchewan. Prior to the losing streak, BC had dropped just four games in 13 outings.
Last weekend, British Columbia was stymied by the Roughriders on the road, 35-14, going from an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter to a 31-7 hole at the break. Granted, the Lions limited the hosts to just four points after intermission, but by then the damage had been done.
The Lions produced a mere 240 yards of total offense and 13 first downs, with nine penalties for a loss of 70 yards hampering their efforts versus the Riders. Quarterback Thomas DeMarco completed only 13-of-30 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns, while being picked off four times. In addition to the four interceptions thrown by DeMarco, BC also lost possession of three of its five fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
Nick Moore and Shawn Gore both logged receiving touchdowns for the Lions, the former posting a game-high five receptions for 73 yards.
While the Lions have lost out on a golden opportunity to perhaps control their own destiny in the postseason, that was never an option for the Eskimos who are currently tied with Winnipeg for the worst overall record in the league with a mere three wins in 16 chances. Last week, Edmonton suffered a 27-13 setback versus Calgary, the team's fourth consecutive defeat following the one and only time they managed to post back-to-back victories in 2013.
Outside of a seven-yard touchdown pass from Mike Reilly to Adarius Bowman in the second quarter, the Eskimos offense made very little impact versus Calgary at home. Reilly finished the contest 18-of-34 for 247 yards and a score, but he was picked off once and suffered five sacks along the way. Somewhat surprisingly, the quarterback was also the leading rusher for Edmonton with 43 yards on seven carries.
Receiver Fred Stamps stepped up to grab seven balls for a game-high 132 yards, marking the sixth time this season he has gone over the 100-yard mark, but still it did nothing to change the outcome. Stamps, who now has five straight 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, leads the league in receiving with 1,259 yards, one of only three players with more than 1,000 at the moment.
Stamps, who now needs just 143 yards to establish a new career high in that department, may not have the most catches (68) in the league at this moment, but his 11 majors are second among all receivers and has him tied for fourth in the league overall.
While Reilly currently ranks third in the league in passing yards with 3,836 and is tied for third in passing scores with 22, his 16 interceptions and penchant for leaving the pocket and trying to become a threat as a runner has hampered the productivity of the Eskimos as a whole. One can only wonder what the numbers would look like for the Stamps if Reilly wasn't the fifth-ranked rusher in the CFL after 16 games with his 72 attempts for 624 yards. Perhaps if the payoff were more advantageous for Reilly when he takes off running it would make more sense, but with just one major on the ground it seems the signal caller is running scared more often than not.
Even though DeMarco might not be the quarterback the Lions would prefer to have in the cross hairs these days, the fact that Edmonton is tied for last in the league when it comes to preventing completed passes should work in BC's favor. At the moment, the Eskimos are permitting 66.1 percent of all pass attempts against them to be completed. On the other side, the Lions have the best pass defense in the league in terms of yards per game (243.8), which means Reilly will probably by tucking the ball away and taking off even more this week.
In terms of the all-time series between these two teams, the Esks own a 103-75-4 advantage when taking into consideration only regular-season bouts dating back to 1954. The squads played back-to-back games during the first month of the campaign, with both contests being won by the Lions, the first being a 17-3 triumph in Edmonton and the other a 31-21 final at home.
British Columbia has not only won four straight in the relationship, it has taken seven of the last eight and eight of the last 12 encounters as well.
With very little to play for on either side, other than personal accomplishments, there's no telling how these teams will treat this game. It might not be a bad idea for the Lions to rest some key players and get backups some meaningful playing time, but no matter how they intend to handle it, the bottom line is that they are still considered the favorite.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 30, Edmonton 22.
MONTREAL ALOUETTES (7-9) AT HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (8-8)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 26, 1 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The Hamilton Tiger-Cats seek revenge on Saturday afternoon as they do battle with the Montreal Alouettes for the second time in a span of just six days, this time at Alumni Stadium at the University of Guelph.
Last weekend, the Ticats were seeking to deliver on a three-game win streak for just the second time this season, but they were blown away by Montreal in a 36-5 final on the road. It was just the second time this year that Hamilton had been held below double-digit scoring, the other instance being a 37-0 shutout versus Saskatchewan back in July.
Despite the lopsided outcome, the Cats will still be included in the postseason as they are second in the East Division standings, one step ahead of Montreal, a team which has battled through injuries to key players and a change in coaching in order to make the cut for the 101st Grey Cup Playoffs.
In last week's battle, Hamilton fell behind by two touchdowns in the first quarter and by a 31-3 margin at the break, so there was little chance of the team making it all the way back to challenge the Als, even though the hosts were starting yet another new quarterback in Troy Smith.
Henry Burris made the start under center for the Tiger-Cats, but his lackluster performance forced the coaching staff to bring in Dan LeFevour in the second half of the blowout loss. Burris, who entered the league in 1998 and is approaching 5,000 passing yards for the second straight season, converted 11-of-23 passes for a mere 106 yards, was sacked twice and tossed one interception before exiting.
LeFevour, who ended up leading the Cats in rushing with 50 yards on a mere five attempts, the team producing a weak 66 yards on 11 carries, hit on 10- of-16 passes for 98 yards, but he too was kept out of the end zone and was taken down for three sacks. While the Montreal defense was crawling all over Hamilton, the Tiger-Cats weren't doing themselves any favors with 12 penalties for a loss of 113 yards.
Since Burris broke into the league the Alouettes have been comforted in knowing that, more often than not, they were going to have Anthony Calvillo as their resident signal caller, but that all changed this year when he went down with an injury and the revolving door of quarterbacks was installed in Montreal. The team has used Tanner Marsh and Josh Neiswander and found marginal success, but obviously nothing on the level of what Calvillo has brought to the table during his two decades in the league.
