What's going to happen in the CFL playoffs?
Everyone has an opinion, so send along those argumentative comments
Arguing sports is what makes it all fun, of course, so in the spirit of the proceedings I present my absolute, definitive, I'm-smarter-than-you-are rundown of what's going to happen in the Canadian Football League playoffs.
Please send argumentative comments at your leisure, and let's start by annoying everyone in northern Alberta …
Sat., Nov. 8 — Conference Semifinals
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers (8-10) will defeat the Edmonton Eskimos (10-8) in the cross-over semifinal game.
Quarterback Ricky Ray's return to prominence this season has been wonderful, make no mistake about it. And last week against Montreal he surpassed the sainted Warren Moon as Edmonton's single-season passing yardage leader — no mean feat.
But Mr. Ray cannot play defence, and lately neither can anyone else on the Eskimos' roster.
Putting Week 18's win over "Montreal" aside (the Alouettes played everybody they could find on the bench including two waterboys, a therapist and a TSN reporter), the Eskimos have been the coldest of the Western clubs down the stretch.
First, there was a 43-28 loss to the B.C. Lions in Week 16, and the Oil Sands boys followed that up with a sparkling effort in a 55-9 demolition at the hands of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, a team that can't decide who their quarterback is supposed to be.
As Gertrude Stein once offered in a much different context: "There is no there, there."
The Eskimos aren't too bad against the pass, but the rush? Only Toronto and Hamilton were worse against the running game this year.
Winnipeg, meanwhile, started 2-8 then made a trade that has transformed the club. Out to B.C. went future Hall-of-Famer Charles Roberts and in came the suddenly expendable-out-on-the-coast Joe Smith.
Smith has combined with Fred Reid to give quarterback Kevin Glenn just the kind of balanced attack the Bombers needed early in the season and weren't getting. Reid has averaged seven yards a carry and Smith five for each haulage (but even better down the stretch) and they are difficult to stop.
Winnipeg came screaming down the stretch at 6-2 (worrisome stat: four of those wins were against the Argos and Tiger-Cats) and looked much more like the club that went to the Grey Cup a season ago.
Making the playoffs after two-straight misses is great, Eskimo fans, but this game is in Winnipeg and the Bombers will win it.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders (12-6) will defeat the B.C. Lions (11-7) in the West semifinal.
Hey, this is the guy who said at the halfway point there were still claws in those paws after the Lions had struggled early on. After that encouragement from CBCSports.ca, B.C. went 7-2 in its final nine.
Included were a pair of back-to-back wins over the Riders a couple of months back.
But there was something eerie about the way the Lions lost their final game of the season on the road to the Calgary Stampeders — a contest that could have given the Leos home-field advantage in the warmth and sun (OK, heavy mist), of the Left Coast.
Stamps' pivot Henry Burris had a great first half of that game in the air then sat down in favour of backups Barrick Nealy and Will Proctor who between them threw the ball exactly three times in the second half.
Calgary may as well have been yelling "Hey, man, we're running again!" across the line before each play. And the Lions still couldn't stop them (208 total yards on the ground).
Yes, the Lions' Stefan Logan can run the ball darn well (Charles Roberts is out for the year with injury, by the way), but B.C. was second last in rushing touchdowns this season so something happens in the red zone.
Lions' quarterback Buck Pierce can be a difference maker (3,018 yards, 19 touchdowns), but he's sorer than a steer at branding time and is one big hit away from a quiet winter lying on his back staring out the window. Backup Jarious Jackson's completion rate is 10 per cent lower.
Everybody has been yakking about the silly quarterbacking situation in Regina, where the Riders have used three different guys over the last month and four overall, but Michael Bishop is the one who found the final chair when the music stopped and he's passable most of the time.
It won't matter either way because the Riders play strong defence and special teams at home where they're 7-2 this season versus 5-4 on the road. B.C. is 5-4 away from their dome and when you are playing in Regina, in the November wind, in the playoffs, in front of those guys with carved watermelons on their heads, you are decidedly on the road.
Key stat: How many field goals has the Riders' Luca Congi missed this year inside the 40-yard line? None.
