Trying to work out who's going to defeat whom in this, the most competitive Canadian Football League season in history, seems a losing proposition, but since I'm interested in receiving my pay this week, let's give it a try.
The Calgary Stampeders (11-7) will defeat the Edmonton Eskimos (11-7) in the West Division semifinal on Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET) at Commonwealth Stadium.
Often when you put these things together it goes in pyramid style, sashaying through this stat and that game before finally getting to the real point near the end.
Let's change that up and go to the main reasons the Stampeders are the pick to end Edmonton's dream season and head on to B.C. to face the Lions in the final.
1. Jerome Messam is hurting.
As a matter of fact, it's about 50-50 the newly minted star runner will even play on Sunday (though it says here if he can fog a mirror the 1,057-yard rusher at least dresses). Even if he is there, his Pat Quinn Disease (lower body injury) is going to slow this young man down.
This is key because when the Eskimos run well against the Stamps they win. That happened twice in 2011. When they don't run well, they lose. That happened once.
Hugh Charles will be the man on the spot if Messam can't go. He's a veteran, but not the same talent.
2. The Black Hat thing got old.
Calgary put on those ugly black head coverings on the road this season and suddenly thought they had to start acting the part, leading the CFL in all of the penalty categories through Labour Day until coach John Hufnagel threatened a hangin'.
Al Cameron of the Herald asked Justin Phillips what caused the change: "Uh ... Huff yelling at us all the time."
Quote of the year, and tells a big story in eight words. The Stampeders no longer give up lots of yards for stupid reasons.
3. Courage of the early morning practice.
Benching guys who have taken you to the promised land in previous years is never easy, but Hufnagel did it twice in 2011, and the two changes will make a big difference on Sunday in Edmonton.
First, he sent Joffrey Reynolds to the sidelines, unhappy with the running back's 4.7 yards per carry. On came Jon Cornish, who made an immediate impact, hauling for 863 yards on 7.3 yards per lug.
Then, after watching Henry Burris toss 12 interceptions and fumble 13 times, Hufnagel went to Drew Tate at quarterback, again being rewarded with some big wins. Statistically, the two QBs are almost identical, but a sense of confidence has been restored among the Stamps' offence, and that's a key at playoff time.
4. Larry Taylor.
The point of picking up the all-arounder was to give the Stamps better field position off kick returns and he's done all that was expected of him.
Taylor, who claims to weigh 175 pounds, amassed 1,415 combined yards, was third in punt returns, second in kickoff returns and tops in missed field goal returns.
There are some things working against the Stampeders, not the least being that Edmonton had the best giveaway-takeaway ratio in the CFL at plus-16, while the Stampeders were sixth at minus-4.
Again, the Stallions have solved much of that problem by benching Burris.
Edmonton QB Ricky Ray is a wise old hand, who can handle himself in tough situations, and he has three dynamic receivers to toss at - Adarius Bowman (62 catches, 1,153 yards), Fred Stamps (82 balls for 1,153), and Jason Barnes (50 catches for 869).
That's a lot of weapons, but without a running game to complement, and set up play action, the passing game isn't going to be as dangerous.
Calgary is not without its own set of receivers, with Nik Lewis's 1,209 yards (third in the league), and including Johnny Forzani and Ken-Yon Rambo.
The Eskimos were strong defensively, giving up only 401 points led by Rod Davis, Weldon Brown, super rookie J.C. Sherritt and Damaso Munoz, plus Marcus Howard's 11 sacks and Rod Williams's six picks.
If you run down the stats boxes, Calgary leads Edmonton 36-23, including all of the key categories but for first downs rushing allowed.
What can throw all of this out of kilter? Hey, everything, man. This is the CFL. Edmonton could win this by 30.
Says here, no.
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