Last week, Montreal went in yet another direction, inserting Smith, a former Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State, for his first career start in the CFL. Smith connected on 17-of-35 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns and, perhaps more importantly, he didn't throw a single interception as he managed the game to near-perfection.
Smith's favorite target down the field early on was S.J. Green, who tallied a pair of majors in the first quarter, finishing with five catches for 86 yards. The quarterback also made Arland Bruce a relevant factor again as he found the receiver for a 26-yard scoring strike near the end of the second frame.
Green, who has 76 catches on the season now, leads the league in receiving touchdowns with 12 and is second in yards with 1,070 as he averages a shade over 14 yards per grab.
Also making an impact for the Als was running back Tyrell Sutton, who scored a touchdown for the third straight game and tallied a career-best 84 yards on 13 attempts to help take some of the pressure off Smith.
Unfortunately for Montreal, with the loss of Calvillo and the change in coaching early on, the offense hasn't operated anywhere near its potential. In terms of the passing attack, Montreal is second-to-last in the CFL with just 3,952 yards, has the lowest completion percentage (.555), and has more interceptions (25) than any other squad. Hopefully Smith, as long as he remains in the starting lineup, can improve on those numbers and return the Als to respectability.
Despite the win by Montreal last week, the Cats have taken two of the last three encounters and three of the last five regular-season matchups overall. However, when it comes to regular-season meetings dating back to 1950, the edge goes back to the Als who own a mark of 89-80-7 versus Hamilton.
Revenge can be a mighty motivator, so too can a hometown crowd which means Hamilton should hold the advantage in this meeting with the Als. Then again, Montreal's incentive is the potential to host a playoff game should they finish strong, so both sides have reason to play hard.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Hamilton 29, Montreal 24.
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (11-5) AT CALGARY STAMPEDERS (13-3)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 26, 7 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: For Calgary, the West Division crown is there for the taking this weekend when the Stampeders clash with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Week 18 action at McMahon Stadium.
Early on this season it appeared as though the Roughriders might cruise to the division title, winning five straight out of the gate and eight of the first nine games on the schedule, but a four-game slide during the month of September, coupled with strong play by Calgary, has opened the door for the Stamps to claim the prize with a win or even a tie this weekend.
The Stampeders are currently enjoying a four-game win streak thanks to a 27-13 victory over Edmonton last week on the road. Quarterback Kevin Glenn completed 16-of-26 passes for 237 yards and just a single touchdown to Marquay McDaniel, but also landing in the end zone was Jamar Wall who returned a fumble 19 yards for a major in the second quarter for Calgary.
Glenn wasn't spectacular by any means, but he did use the opportunity to move into 10th place on the CFL's all-time passing list with 39,211 yards dating back to 2001 when he broke into the league with Saskatchewan.
Having another outstanding game coming out of the backfield for Calgary was running back Jon Cornish, who again earned the league's top Canadian honors for the sixth time this season as he ran for 145 yards on 19 carries.
More than anything else, the Stamps again relied heavily on kicker Rene Paredes, who converted all four of his field goal chances and finished with 14 points overall. Paredes, who earlier this season set the new CFL record for consecutive field goals made, easily leads the league in scoring with 196 points thanks to his near-perfect effort on field goals (49-of-52).
But getting back to Cornish; who currently leads the league in touchdowns with a total of 13 (11 on the ground and two through the air), he is tops in the league in rushing with 1,690 yards with two games remaining, is second in combined yards (2,022), and is the only player in the CFL at this point with more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Barring injury or lack of opportunity due to the Stamps wanting to keep him fresh for the postseason, Cornish should easily break the club record of 2,127 yards from scrimmage in a season, set by Willie Burden back in 1975.
As for the Roughriders, they too have a standout ground gainer on their roster in Kory Sheets and the running back again proved that he is a force to be reckoned with as he produced 148 yards and a score on 25 carries in his team's 35-14 victory over British Columbia, its third consecutive win overall.
For Sheets, who was named the CFL Offensive Player of the Week, it was his ninth 100-yard rushing game of the season, tying him with George Reed for the franchise record. The second-leading rusher in the league with 1,556 yards, even while missing time in September, Sheets is tied for second in the CFL with 12 majors.
Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant wasn't at the top of his game against BC, converting just 13 of his 29 pass attempts as he finished with 187 yards and a score, but he did play well enough to keep the Riders out in front nonetheless. Weston Dressler caught Durant's lone passing score and finished with three receptions for a game-high 107 yards.
Also contributing to the scoring was Weldon Brown who returned a fumble 46 yards for a TD in the first quarter while the Riders were slowly building what would become a 31-7 advantage at halftime. The final score could have possibly been even more lopsided if not for the fact that Saskatchewan committed 11 penalties for a loss of 100 yards.
This matchup is an interesting one for sure, given that Calgary is the top scoring team in the league with 32.1 ppg and the Riders are second in that department with 29.3 ppg. But even more intriguing is the fact that Saskatchewan is the top defensive squad with only 21.2 ppg allowed, and the Stamps are close behind at 22.6 ppg.
With respect to the all-time series between these two clubs, one that takes into account only regular-season matchups dating back to 1946, the Stamps are in charge to the tune of 120-89-9. Calgary won the most recent battle, 42-27, back in early August and has taken eight of the last 10 meetings, although the Riders have won two of the last three to make things interesting.
Saskatchewan has been very strong on the road this season, winning five out of eight opportunities, but on the other side the Stampeders have dominated on their own field with seven victories in eight chances, and with so much riding on this outcome it would be foolish to pick against a favorite at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Calgary 31, Saskatchewan 26.
2013 Sports Network Predictions: 36-28; Last Week's Predictions: 3-1.
10/23 11:37:54 ET