With only four weeks left in the season, five of six playoff spots have been locked up. During this stretch, the teams that are in will be fighting to secure first place in their respective divisions to ensure they'll only need one win to get to the Grey Cup in Vancouver.
This year was once again a perfect example of why I have come to understand that the real season doesn't start until September. The team you are by this point is more important than the team you were coming out of training camp in July.
As you can see, there have been CFL clubs that have stayed the same, while others have evolved. Some teams have established a confident rhythm to their play, but others have been inconsistent.
The only club that has yet to secure a playoff spot after Week 15 is the Hamilton Tiger Cats. Erratic play has plagued this team all season. We can continually see the immaturity of the Ticats by the fluctuations of intensity. When asked about the loss to Winnipeg this week veteran quarterback Kevin Glenn chalked up the defeat to a lack of focus. To have success in now, and make a run for the Grey Cup, you need to have a team that has established the habit of consistent intensity and execution. At this crucial time of the year, Hamilton has not illustrated to me that its young players have what it takes to be successful down the stretch.
Right now the Tiger-Cats are playing lazy football defensively. Players are not moving their feet, which is resulting in sloppy penalties. You can't go through the motions through the week and think that you can simply turn on a switch at game time. Players, like defensive end Steve Baggs, need to stop talking about how good they are and start preparing to have success on the field. It is time for the Tiger-Cat players to show us that they deserve to be in the playoffs.
Bombers riding defence
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, on the other hand, are playing dominant defence week after week. We were once again able to see how a strong defence can frustrate a quarterback. This week, Glenn threw for only 109 yards against Winnipeg before being replaced by backup quarterback Quinton Porter.
What is exciting about the Bombers as they head into the final stretch of the season is that offensively they are starting to get things rolling. Receivers Clarence Denmark and Greg Carr have stepped up their game over the past few weeks and now complement Terrence Edwards very nicely, making the unit much more difficult to defend against. Chris Garrett who replaced the injured Fred Reid, has also been a tremendous addition. This past week, Garret rushed 18 times for 131 yards. I believe with a healthy Buck Pierce, Winnipeg will challenge Montreal for the Eastern title.
In case you haven't heard, Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo broke the record for most passing yards on Monday against Toronto, piling up 72,382 yards in his career, and counting. Amazing! Calvillo's name can now be mentioned in the same company as Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Warren Moon and Damon Allan. Consistent greatness is the measure of a remarkable player, and Calvillo is a perfect illustration of greatness. Anthony has shown unbelievable resiliency through his 18-year career and illustrated to all of us what being a professional athlete really means.
The Alouettes are going to be a tough team to beat. They have five very good receivers, the most dynamic running back in the CFL, a very strong offensive line and a quarterback that will not be surprised.
I believe that a very physical defensive performance by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is the best attribute to have against the Als. Buy your tickets now, fans, because that will be an amazing football game.
Concerns in Calgary
If you are a Stamper fan you need to be concerned. Do not be fooled by the close 33-31 loss to the B.C. Lions. If it wasn't for the 299 return yards that Calgary had, the storylines that you are currently reading about the Stampeders would be completely different.
Quarterback Henry Burris was 15-of-19 for 193 yards, and Jon Cornish only rushed for only 49 yards. Although the offensive line has improved, I would not be surprised to see the Eskimo's beat the Stamps in the Western semifinal this year.
After a surprisingly fast start, the Eskimos hit a lull by mid-season due to key injuries to several receivers, in addition to a porous offensive line.
But Edmonton is finally healthy, and with an improved ground game due to the emergence of running back Jerome Messam, the team has forced defences to be more hesitant at the line of scrimmage, which is also benefitting quarterback Ricky Ray.
What is often overlooked is the fact that Edmonton has a very good defence. Led by coordinator Rich Stubler, the Eskimos have quietly become one of the top three units in the CFL.
Lions on a roll
The Lions are the hottest team in the league, having won seven straight games, and are in first place in the West. Season-series victories over Edmonton and Calgary also give the Lions a great shot at securing an automatic berth into the West final.
If there was ever a perfect illustration of building a team for the stretch run, the Lions would be it.
With the arrival of most outstanding offensive lineman Ben Archibald, the OL line was expected to be a strong feature of the team - and it has been.
The young receivers have also contributed, particularly with the acquisition of Arland Bruce.
I fully expect to see B.C. host the West final against the Eskimos.
Congratulations should go to B.C. kicker Paul McCallum, who broke the record for consecutive field goals against the Stamps, a mark previously held by Dave Ridgway. McCallum hit from 47,46,20 and 53 yards. The record for consecutive field goals now sits at 30. Well done, Paul.
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