Worrisome stat: Saskatchewan has thrown the most interceptions this season. B.C. has picked off the most. Hmmm.
Sat., Nov. 15 — Conference Finals
The Montreal Alouettes (11-7) will defeat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Eastern Final.
A little mea culpa here: In 40 years of following the CFL I've never called the Alouettes to beat anybody — not even when they've been 30-point favourites — thus cementing my depth of conviction here.
Teams of Destiny don't really exist because they all seem to get beaten when the chips are down (most recently, the Tampa Bay Rays). But a Man of Destiny is a different thing, and that, folks, is Als' quarterback Anthony Calvillo.
Did you see the look in his eyes last week, prowling the sidelines in street clothes because coach Marc Trestman didn't want to chance being talked into "just a couple of plays" by his elderly star? It was scary. Cheap Halloween B-movie scary.
One season after leaving early to care for his ailing wife (she's fine now), Calvillo has dominated the league in most every passing category, has led like Patton at Bastogne (you younger folks could look that up) and should be a shoo-in for outstanding player.
His Alouettes have averaged more than 11 points-per-game better than the Bombers, are second against the run (behind Calgary) and make up for being somewhat vulnerable to the pass themselves (second last overall) with solid overall play and good special teams.
But stats, shmats — this is about Calvillo, who is protected by an offensive line determined not to allow a hair of the quarterback's somewhat cheesy moustache to be sullied by either sack or sweat. He never gets hurt because he never gets touched.
And Calvillo has the superb Jamel Richardson and Ben Cahoon to play catch with on a Saturday afternoon. Most TDs passing? Montreal. Most TDs scored? Montreal. Most points scored? Montreal.
Add to that the Als are second in every defensive category against the rush, and, well, it's a home Grey Cup date for the other blue, blanc et rouge in Montreal.
Worrisome thought: If kicker Damon Duval, who missed the final game with a leg problem, can't play, that may be the opening Winnipeg needs.
The Calgary Stampeders (13-5) will defeat the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Western Final.
Let's review the list of quarterbacks coach John Hufnagel has helped turn into winners: Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia, Peyton Manning, Mark Brunell, Tom Brady and Eli Manning.
Add Henry Burris, who took the Stampeders to a turnaround 13-5 season after going 7-10-1 last year, and you get the idea Hufnagel knows what he's doing when it comes to the men who toss the passes.
Sure, Hufnagel has a reputation as being too conservative and dull but, hey, you can't argue with success and Calgary happens to be second in four of the five top offensive categories this year. They were also first or second in four of five defensive categories, for those keeping track.
You cannot run against the Stamps, and that's going to put extra pressure on the Riders' Michael Bishop to get his 255,000-kilometre-per-hour passes on target (slight exaggeration there). You can toss the ball against Calgary, so there's the possible upset rub.
Sun. Nov, 23 — 96th Grey Cup
The Montreal Alouettes will defeat the Calgary Stampeders to win the Grey Cup at Olympic Stadium.
When old(er) guys like me think about Anthony Calvillo leading his Als out onto the Stade Olympique faux turf for the 2008 Grey Cup game, it's hard not to channel Sonny Wade.
Wade was the quarterback in the 1977 final when the Als bombed the Edmonton Eskimos, and he had the same kind of year then as Calvillo has had now — a wily veteran, determined to show he still had it, leading a team of experienced players in front of 68,318 screaming nutcases.
Oh, there are some differences. There was no roof on the stadium then. There was ice all over the field. The Als put staples in their shoes and flummoxed the Eskies, who didn't think of that. There was a transit strike and everyone had to walk to the game…
OK, there were a lot of differences. But Wade threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns that day, cementing himself as a Montreal legend forever. I can still see that.
I can see Calvillo doing that, too.
Useless stat: Not that it means diddlysquat, but the Alouettes have beaten the Stampeders both times they've met in a Grey Cup — 1949 and 1970. It's three if you count Baltimore's win in 1995. That club moved to Montreal and became the current Als.
Final note: If Edmonton beats B.C. in this year's Cup, I'd like to point out this column is merely for entertainment purposes and should not be used as the basis for betting your house, dog or significant other on the outcome of the playoffs.
Let's get those comments rolling in.