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CFL Previews - Week 17 - October 18-20
From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -

CALGARY STAMPEDERS (12-3) AT EDMONTON ESKIMOS (3-12)

DATE & TIME: Friday, October 18, 9 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: Two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to their success in 2013 get together in Edmonton this week, as the Eskimos host the Calgary Stampeders in a West Division battle at Commonwealth Stadium.

Sporting the best overall record in the CFL after 16 weeks of action, Calgary sits alone atop the division standings with a mark of 12-3, giving the squad a four-point lead over Saskatchewan with three games left in the regular season. Obviously the Stamps have already locked up a spot in the 101st Grey Cup Playoffs, but there are still many variables to be worked out.

As it stands, if Calgary picks up a victory and Saskatchewan falls to British Columbia, the Stamps would clinch first place in the division. Should the Stampeders come out on top in this outing and the Lions defeat the Roughriders, then at least Calgary would be assured a home playoff game.

The good news for the Stamps is that they are going up against one of the worst teams in the league this year in Edmonton, a squad which has bowed in three straight and won a grand total of just three games in 15 opportunities. The Eskimos are in the division basement, as is Winnipeg over in the East with an identical record.

Edmonton's most recent downfall came against Saskatchewan last Saturday afternoon in an uninspired 14-9 final at Mosaic Stadium. The Esks were paced by Mike Reilly who converted 17-of-34 pass attempts for 244 yards and a pair of interceptions. With the defeat, Edmonton was officially eliminated from the playoffs.

Kicker Grant Shaw was responsible for seven of his team's points, thanks to a pair of field goals and a single, while the other two points came when the Roughriders conceded in the end zone. The Eskimos generated a mere 80 yards rushing, the leader there being Reilly who gained 42 yards, and were also hurt by 13 penalties which added up to a loss of 115 yards.

While Edmonton was ushering itself out of a potential playoff appearance, a long-shot at best, the Stampeders were breaking a 26-26 tie in the fourth quarter with a six-yard TD reception by Clifton Smith and a 65-yard interception return for a major by Chris Randle, en route to a third straight victory and the seventh in the last eight outings.

As he has been all season long, Calgary kicker Rene Paredes again played a key role in the win for the Stamps over BC, knocking through four of his five field goal attempts and finishing with 16 points overall.

Kevin Glenn stepped up and converted 22-of-37 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns, working his way through an interception and a couple of sacks. Also having an impressive outing for the hosts was running back Jon Cornish who registered a game-high 130 yards and a major on 15 attempts.

Cornish, who won the CFL rushing title a year ago with 1,457 yards, breaking the 56-year old single-season record for rushing by a Canadian in the process, has already bettered his efforts from 2012 in terms of yardage and tied his personal high with 11 rushing TDs. The non-import has gained at least 100 yards in three straight games and a total of seven times overall in 2013.

Not only does Cornish lead the league in rushing overall heading into this week, he is also tops in terms of yards from scrimmage with 1,865.

While Cornish is punishing defenses on the ground, Glenn and the passing attack is dicing up secondaries with close to 69 percent passing accuracy, leading to 31 touchdowns which is second only to Saskatchewan which has tossed 32 majors. With just 10 INTs, Calgary can also be proud of the fact that it is second in the CFL with an efficiency rating of 107.9.

In terms of the all-time series between these two programs, Edmonton owns a 123-87-3 advantage in regular-season contests dating back to 1949. However, recent history has not been nearly as kind to the Eskimos who have dropped six straight regular-season encounters. The most recent meeting took place during Week 10 with the Stamps slipping by in a 37-34 home win.

Edmonton, which scored just seven points through the first three quarters, made things interesting by posting 27 points in the fourth frame, but even that effort left the visitors short as Bo Levi Mitchell and Glenn combined to throw three touchdowns to Maurice Price.

Reilly had an up-and-down performance for Edmonton as he completed just 16- of-35 passes for 246 yards, was sacked six times and tossed a pair of interceptions, but at the same time he tallied four aerial majors.

Edmonton has nothing to play for at this point other than being a spoiler, but these final games might also be opportunities for some of the backups to get real-time experience and have on-the-job training for next year. But at the same time, the Eskimos can also throw caution to the win and go all out without having to worry about the ramifications, a fact that could work against Calgary.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Calgary 28, Edmonton 23.

