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CFL Preview - Winnipeg (1-7) at Saskatchewan (7-1)



From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

DATE & TIME: Sunday, September 1, 4:00 p.m. (et).

GAME NOTES: A battle pitting the best of the West Division against the worst of the East has the Saskatchewan Roughriders entertaining the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a Sunday afternoon matchup at Mosaic Stadium.

Not only are the Roughriders the top team in the division with a record of 7-1, that mark also means the club has the best overall point total (14) in the league after eight games. Outside of a 42-27 loss at Calgary on Aug. 9, Saskatchewan has been perfect. However, the Riders have played it a bit too close for comfort in recent weeks, defeating Montreal and Edmonton by just three points apiece.

Last weekend, the Riders allowed a last-place Edmonton squad to push them to the brink, but an 18-yard touchdown run by Kory Sheets in the fourth quarter put them ahead to stay in a 30-27 final. Sheets, named the CFL Offensive Player of the Week yet again, finished the contest with 139 yards and two touchdowns on 24 attempts.

Also carrying a good portion of the load for the Riders was quarterback Darian Durant who missed on just six of his 30 passes, resulting in 334 yards. Kicker Chris Milo knocked through all five of his field goal chances and finished with 17 points overall for the visitors.

As for the Blue Bombers, very little has gone right for them here in 2013. The team has just one win in eight tries, defeating a sub-standard Montreal group in the second week of the season, 19-11. Since then, Winnipeg has sputtered out of control with six consecutive defeats.

The most recent setback for the Bombers came last weekend in a 37-14 decision versus Hamilton, just eight days after going down to the Ticats in a 37-18 outing as well. Winnipeg fielded three different quarterbacks who combined to hit 18-of-32 passes for just 141 yards and a pair of interceptions. Buck Pierce accounted for 92 of those yards.

Running back Chad Simpson rolled up a game-high 75 rushing yards, but 44 of those came on a single attempt that finished up in the end zone in the fourth quarter once the game was long out of reach. As a whole, the offense registered just 11 first downs and compiled a mere 235 yards, compared to 464 yards for the Tiger-Cats.

Off the field on Tuesday, the Bombers made some moves as they released both receiver Isaac Anderson and kicker Justin Palardy. Palardy signed on with Winnipeg back in 2010 after being released by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but the addition of Sandro DeAngelis made Palardy expendable.

Last week, the Bombers signed former NFL receiver Mike Sims-Walker, the 79th pick in the 2007 draft. Sims-Walker was a standout performer at Central Florida where he registered 184 catches for 2,561 yards in 46 games. With the Jacksonville Jaguars, the wideout caught 122 balls for 1,648 yards and 14 scores over the course of three seasons before moving on to the St. Louis Rams.

Whether Sims-Walker makes an impact for the Bombers remains to be seen, but what is clear is that Winnipeg has the weakest passing attack in the league right now with just 1,712 passing yards and five touchdowns, against 12 interceptions. Inconsistency at the position has been the biggest problem, that and the fact that Pierce has three times as many interceptions (six) as he does TD passes (two).

Winnipeg does have one of the better running backs in the CFL in Simpson, what with his 552 yards and six touchdowns on 99 carries, but he still doesn't come close to the standard that Sheets is putting up these days for the Roughriders.

Second in the league in combined yards with 1,202, Sheets has done the bulk of his damage carrying the ball out of the backfield, unlike Toronto's Chad Owens (1,587 combined yards) who is a ball carrier, pass receiver and kick returner. Sheets is easily the top producer from the line of scrimmage with 1,202 yards, and he remains in the hunt to set a new league record for rushing yards in a season, now that he has 1,058 yards through eight games.

Making the road much smoother for Sheets is Durant who has been masterful in the pocket. The signal-caller has completed better than two-thirds of his pass attempts for close to 1,900 yards and a league-high 17 touchdowns. But, more importantly, Durant has yet to be intercepted in 201 attempts and because of that Saskatchewan is first in the CFL in turnover margin with a plus-14.

At the other end of the miscue spectrum is Winnipeg which is suffering with a minus-18 in that department and remains the only team still without having forced a turnover on downs.

In regular-season matchups dating back to 1936, the advantage in the all-time series lies with Winnipeg which is 113-87-3 versus the Riders. However, Saskatchewan has won four in a row and nine of the last 10 meetings, the most recent of those being a narrow 25-24 final last September.

The teams will complete their home-and-home series on Sept. 8 in Winnipeg.

Montreal showed last week that miracles can happen, but there would have to be a complete breakdown on both sides of the ball for the Roughriders, combined with record-setting efforts by Winnipeg to get the Blue Bombers into the win column this time around.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 38, Winnipeg 21

08/28 11:58:57 ET