Trends, schmends, I normally say -- while normally getting another prediction wrong.
Not this time because the trend we've been watching lately has us convinced something special is brewing down by the Henry Moore. Since ignoring the obvious has hurt so badly in the past, let's try a path of less resistance:
The Toronto Argonauts (9-9, 1-0 in the playoffs) will defeat the Montreal Alouettes (11-7) in the CFL's East Division final on Sunday at Olympic Stadium.
Not only did former Edmonton Eskimos general manager Eric Tillman trade a first-round playoff victory east when he sent quarterback Ricky Ray packing for a good kicker, he proffered a trip to the 100th Grey Cup.
Over the last three games, Ray, now 9-4 in the post-season, has been (fill in your own really good adjective here). Try this for passing stats: 67 of 93 for 927 yards, 10 touchdowns and just a couple of picks.
A serious 72 per cent.
What seems to have happened is the complicated Montreal-style offence brought to Toronto by new head coach Scott Milanovich clicked in a month back and, since then, it has seemed fairly easy to Ray, an experienced thrower.
It's turning defences upside down. For instance, the Eskimos last week concentrated on Chad Owens, the league's leading receiver, and rookie Dontrelle Inman as the targets most likely to be used by Ray.
So the QB flipped the depth chart and tossed seven passes to Maurice Mann, five to Andre Durie and a quartet to Chad Kackert. Add in a reasonable 88 yards from Kackert out of the backfield and you had an attack difficult to defend.
Ray has only really seen the Alouettes once this year, not counting the brief three completions for 30 yards he had before bashing his knee against his own offensive line and missing almost five games.
In that July 27 outing, won 23-20 by the Argos at Montreal (previously a rare occurrence), Ray was 20-30, 280 yards, two TDs and no picks in an offence he was still learning.
This East final is going to be close, however, for two reasons. One is Anthony Calvillo (one is always AC) and the other is Montreal's linebackers.
Calvillo has been alright against the Double Blue (56-102, 887 yards, four TDs, four picks), but has not produced overwhelming outings. Still, this is Calvillo we're talking about and he's merely one of the best money quarterbacks in recent CFL history. Even with a mess of injuries on offence, Montreal was able to lead the loop in touchdowns, well ahead of Toronto.
And there's those linebackers -- Kenny Ingram (40 tackles, three sacks), Shea Emry (87 tackles, seven sacks, one pick) and Chip Cox (82 tackles, four picks). It's the league's best unit.
Kackert must run well enough to keep that trio at home, opening up deeper routes for Ray. Or Ray must be hot deep to force them to drop back and help opening up room for Kackert. Six of one ...
Either way, the stats and recent history say the Double Blue pivot will be able to find receptions one way or another. The Larks, you see, gave up a 65.6 per cent completion rate this year, which was second worst.
As with the West final, season stats reveal little that separates these two teams. And remember, Montreal cruised in, but were only two games ahead.
Why The Argos
-- Same as Edmonton, Montreal has nothing to match Owens. In two healthy games, the receiver/returner piled up almost 500 total yards versus the Als. The third game was after the separated thumb that is now pretty much healed.
-- Brandon Whittaker. Not only an outstanding runner, but the league's best blocking back, Whittaker is out for the season and, though replacements Chris Jennings and Victor Anderson have been adequate, Montreal can't protect Calvillo the way he could.
-- Montreal has suffered tough injuries among the receivers all year and still done well. However, the Double Blue defence, based on an all-out aggression and man coverage, has been cutting down the penalties and improving in the latter part of 2012. It also has the lowest completion percentage in the CFL and 24 total picks.
-- Alouettes are 7-2 at home, but that's all at McGill and moving to the Big Owe means both teams are in less familiar territory. Argos, by the way, were tied for best road record this year.
Expect a pretty high scoring affair. Expect the quarterbacks to be terrific. Expect the Argos to win.
For once, we're going with the trend, not against it.
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