We take you now to a conversation between a couple of Eskimos fans on some street in downtown Edmonton.
Guy: "So, you know what worries me about this playoff game in Toronto?"
Other guy: "The whole Ricky Ray thing?"
Guy: "Yeah. I worry Eric Tillman traded this playoff win to the Argos."
Other guy: "Well, maybe it'll all work out..."
Sorry guys:The Toronto Argonauts (9-9) will defeat the visiting Edmonton Eskimos (7-11) in the cross-over playoff game at the Rogers Centre on Sunday afternoon.
Take Ricky Ray. Please. Except this isn't an old Henny Youngman joke, it's a recurring nightmare for Edmonton fans who must have known this crazy trade last winter was going to bite them in the butt at some time.
Ray, you may know, is 8-4 in the post-season, all with Edmonton. He's also 0-2 in 2012 against the Esks, but both of those were in the summer when the pivot was still adapting to the complicated offence brought to Toronto from Montreal by new head coach Scott Milanovich.
Since taking three games off to rehab a sore knee, Ray has been hotter'n a prairie long gun (unregistered), completing 44 of 63 passes (that's 70 per cent folks) for 688 yards, a pick and eight touchdowns.
He'll be going up against ... er ... somebody. I mean, Edmonton has to run somebody out there at quarterback, don't they?
Could be ol' Kerry Joseph, who has done a decent enough job with a solid 60.2 per cent completion rate, but he's also prone to picks.
Could be young Matt Nichols, seriously the QB of the future in Edmonton, who at this point has played two full games and half of a third. Guys like this can catch lightning in a bottle for a magic afternoon, of course, so be cautious if he starts.
Won't be Steven Jyles, the hapless tradee in the Ray swap.
Another question with the green and gold is whether RB Hugh Charles is healthy, as he comes into the game off a bum knee. He's an excellent runner, piling up 1,409 yards from scrimmage, including 887 rushing yards and a 5.2 average per carry.
There are dangers for the Argos here on both sides of the ball.
JC Sherritt is the best defender in the league, with a stunning 130 tackles by a guy who is just 5-foot-10 (sez them), 220 pounds. Wherever Sherritt goes, Toronto's offence won't be going.
Problem is JC can go a lot of places in a hurry.
He's nicely supported by Joe Burnett, who led the loop in interceptions with six, two going all the way to the house. And overall, the green and gold led in picks.
Toronto was second, by the way.
Offensively, there's the continually amazing Fred Stamps, second in receiving across the CFL with 70 nabs for 1,310 yards. Toronto will double or even triple him, but that doesn't seem to stop one of those talented hands from reaching out of the group to snag passes no one else could get.
The Argos can also kill themselves with dumb penalties, and if that happens it could turn the game around.
Seem to be some positives here. Just not nearly enough. Here are the problems:
1. The Eskimos have the worst run defence in the league, partly because they've had so many injuries in the front seven. It's going to allow a finally healthy RB Chad Kackert to move the ball on the ground enough to keep the defence honest and open up passing lanes.
2. Edmonton has the second-worst pass defence and they're playing against a red-hot Ray, the league's top receiver (and best player) in Chad Owens (1,328 yards), and a remarkably improved catching corps that also includes Andre Durie and Dontrelle Inman, who between them chalked up another 1,648 yards. You need three other Esks catchers to equal that.
3. The Eskimos have no answer for Owens and his pro record 3,863 combined yards. So every kick means they lose the field position trade off.
4. Those big interception totals for Edmonton's defence come at a price. They take far too many chances and when they miss, it goes for big yards the other way (5,488 of them). If Ray is hot, and he's been on fire, there's no one better at taking advantage.
5. Bad news for Eskimos QBs is that no other team allows fewer completions, by percentage, than the Argos defence.
6. Finally, Ray always maintains an even strain. But inside is a guy still seething at the way Tillman and the Eskimos handled him. He has something to prove, the skills to do it and the pieces around him to do it with.
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