Here we go – Week 1 of the regular season! We have only a month to go until NFL training camps open, so for now, let’s turn our attention northwards to see what’s happening. Reminder: if you haven’t entered the CFL pick’em pool yet and are still interested in participating, you can check out the link below to join! I’ll be providing regular updates with the rankings of the handful of us who are playing this year.
WEEK 1 PREVIEWS
Saskatchewan vs. Montreal, Thursday, June 22nd, 7:30 PM EST: The first regular-season game for the Als’ new quarterback, Darian Durant, comes at home against none other than his former team, the only one he’s known in his entire CFL career to date. In limited pre-season action last week against Ottawa, Durant looked extremely sharp, and for the first time since Anthony Calvillo retired at the end of the 2013 season, there’s no controversy about who Montreal’s starter will be. For the Riders, their own QB controversy appears to be resolved for now; with Vince Young tearing his hamstring in training camp, he was released outright from the team, and journeyman veteran Kevin Glenn, who started 2016 as the Als’ starter, will open the season under centre. Brandon Bridge will back him up – a notable case, since it’s rare these days to have Canadian talent at the quarterback position. With a lot of new personnel still learning Saskatchewan’s system, expect there to still be a bit of a learning curve over the next week or two. The Riders will also be without two of their top receivers to start the season – both Rob Bagg and Chad Owens won’t play due to injuries sustained during training camp.
Calgary vs. Ottawa, Friday, June 23rd, 7:30 PM EST: It’s a Grey Cup rematch to open the season for the Stampeders and REDBLACKS, and Calgary will be out for revenge after getting upset by the underdog REDBLACKS last November. Almost all of the pieces from Calgary’s impressive 2016 squad remain in place, while Ottawa has a few new receivers coming in and will have Trevor Harris as their undisputed number one quarterback this year. The last time these teams met in Ottawa, the game ended in a 26-26 tie, the first that the CFL had seen since 2009. An extremely unusual matchup last time around at TD Place, but expect both these teams to bring it big-time to start off their seasons strong. Some notable cuts – for Calgary, Andrew Buckley won the backup QB job, so former Riders spot-starter Mitchell Gale was released. For the REDBLACKS, WR Tori Gurley, who had over 700 receiving yards and 10 TDs last year, former Edmonton starting RB Shakir Bell, who fumbled twice in a pre-season game against Montreal, and DB Javier Arenas, who spent 5 seasons in the NFL, were also some surprising cuts.
Edmonton vs. B.C., Saturday, June 24th, 10:00 PM EST: With so many new defensive players coming in this season to replace the numerous starters lost from last year’s team, this game will be a litmus test for the Lions to see how they fare against the Eskimos’ offence, which thanks to the leadership of 2016 Most Outstanding Player Mike Reilly, who led the league in passing yards, is still considered one of the best in the CFL. With no Anthony Allen at running back anymore for the Lions, either, it remains to be seen whether former #2 back Jeremiah Johnson will see an increased workload this year or whether Wally Buono will choose to move back to a more pass-heavy offence this year. If he does, it’s because he’ll have faith that his QB Jonathon Jennings won’t throw as many picks this year – which remains to be seen…
Hamilton vs. Toronto, Sunday, June 25th, 4:00 PM EST: Hamilton is starting their season against their Queen Elizabeth Way archrivals, the Argonauts, who they’ve really taken the screws to over the past couple seasons, going 5-1 combined in 2015 and 2016. With starter Zach Collaros fully healthy to start the year for the first time in two seasons, expectations are high for the Ti-Cats, who are looking to return to the Grey Cup for the first time since 2014. For the Argos, things are a mess. QB Drew Willy, who former GM Jim Barker traded for midway through last season in exchange for a 1st-round pick and top DB TJ Heath, who led the league in interceptions, was among the victims of Argos cuts at the end of training. Ricky Ray, who at age 37 and coming off multiple major surgeries in each of the past two seasons, is still the number one quarterback for the Argos. His top targets are SJ Green, who’s coming off a torn ACL himself, and Armanti Edwards, who was a trade acquisition in late May in exchange for free agent signing OL Peter Dyakowski; both of these are new to the roster for 2017. With so much turnover from 2016, particular in the receiving corps, I have a hard time believing that Toronto is going to be doing much of anything this season.