We’ve finally arrived at Week 1 of the regular season! Buckle up with a few Molsons and a bag of all-dressed chips and make yourself comfy for the summer of 2018, folks. A few key differences in scheduling for the CFL this season – while the regular season remains 18 games long for each team, it will now be spread out over 21 weeks instead of 20, meaning all teams will gain a third bye week in the hopes of improving player health and safety over a long and demanding season. Also new this year is the practise schedule – all full-contact padded practises have been eliminated during the regular season, in the hopes that players will be more durable. While I understand the logic behind it and completely agree with the concept of improving player safety in both the short- and long-term, it will be interesting to see if this does actually work out as intended – offences need to get full-speed reps down a lot in order to thoroughly memorize a playbook, and hesitation and miscommunication during game situations due to inexperience often does result in bad things, including injuries to players. All the same, I’m absolutely not going to denounce the policy – especially because we haven’t gathered any data on its impacts on the quality of the game at all.
Meanwhile in other CFL news this week, the Toronto Argonauts traded for Ti-Cats DB Abdul Kanneh on Monday, hoping to add to their secondary. The Montreal Alouettes also inked a one-year deal with their star linebacker Chip Cox, who had sat out the pre-season due to ongoing negotiations with the team. Despite the pessimistic outlook they have on offence, the Als’ D is starting to look really good – on paper, at least. It’s a good addition for a team that is going to have to be shrewd with personnel moves from a very early point in the season if they want to reverse the losing trend they’ve experienced for the last few seasons.
And with this info out of the way, onto the games!
WEEK 1 PREVIEWS
Edmonton vs. Winnipeg, Thursday, June 14th, 8:30 PM EST: With Matt Nichols out between 4 to 6 weeks with a knee injury, Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea named rookie Chris Streveler as his week 1 starter at QB. Good luck, rookie. Wonder what this means for how they’ll run their offence; they certain have some good RB depth with Andrew Harris and Timothy Flanders getting the bulk of the carries, but they’re both multipurpose backs as well… will they be able to mix in some read-option and designed QB runs if the Eskimos D is forced to account for their versatility? At any rate, as good as the Bombers are projected to be, it’s hard to consistently win at any level with a rookie QB. And Edmonton is no slouch. As I mentioned last week, I firmly believe that Mike Reilly is the best quarterback in the CFL; as winner of the 2017 Most Outstanding Player award, many are inclined to agree with me. Despite losing two of his top receivers in Brandon Zylstra and Adarius Bowman, he’ll still have other guys like Derel Walker and Vidal Hazelton to pick up the slack – not to mention a serious ground threat in RB CJ Gable as well. A great way to start off the 2018 season!
Toronto vs. Saskatchewan, Friday, June 15th, 9:00 PM EST: Saskatchewan cut a trio of veteran receivers this week in Bakari Grant, Rob Bagg, and Chad Owens; given their ages, it’s probably the end of the line for Bagg and Owens, but Grant could get a look from a few other teams. At any rate, despite the brand-name recognition those guys have (relatively speaking… yes, shut up, I’m serious here!), their receiving corps is still crazy deep and talented. Naaman Roosevelt and Duron Carter are human highlight reels, while Christion Jones excels at both catching passes and the return game. Also interesting to see in this game will be the veteran quarterbacks in play; despite the fact he’ll be turning 39 in October, Ricky Ray looked rejuvenated under Marc Trestman’s coaching last season, while his former backup in Zach Collaros, himself once a strong MOP candidate, will be looking to regain his form from 2015, before a torn ACL turned his career upside-down. He’ll be 30 this year, and while that means there’s still likely some years left ahead of him, there’s no doubt that he really hasn’t looked himself since his return from injury. He’s lost his last twelve starts under centre, including seven games last year in 2017. Saskatchewan represents a welcome change for him, and if he wants to resurrect his career, this is an ideal place to do it! My personal highlight, of everything about this matchup, will be watching James Wilder, Jr. getting a full season of starting at running back for the Argos. With Brandon Whitaker now out of the picture, Wilder has a legit chance to hit both 1000 yards rushing and receiving – something that no player in CFL history has ever managed before. If he can do it, he’ll absolutely get some more serious consideration from the NFL – so I’ll enjoy his time in the CFL while it lasts.
Hamilton vs. Calgary, Saturday, June 16th, 7:00 PM EST: Jeremiah Masoli won the quarterback battle in the Tiger-Cats’ depth chart – although honestly it was never much of a battle to begin with. All the same, though, the whole league is intrigued with Johnny Manziel – will the Ti-Cats figure out a way to work him into their offence on a regular basis? Masoli has many of the attributes that Manziel has – arm strength, good legs for scrambling, and the ability to react quickly to a shrinking pocket – so there’s an argument to be made that the offense doesn’t really need to be re-made if Manziel does end up taking some more regular snaps at some point later in the season. Meanwhile in Calgary, after scores of retirements, a lot of young players will see expanded roles this season. Most crucially, the Stamps will get Bo Levi Mitchell back at QB. With much of their veteran leadership gone – in guys like Jerome Messam, Charleston Hughes, and Pierre Lavertu, they’ll need to lean on Mitchell even further in order to keep things as cohesive as they’ve been in previous seasons. All the same, Calgary remains an incredibly good team – and they’ve had the best home record in the CFL over the last few seasons.
Montreal vs. BC, Saturday, June 16th, 10:00 PM EST: Everybody knows not to read much into training camp due to so many second- and third-stringers getting extended playing time, but there’s still something to be said about how poor the Alouettes have looked all the same. With Chip Cox a late signing to the linebacker crew for Montreal, he’ll have a little bit of catching up to do to get acquainted with the new defensive playbook. Still, hard to not like him paired up with the Westerman brothers and John Bowman in the front seven. On offence, though, this team will need to scrape as many points as it can muster. Improved arm strength at QB will help – Darian Durant’s passes last year often looked like lame ducks, and Drew Willy is better on that front. I’ll ignore accuracy for the time being. For BC, with so many roster spots turning over on D, there’s going to be an acclimatization period for sure – hopefully it’s reasonably quick. Especially for the offence’s sake. I gave a lot of shit last year to Jonathon Jennings – and while a lot of it was deserved – it also clearly should not be entirely up to him. An improved offensive line and some ability to shake off some pressure will benefit the whole team immensely this year. Hopefully they’ll also better utilize RB Jeremiah Johnson this season – while last year was certainly not a bad season at all for him, where he recorded 913 yards on 158 carries in 17 games for an average of 5.8 yards per carry, to go along with 9 touchdowns, he has potential to be a real workhorse back and can absolutely crack 1000 yards.
WEEK 1 PICKS
Reminder that this is your last chance to join the Pick ‘Em Pool before the season begins… click the link below to sign up and join!
Enjoy the games, everyone.