Here's how I rank the Canadian Football League teams heading into Week 18:
1. Calgary Stampeders (unchanged, bye)
- Record: 13-1-1
- Streak: Won 11
- Remaining: Saskatchewan/@Edmonton/Winnipeg
The White Stallions looked a little bored this week: they weren't really into it for the first three quarters in Hamilton before waking up enough to steal a win on a last-second field goal. That was set up by a questionable pass interference call for, which came on the heals of a bad pass interference call against, so I guess it was even. Thus, 12 straight wins vs. the Cats. QB Bo Mitchell was 19-34, with 279 passing yards in an OK performance. Marquay McDaniel caught six for 87 yards before going down with injury. Might not be too bad. Along with keeping these guys sharp for the next five weeks, losing players is the big worry from here. On the happy side, Kamar Jorden returned and made a great ladder catch to high point for a score.
2. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (unchanged)
- Record: 11-4
- Streak: Won 1
- Remaining: @Toronto/B.C./@Calgary
Survivor Winnipeg was a nasty game from whistle to gun, ending with B.C. getting voted off the island and Big Blue licking some serious wounds. Moe Leggett, one of the top-five defenders in the league, ripped his Achilles in the late going while fielding an on-side kick. Top receiver Darvin Adams went down 140 seconds in with what might be a shoulder injury. Both are big losses, though if you're going to be a Cup contender, responding positively on the field is a key ingredient. Kevin Fogg, for example, had a nice pick when it mattered after running back a punt for a TD earlier. QB Matt Nichols, playing with a half-glove (pinky and ring finger) to protect his own injury, was not his normal self, picking up only 172 yards in the air on mostly short passes. One win will wrap up second place.
3. Edmonton Eskimos (up from 4)
- Record: 9-6
- Streak: Won 2
- Remaining: @B.C./Calgary/@Saskatchewan
The Eskies seem to have their helmets straightened out after that horrid six-game losing string, winning two straight and wrapping up third place in the West. Adding running back C.J. Gable by trade has been huge, as a backfield threat is opening up offensive opportunities. The former Kittie had 104 yards this week, on top of 111 in the game before. QB Mike Reilly continues to focus on new star Brandon Zylstra, who caught nine balls for 147 yards. He also had Derel Walker, recently back from the NFL, nab eight more for 82. These four are the key to winning in the playoffs, and must be healthy and ready. The defence was strong early against Ricky Ray, but started to crack as the game went on. They can't give up four receptions of 30 or more yards.
4. Saskatchewan Roughriders (down from 3)
- Record: 8-7
- Streak: Lost 1
- Remaining: @Calgary/Montreal/Edmonton
One more win and the Riders are in, but if they play in the post-season the way they did in the final minutes against Ottawa, it's going to be a short visit. Chris Jones brought his men back from a two-win East trip to show their wares in front of another sold-out crowd, only to have the show wear thin by the end. Up 12 with three to go, showing off all the dancing, end-zone celebrations, joint first-down pointing and bouncy-castle enthusiasm, it turned to the defence to hold against Ottawa. But there was nothing there when it needed it most, as the log rollers scored on their last two possessions. Jones said afterwards his team struggled in man coverage. It also continues to take dumb penalties at bad times that make things difficult. That pass interference call with four seconds to go was a killer.
5. Ottawa Redblacks (up from 8)
- Record: 7-9-1
- Streak: Won 2
- Remaining: Bye/Hamilton/Bye
You have to hand it to the Redblacks for going west and finding themselves. Wins in Vancouver and Regina have moved this club back to first place and wrapped up a playoff spot. Now, as we've learned so many times over the seasons, anything can happen. The Riders' offence was moving up and down the field all night, only to run into an Ottawa defence that refused to give up the crucial yards. That left the hosts to kick six field goals and keep the rollers in the game. With 4:30 left on the clock, Brett Maher's fake punt worked and QB Trevor Harris marched for a TD. Approaching midnight, Cinderella hit again, this time with a clutch third-down throw, a long drive and finally backup Ryan Lindley ran it in from the two to clinch the thing.
6. Toronto Argonauts (down from 5)
- Record: 7-9
- Streak: Lost 2
- Remaining: Winnipeg/Bye/@B.C.
It's not wrong to say the Argos were denied a chance at overtime by a poor pass interference play in the closing moments. It's also not wrong to point out literally every team in the league has been hurt by them, so things have evened out. While the league decides what interference is, why it's called and whether those calling it are making the correct decisions, the teams plug on. Toronto has lost two straight to West teams because the defence could not come up with the key final stop when two points were there for the taking. Ricky Ray is having a remarkable season at 37 years old, tossing for 362 yards on Saturday, but without the injured James Wilder there isn't a running game to take pressure off.
7. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (unchanged)
- Record: 4-11
- Streak: Lost 1
- Remaining: @Montreal/@Ottawa/Montreal
A pair of plays clinched it for this column when it comes to QB Jeremiah Masoli's future. He took the snap in the shotgun, saw his protection collapsing, stepped up to change the angle of the defenders' attack and sent a laser to Luke Tasker who was on a crossing pattern. Then he did it again in the second half. It was professional play from the young man who is certainly now the Cats' long-term starter, leaving GM Kent Austin to make a decision on Zach Collaros. Don't trade him – you need two experienced pivots in this league. The loss to Calgary was set up by an early blocked-punt touchdown when nobody picked up the centre rusher. They left five points on the field when a pair of two-point converts failed and they went for it on third and one at the Calgary four to no avail.
8. B.C. Lions (down from 6)
- Record: 6-9
- Streak: Lost 4
- Remaining: Edmonton/@Winnipeg/Toronto
GM/Coach Wally Buono was in a snippy mood this week at practice, and this performance against Winnipeg didn't help. There has been a lot of pressure on QB Jonathon Jennings lately, some of it deserved, but this week can hardly be pinned on him. Suffering two sacks and an astonishing 15 pressures, the pivot somehow found a way to complete 24 passes for 267 yards, two TDs and a pair of picks. The Lions didn't help themselves by taking 11 flags during a game that went a long way towards pointing out the troubles that must be addressed in the off-season. At the head of the list: Is the team sold? And will Buono stay with it? I learned a great new phrase this week from Matt Dunigan: Yards After Beatdown. There were a lot of those.
9. Montreal Alouettes (unchanged, bye)
- Record: 3-12
- Streak: Lost 8
- Remaining: Hamilton/@Saskatchewan/@Hamilton
When Steve Daniel sends his league stats out each week, there are hours of diving fun for those inclined. One needs only to dip one's toe in the water to see what's gone wrong with the Skylarks this year. They are second last in defence, and last in offence. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play? Montreal's "attack" is creating 19.1 points per game, about three points back of Hamilton, and more than 13 back of league-leading Calgary. At the same time, the defence is allowing 31.1 a contest, completely collapsing over the last month since losing coordinator Noel Thorpe. Oh, here's another concerning number: attendance at the last home game was 18,849.