CFL Power Rankings: How the West was (pretty much) won
Even with a bye week, the Calgary Stampeders seem to have division title locked up
Here's how I rank the Canadian Football League teams heading into Week 17:
1. Calgary Stampeders (unchanged, bye)
- Record: 12-1-1
- Streak: Won 10
- Next: At Hamilton
Only two games really count for Calgary now: the West final and the Grey Cup. Don't mistake that to mean the final four games are without significance, however. A win this week effectively wraps up first place in the West — only a complete collapse would stop that now. Injured players are starting to dribble back, including receivers Kamar Jorden and DaVaris Daniels. (Yes, you could understand the rest of the league saying "whoop-de-do" since the catchers they already have in the lineup are doing just fine, thanks.) Super returner Roy Finch has a banged up ankle and will be out for some weeks; coach Dave Dickenson says he might be back "before the end of the year." They need him for field position. Goal: Play everyone every week to keep them sharp, hope no one gets hurt.
2. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (unchanged)
- Record: 10-4
- Streak: Lost 1
- Next: B.C.
This went to heck in a handbasket quickly as the defence watched Brandon Banks slide behind corner Chris Randle for a long Hamilton pass and run score on the first play from scrimmage. Down 13-0, Big Blue battled, but it was not going to be a good night. This defence continues to give up too many yards and points — 475 net from a three-win team. It was also caught asleep for a key onside kick off a third and two. Don't care about the loss so much as QB Matt Nichols, who was having a productive night until a throwing hand injury. Nichols was crunched near the end of the half on one of those plays where anything could be banged up. By Tuesday he was back throwing in practice with a "modified glove" that covered only his pinky and ring fingers, according to the Winnipeg Sun. Whew.
3. Saskatchewan Roughriders (unchanged)
- Record: 8-6
- Streak: Won 2
- Next: Ottawa
Coach Chris Jones was asked about QB Brandon Bridge on Saturday night, surrounded by news folks all waiting for him to anoint the youngster his starting pivot. Well, that dog wasn't gonna hunt. Jones said he'd stick with Kevin Glenn, who had a rough go (3-for-8, 29 yards) before Bridge came in to save the day (292 yards, two TDs) against Toronto. The idea seems simple — force the opposition to game plan for both, and bring Bridge in when the time's right. Also keeps the NFL-level pressure off him back in Saskatchewan, where football is 24/7. Coaches made important halftime defensive adjustments again this week, giving the attack a chance to pull the comeback. A few less dumb penalties at key times would have made it easier.
4. Edmonton Eskimos (up from 6)
- Record: 8-6
- Streak: Won 1
- Next: Toronto
On a day when the Eskimos were fairly awful, Brandon Zylstra was weaving magic with Mike Reilly for an eventual 201 yards on just seven receptions. Edmonton ended its six-game losing string despite the QB's 13-of-39 (that's 44 per cent, folks) outing. Zylstra, who is Hall-of-Famer Brian Kelly in six-inch lifts, runs tight patterns and has soft hands. He's just 46 yards behind Greg Ellingson for most yards in the CFL. Reilly trusts him completely, meaning that's where you go when a big gain is required. Add C.J. Gable (trade with Hamilton last week), and there's a running back to give a balanced look again. Things opened like a silent comedy movie (including a blocked punt and fumble return major), but Edmonton settled down. Well, except for coach Jason Maas.
5. Toronto Argonauts (unchanged)
- Record: 7-8
- Streak: Lost 1
- Next: At Edmonton
At the risk of flogging a previously expired equine whose passing I had nothing to do with I swear, this club has to find a way to advance the pigskin over the goal line when opportunity knocks. Argos opened sharply vs. the Riders, moving the ball nicely but coming out of it all with just one TD vs. three FGs. Not enough. Two of the three-pointers (from 16 and 19 yards) were the result of hurried throws by QB Ricky Ray who had defenders right in his face. Toronto had everything they needed to win this, including 161 combined from James Wilder, 450 net yards, lot of time with the ball. On the other side, the defence allowed a long Rider TD to finish the half, then far too many yards in the air in the second 30 minutes. Poorly timed penalties also hurt.
6. B.C. Lions (down from 4)
- Record: 6-8
- Streak: Lose 3
- Next: At Winnipeg
Desperate football played by desperate teams produced different results in each half. QB Jonathon Jennings hit Emmanuel Arceneaux with a pretty pass for a long touchdown early in the third period, they added a field goal and were up 19 on Ottawa. As has happened too many times this season, that was all she wrote. The Redblacks took over, scored 24 consecutive points and put Wally Buono's boys on the brink of missing the playoffs. Over the last few seasons, this roller-coaster approach has been turning the fans a tad green. Example: Between drives five to nine, the Leos scored two TDs and two FGs. The defence then allowed Ottawa, on its 10th to 13th possessions, to find three TDs and a FG. When Jennings produces 436 yards in net offence, you expect two points from the game. Confounding.
7. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (unchanged)
- Record: 4-10
- Streak: Won 1
- Next: Calgary
Trust is crucial in football. The QB must trust a receiver will catch a ball. A defender must be willing to drop a man, trusting another defender will pick him up. And on. Since June Jones took over as head coach of the Cats when Ken Austin kicked himself upstairs, the most noticeable difference in the Kitties is they have begun trusting each other again. It shows everywhere, but especially when the other side has the ball. Defence did a solid job of keeping the Bombers under control this week, giving QB Jeremiah Masoli lots of time to work with. New running back Alex Green ran for 97 yards and the Cats had 146 total on the ground. Kicker Sergio Castillo was injured. They are 4-2 under the new boss, five points back of Ottawa for a playoff spot with four to play and two games in hand.
8. Ottawa Redblacks (unchanged)
- Record: 6-9-1
- Streak: Won 1
- Next: At Saskatchewan
QB Trevor Harris returned from the injured list and the desperate Redblacks won in B.C. No coincidence, obviously, as any team without its starter is in trouble. It took a while to find the rhythm again, but things came together in the second half when the offence scored two dozen points to take the victory on the Left Coast. Down 25-6, the defence came up with a turnover deep, Harris hit Greg Ellingson for a TD. They short-kicked and recovered the ball, Diontae Spencer took a short pass and hustled for a score. Next drive, Harris found Ellingson again for a score. This type of explosion is familiar to the men and women in plaid, as it reminds them of last year. Here, it reminds us of what Ottawa can do when they have a good QB playing with desperation.
9. Montreal Alouettes (unchanged)
- Record: 3-12
- Streak: Lost 8
- Next: Bye
I have nothing. That's bad when you're paid to find the words. In my defence, the Montreal defenders also have nothing, a shocking fall from grace for a unit that up to this season could always be counted on to keep the Larks in any game. An eighth straight loss came off a dreadful second half vs. Edmonton and ruined an offensive ray of sunshine on a rainy afternoon. Backup QB Drew Willy, helped by Thanksgiving Day presents from the defenders, scored 21 first half points. That's astonishing for this club. Once the rain stopped, his receivers began dropping balls and the game changed. Wasted a great outing by RB Tyrell Sutton, who had 139 on the ground and 37 off catches. Skylarks are out of the playoffs, and there is a whiff of Anthony Calvillo as head coach in the autumn air.