To be a champion you need to learn how to finish well. This weekend begins the final stretch on the journey for eight teams to stake their claim in CFL history by becoming the 2011 Grey Cup champions.
The East and West games will also feature two players who have proven over time that they have what it takes to finish well. Get ready for some intense playoff football.
The Montreal Alouettes take the field against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Olympic Stadium on Sunday (1 p.m. ET) led by quarterback great Anthony Calvillo, who simply knows how to get it done.
Calvillo is a three-time Grey Cup champion, the all-time professional football passing yards leader, one of only four quarterbacks to throw for over 400 touchdowns, and tops the all-time quarterback rating list. Oh yeah, he also led the best offence in the CFL this year, throwing for more than 5,000 yards again.
Those people who have suggested that Als receiver Jamal Richardson be named as the East nominee for Most Outstanding Player over Calvillo are out of their mind.
The CFL needs to celebrate this demonstrated level of excellence and everyone needs to give Calvillo a standing ovation when he takes the podium this year to receive his award.
Arm of Calvillo
Richardson is absolutely a great receiver, but the key to football is to control the game by consistently moving the chains. For Montreal to be successful this weekend over the well rested Ticats, it will be due to the leadership and arm of Calvillo, along with the yards gained by running back Brandon Whitaker.
The biggest question and storyline heading into this game is the health of the Als' offensive line. Will Eastern finalist for most outstanding offensive lineman Josh Bourke play? The B.C. Lions did a great job of getting pressure on Calvillo last week to completely shut down the Montreal offence. However, I don't believe that Hamilton's defensive line is any were close to the level of talent that the Lions have.
Defensively, the Als come into this game with only one secondary player that they started the season with. The Lions did a nice job executing a very creative rushing attack that saw five different players touch the ball. This offensive creativity put Montreal's front seven back on their heels. It also slowed down the Alouettes ability to generate pressure on the quarterback. Given time, the Montreal secondary is vulnerable.
Ticats attacked Montreal secondary
The last time Hamilton and Montreal faced each other, the Ticats attacked the secondary by throwing the ball down field often. Unfortunately, Hamilton quarterback Kevin Glenn also threw two interceptions. In order for the Ticats to have more success downfield they need to establish a rushing attack in order to slow down the Als' pass rush.
A more creative rushing attack will allow Hamilton to add an extra receiver into the play rather than always having to set up with double tight end in max protection sets.
Hamilton head coach Marcel Bellefeuille deliberately kept his offence "vanilla" over the past three weeks as they played meaningless games. I would anticipate that his offensive coaching staff has been busy putting together a game plan that will include several of their dynamic offensive weapons touching the ball out of the backfield.
Once they can establish some offence at the point of attack, they will have much more success downfield.
In my mind, the Hamilton defence has not met up to expectations. The pressure I anticipated that their front seven was capable of producing has yet to be seen this year. This lack of pressure on quarterbacks has put their young secondary in a tough position.
Hamilton will bring enough wrinkles to the field to score some points early, but in the end, Calvillo will once again show us why he's great.
Although everyone was able to predict that Montreal would be in the playoffs, nobody could foresee the Edmonton Eskimo's hosting a playoff game - one where they would be favoured over the Calgary Stampeders on Sunday afternoon (4:30 p.m. ET).
When healthy, Edmonton has proven that it can beat anyone this year.
What has surprised me the most has been how quickly defensive coordinator Rich Stubler has been able to take a young group of players and build a dominant defence. The Eskimos were second in the league in takeaways, and were behind only B.C. in points allowed. They can pressure the quarterback and make plays in the secondary. The defence will increase in strength with the return of both linebacker J.C. Sherritt and defensive lineman Greg Peach.
The No. 1 question for me heading into this game is how healthy the Eskimos' offensive line is. Edmonton has won games when they can keep quarterback Ricky Ray off of his back. Establishing the run with Jerome Messam early will go a long way to help the offensive line. Ray will find the open receiver if given time, and has hurt the Stampeders every time Calgary attempts to bring the safety down in order to add pressure while playing zero coverage.
Tate in, Burris out
No one at the beginning of the year could have also predicted that the Stamps would be heading into the West semifinal led by their backup quarterback Drew Tate, forcing 2010 Most Outstanding Player Henry Burris to stand on the sideline holding a clipboard.
The bottom line: Calgary has really struggled to score against Edmonton. The key to this game offensively for the Stamps is to establish the run with Jon Cornish. Cornish has been amazing while stepping into the starting role previously held by Joffrey Reynolds. With a 7.3 yard average, Cornish could have easily been considered as the West nominee for Most Outstanding Canadian.
Calgary banged up
If Calgary is not able to establish the run, the ball will be placed into Tate's hands, and he will be throwing to a receiving corps that is very banged up right now. Although, the young Tate has played well beyond his years over the past three games, he has forced throws that have resulted in turnovers. With receivers Nik Lewis and Ken Yon Rambo on the limp, the Stamps will be relying on players like Romby Bryant, Landan Tally, Jabari Arthur and Johnny Forzani to get the job done.
It makes me smile that one of the keys for both teams in this game is the effectiveness of the play of two Canadian players.
Prediction: Edmonton Eskimos
CFL misses boat
Although the CFL usually does the right thing, they completely missed the boat by not celebrating the accomplishment B.C. Lions kicker Paul McCallum. Messam is a great running back, but I agree with Lions head coach Wally Buono when he said that hitting 1,000 yards as a running back has more to do with staying healthy than being great.
If you get the ball 10 times a game for an average of 55 yards, you will surpass 1,000 yards for the season. Andy Fantuz did not get the Most Outstanding Canadian Award last season because he was the best Canadian, but because he was the best receiver in the league. Messam finished third in rushing this season. By making 30 consecutive field goals, McCallum demonstrated a level of excellence that no other player in the CFL has ever done before.
I am also surprised that more people didn't bring up Brandon Whitaker's name in the debate over who should have gotten the nod for East Most Outstanding Player nominee. Whitaker was explosive and dynamic this season and accumulated over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. This was 239 yards more than Richardson achieved this year.
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?