Ottawa·Analysis

Why tonight's Grey Cup game is simply too close to call

After all the hype and speculation, it's almost time for the Ottawa Redblacks and the Calgary Stampeders to take the field in Edmonton for the 106th Grey Cup.

The Redblacks have momentum, while Calgary has a star quarterback

Ottawa Redblacks defensive backs Jonathan Rose, left, and Sherrod Baltimore, right, pose with the Grey Cup in Edmonton on Thursday, Nov. 22. The Redblacks will play the Calgary Stampeders in the 106th Grey Cup tonight. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

After all the hype and speculation, all the analysis and predictions, it's finally time to get down to playing some football.

And for CFL fans, tonight's Grey Cup game has a familiar ring to it. 

Not only did the Ottawa Redblacks and the Calgary Stampeders face each other two years ago in Toronto, but since 2014 these two franchises have had their fingerprints all over the league's championship game.

Calgary won the Grey Cup in 2014, and suffered narrow losses in 2016 and 2017. Ottawa lost the big game to Edmonton in 2015, only to rebound with a win over the Stampeders the following year.

This season, both teams rose to the top again, winning their divisions and conference finals to set up tonight's matchup at Commonwealth Stadium.

Redblacks have momentum

For the Redblacks, this game will be about staying hot. They closed out the regular season with three straight wins, and despite having a week off in between, played perhaps their most complete game of the season in demolishing the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at TD Place in the eastern final.

The only blemish in that game was the ejection and subsequent suspension of cornerback Jonathan Rose. But thanks to an appeal, and the right to due process, Rose will be allowed to play in tonight's game — a big break for Ottawa.

Not only is Rose one of the Redblacks top defenders, with 45 tackles and five interceptions over the season, but his absence would have disrupted the cohesion of the entire defensive backfield. That's never a good thing, heading into your biggest game of the year.

Ottawa Redblacks defensive back Jonathan Rose, pictured here being escorted off the field after bumping an official during the CFL eastern final, was initially barred from Sunday's 106th Grey Cup in Edmonton. His appeal couldn't be heard before the game, so now he's allowed to play. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Calgary facing pressure

As for the Stampeders, unlike the last two years when they rolled through the regular season, the club actually faced some adversity this time around.

Injuries to several receivers and a banged-up knee for quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell were partly to blame for a rare three-game losing streak near the end of the regular season. 

There's also the immense pressure the western champions must be feeling. Not since a Montreal Alouettes team led by Sam Etcheverry in the mid-1950s has a CFL team lost  three consecutive Grey Cups.

But make no mistake, this Calgary team is still a force. They're led by Mitchell, who took home his second outstanding player award on Thursday night, and a top-rated defence that didn't allow a single touchdown in the western final against Winnipeg.

So who wins?

If head-to-head matchups are any indication, the Stamps get a big edge. They won both meetings against the Redblacks this year, 24-14 at Calgary in late June and 27-3 in Ottawa two weeks later.

But that was four months ago, and the Redblacks, particularly their defence, have improved considerably since then. 

So call tonight's game a toss-up. Whoever protects their quarterback and the football the best will likely come out on top, making them the early favourite to win next year's Grey Cup game — which, by the way, will be played in Calgary. 
 

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