TORONTO ARGONAUTS (9-6) AT WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (3-12)

DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 19, 3:30 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: The Toronto Argonauts try to bring an end to an untimely two-game losing streak this weekend, as they clash with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday afternoon at Investors Group Field.

Prior to back-to-back defeats at the hands of Hamilton, the Argos had taken control of the East Division with four straight victories and continue to sit atop the standings by two points over the Tiger-Cats, but the team needs to get back into the win column in order to control their postseason destiny.

According to the most recent Grey Cup Playoff scenarios, a Toronto win or a Montreal loss would clinch a home playoff game for the Argos so they must take advantage of the fact that they are going up against one of two teams in the league, Edmonton being the other, that has a record of just 3-12 after 16 weeks of action.

On Canadian Thanksgiving, the Argos were thankful for the return of their starting quarterback as Ricky Ray came back from an injury, but his presence wasn't enough of a spark to keep Toronto from bowing in a 24-18 final on the road.

Ray did play the entire game, which was certainly a good sign, converting 26- of-34 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns, while being picked off once and sacked two times. Ray completed seven passes to Chad Owens, another key offensive figure who has missed significant time with an injury, leading to 68 yards.

One of the most explosive players in league history, Owens got knocked off track during his quest to produce another 3,000-yard campaign and still he doesn't seem to be fully operational. In fact Owens, who returned a pair of punts for just 23 yards, only handled one kickoff for 15 yards.

One major problem for the Argos on Monday was the fact that the defense was pushed to the limit, giving up 545 yards to the Tiger-Cats while spending more than 37 minutes on the field.

Like Toronto, the Bombers were also involved in the holiday festivities, the only difference being that Winnipeg managed to come out on top in a 34-27 final versus Montreal on the road. Winnipeg appeared destined for the win with a 10-0 lead right out of the gate, but the squad had to battle right through to the end to snap what had become a four-game slide.

Quarterback Max Hall had his struggles, but still managed to convert 16-of-27 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. The signal caller hooked up with Clarence Denmark five times for a game-high 102 yards and a major. Backup quarterback Jason Boltus stepped in for five running plays, generating just a single net yard, but on one of those attempts he managed to cross the goal line to give the Bombers a lift.

Running back Will Ford also scored on a one-yard run as he logged a game-high 93 yards on just 13 carries, thanks in large part to a 69-yard scamper.

Even though Ford made an impression, the fact remains that the Blue Bombers don't have much of a running attack to speak of this season. The team is averaging just 91.4 ypg on the ground, second-lowest in the league, and that's just one of the reasons why they are last in scoring (20.9 ppg) with three games remaining in the regular season.

Unfortunately, Winnipeg is getting it from both ends on the scoreboard, failing to score enough points and giving up the most (32.4 ppg) at this juncture. Turnovers have played a significant role in how poorly the Bombers have performed, currently last in the CFL with a minus-21 turnover margin. At the other end of the spectrum are the Argos who are a plus-15, second only to Calgary which is at plus-18.

As far as the all-time series between the clubs is concerned, Toronto is clinging to a 54-51-2 advantage in regular-season matchups dating back to 1961. The Argos won the most recent meeting back in the middle of July, 35-19, which means the squad has taken five of six and eight of the last 11 encounters overall.

In that last clash, Ray completed all but one of his 20 pass attempts, leading to 286 yards and two touchdowns before exiting with an injury. The quarterback also led the team in rushing oddly enough with 24 yards on just two carries, one of those ending up in the end zone.

As for the Bombers, they used both Goltz and Buck Pierce under center, the duo combining to hit on 23-of-29 passes for 309 yards, but they failed to get a single toss across the goal line.

Just for good measure, the CFL schedule also has the squads facing off against each other once more a mere five days from now at Rogers Centre.

While Winnipeg might have an edge in that no one thinks they can be a factor down the stretch, the Bombers don't do themselves any favors by having won only once in seven tries at home. Then again, if Ray isn't comfortable in the pocket for Toronto then almost anything is possible.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Toronto 30, Winnipeg 24.

BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (9-6) AT SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (10-5)

DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 19, 7 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: The race for the best record in the West Division gets even tighter, as the British Columbia Lions tangle with the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium.

Both teams are already locked into the postseason, with the Roughriders sitting in second place in the division standings behind Calgary, and BC two points below Saskatchewan with three games remaining in the regular season.

The most recent playoff scenarios show that, if Saskatchewan comes out on top this weekend the team will be assured no less than a home playoff contest.

Last weekend the Roughriders, a team which came screaming out of the gate in 2013 with five straight wins and eight victories in the first nine outings, captured a second consecutive triumph with a 14-9 decision over Edmonton at home. The Riders scored all of their points in the second quarter, courtesy of a 20-yard TD pass from Darian Durant to Weston Dressler, and a five-yard major on the ground by Kory Sheets.

Sheets finished the meeting with 24 carries for 106 yards, while Durant converted 16-of-24 passes for 170 yards and a pair of interceptions while being sacked three times.

Defensively, Saskatchewan limited the visitors to 324 yards of total offense and benefited from Edmonton suffering 13 penalties for a loss of 115 yards.

As for the Lions, they kicked off Week 16 action last Friday night versus Calgary, giving them a chance to close the gap in the division standings, but the Stampeders came out on top in a 40-26 final.

With Thomas DeMarco at the helm of the offense, BC got off to a slow start and didn't get into the end zone until the final two minutes of the first half on a 27-yard TD pass to Courtney Taylor. DeMarco managed to complete 23-of-39 passes for 301 yards and two scores, the other major going to Nick Moore who ended up catching six balls for a game-high 109 yards.

In desperation mode late in the fourth quarter, DeMarco saw his one interception of the game returned 65 yards for a score by Chris Randle.

DeMarco also logged a rushing touchdown in the matchup, placing second on the team with 23 net yards on the ground, but overall British Columbia was limited to just 56 yards on 17 carries.

Last week, the Lions were not very good at generating offense on the ground, but typically it is the passing game that has the potential to hold them back. Granted, the team has completed a solid 62.0 percent of 500 attempts, but the yardage total of 3,869 yards is third from the bottom in the CFL.

Thanks to DeMarco and Travis Lulay, BC has managed to post 26 majors through the air, but in his last appearance in September the latter also tossed three interceptions, so not all was perfect with Lulay under center.

Meanwhile, Durant is second in the CFL in passing yards with 3,765 and has the most touchdowns of any signal caller with 29, which means he is averaging roughly one major per 10 completions.

While Durant stands in the pocket and seeks out receivers when the Riders need big gains, Sheets is more than willing to add some punch to the offense coming out of the backfield as he bills himself as the top running back in the league. Sheets is currently second in the CFL with 1,408 yards rushing, but is tied with Calgary's Jon Cornish for the lead with 11 touchdowns.

However, the big difference between Sheets and Cornish is that the latter is averaging an impressive 7.2 yards per attempt, while the former checks in with 5.6 yards per carry. Both players have been solid receivers as well, so it not unusual to see Sheets placing second in yards from scrimmage (1,667) behind only Cornish (1,865).

These teams faced each other just two weeks ago, with the Riders coming up with a 31-17 road victory. Sheets paved the way for Saskatchewan with a pair of rushing touchdowns, while Durant converted 21-of-31 passes for 234 yards and a score. Defensively, the Roughriders captured three interceptions in order to help the squad overcome seven penalties for a loss of 118 yards.

The Lions crippled themselves during Week 15 action with 13 infractions, costing them 138 yards.

With the win, Saskatchewan now leads the all-time, regular-season series by a count of 93-83-4, dating back to 1954.

With so much riding on this game, as well as the remaining outings in the regular season, Saskatchewan cannot afford to go easy on the Lions this weekend. The offense has got to play much better than it did last week for the Riders if they hope to close the gap in the standings.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 27, British Columbia 24.

HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (9-7) AT MONTREAL ALOUETTES (6-9)

DATE & TIME: Sunday, October 20, 1 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: With plenty of postseason implications running through Week 17 action in the CFL, one of the key matchups finds the Hamilton Tiger-Cats clashing with the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday afternoon at Molson Stadium.

Hamilton, which has already sewn up a playoff appearance and is currently sitting in second place in the East Division standings, just two points behind Toronto, has won two straight and three of the last four outings, enjoying back-to-back victories for the first time in two months.

As for the Alouettes, a team which fired their new head coach (Dan Hawkins) just weeks into the campaign and also lost future HOF quarterback Anthony Calvillo to injury, they are still in the playoff picture even though they had a two-game win streak snapped on Monday by Winnipeg and are three games below .500 overall.

In all honesty, Montreal still has life only because Winnipeg and Edmonton have been so dismal this season with both squads sporting 3-12 records after 16 weeks of action.

Unfortunately for the Als, there wasn't much Thanksgiving celebration on the football field earlier this week when the team bowed to Winnipeg at home by a score of 34-27. Quarterback Josh Neiswander made the start again for Montreal, hitting on half of his 38 pass attempts for 199 yards, but he was picked off three times and took a seat on the bench at one point in favor of Troy Smith.

Smith attempted only six passes, converting three, but one of those went for a 12-yard TD to S.J. Green in the second quarter. In addition to logging the first CFL passing score of his career, Smith also tossed an interception as turnovers continued to hamper the Als and their pursuits.

Tyrell Sutton scored on a one-yard run in the second frame for Montreal, but the team overall generated just 75 yards on 19 attempts in the setback.

As for the Tiger-Cats, they too played on the Canadian holiday, but in their case they came up with a 24-18 triumph over visiting Toronto in the day's later game. Hamilton, which was held scoreless in the fourth quarter, saw quarterback Henry Burris complete 27-of-36 passes for 350 yards, but he failed to get one of those connections into the end zone.

Instead, it was backup signal caller Dan LeFevour who stepped in and crossed the goal line on two of his four rushing attempts. C.J. Gable added another TD on the ground, a two-yard effort in the third frame, while accounting for a game-high 118 yards rushing overall.

Luke Tasker reeled in seven balls for a game-high 113 yards to help the Cats maintain possession of the ball for more than 37 minutes. The team as a whole generated 545 yards of total offense, offsetting eight penalties for a loss of 72 yards.

Burris has been churning out passing yards all season long for the Ticats and is currently first in the league with his 4.523 yards on 66.2 percent accuracy. The Temple University product is closing in on his second straight season with at least 5,000 passing yards, the third of his career overall, but huge passing yardage totals don't always tell the whole story.

Unfortunately, while Burris has joined the 50,000-yard passing club this season, he hasn't shown the same touch that he did a year ago when he tossed a career-best 43 touchdowns and produced an efficiency rating of 104.4. At the moment, the gunslinger has but 22 aerial majors and 17 picks, the latter being the most for any quarterback in the league.

In terms of the all-time series between the teams, one that takes into account only regular-season dates stretching back to 1950, the Als hold an 88-80-7 edge even after losing the most recent encounter to Hamilton, 28-26, in Moncton last month.

The Cats, who have won two straight and three of the last four meetings, scored 15 points in the fourth quarter against Montreal in the last matchup. Kicker Brett Lauther was a key figure for Hamilton as he converted all four of his field goal chances and finished with 14 points overall.

Burris converted 15-of-27 passes for 176 yards, but he failed to throw a touchdown while being picked off once and sacked four times. Instead, it was Andy Fantuz who was credited with a 10-yard TD strike to Marc Beswick in the second quarter.

For Montreal, a squad which had to deal with 16 penalties for a loss of 94 yards, it was Neiswander who kept the squad close with 294 yards and two TDs through the air, while Troy Smith tacked on a rushing score as well. Duron Carter finished with game highs of nine receptions and 112 yards for the Alouettes.

With a win the Tiger-Cats will clinch a home playoff game, but should Montreal come out on top, or Winnipeg bow to Toronto, then the Als would lock up a playoff berth. Clearly there's a lot riding on this game for both teams, but with so many backups and reserves being forced into key roles for the Alouettes, a victory just doesn't seem likely this time around.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Hamilton 27, Montreal 24.

2013 Sports Network Predictions: 33-27; Last Week's Predictions: 2-2.

10/16 14:37:00 ET