Thursday, August 13, 2009

CFL Preview Week Seven: The Wild West

Could the real contender in the Wild Western Division please stand up?

Six weeks through the CFL season and there are few certainties.

The Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger Cats seem to be firm contenders in the East, but not one team in the West has stood up. Through a series of missed opportunities, we are still uncertain who the powerhouse in the West is.

Three of the teams currently sit at 3-3 while the BC Lions pulled to 2-4 last week by beating the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Speaking of that game, it contributed to my two incorrect picks last week. In the other, I picked Winnipeg to upset Calgary, which almost did happen. After going 2-2, I am still below .500 with my picks.

Prediction Time
Disagree with my picks. Tell me your picks down below.

Thursday Aug. 13th
Game One: Calgary Stampeders at Edmonton Eskimos

The Calgary Stampeders fought back last week to get back to .500, whereas the Edmonton Eskimos missed a glorious opportunity to sit atop the West by losing to the Hamilton Tiger Cats. In this years first installment of the "Battle of Alberta," tempers should be high.

Ricky Ray continued his inconsistent play last week. He threw for a lot of yardage, but also tossed two interceptions. Still, Ray looks to be regaining his solid form slowly. Throw in the fact that Edmonton now has somewhat of a running game, and their offense suddenly isn’t looking so anemic.

Look for the Eskimos to attack Calgary’s inexperienced secondary with Kamau Peterson, Maurice Mann, and Fred Stamps.

Calgary, on the other hand, is still off course without star receiver Keynon Rambo. Luckily, players like Jermaine Copeland have stepped up.

Edmonton has a stingy front seven, so running the ball with Joffrey Reynolds may be tough. If Calgary can establish him, however, they could open up the passing game and terrorize Edmonton’s defense.

With two teams that look to be fairly equally matched, this game could come down to who can run the ball and control the line of scrimmage the best. This game will likely be a close contest, but Edmonton is playing at home. Their natural grass is still one of the toughest turfs to play on, and that may be the advantage they need.

My Pick: Edmonton

Friday August 14th
Game One: BC Lions at Toronto Argonauts

Things are starting to look up for the BC Lions. They got an ugly win against the Saskatchewan Roughriders last week and are facing one of the most struggling teams in the CFL, the Toronto Argonauts. Fresh off a shut-out loss against the Montreal Alouettes, the Argonauts are desperate for a win.

For the game, the Argos have benched former MOP Kerry Joseph in favour of back-up pivot Cody Picket. The news was a bit shocking, seeing as Toronto has a lot of other problems than just the quarterback position. Still, a change was perhaps necessary. Pickett will look to rejuvenate a struggling Argos offense.

To do this, it would be smart to get Jamal Robertson involved. BC’s run defense is one of the worst in the league and they could get a big game out of Jamal Robertson.

Similarly, the Lions need to establish the run with rookie sensation Martel Mallet. Mallet is a hard runner which is good because Toronto has a tough front seven. Buck Pierce didn’t have an amazing game last week, but he did a little better job of taking care of the ball. This will be crucial against an Argos team that will be looking for any break they can get.

Upon first glance, it would appear that the Lions will win this game. They are coming off of a victory and Toronto is struggling. The game is in Toronto, however, and road games are never a sure thing. Toronto will likely get a good running game going against the Lions, which will help Cody Pickett settle down. If Pickett has any success at all, look for Toronto’s stingy defense to take care of the rest.

My Pick: Toronto

Saturday August 15th
Game One: Montreal Alouettes at Winnipeg Blue Bombers

They have beaten the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger Cats, and now it is time for the Montreal Alouettes to prove they are indeed top dogs in the East by beating Winnipeg. In fact, Winnipeg has also beaten Toronto and Hamilton, but I’m pretty sure no one thinks they're top dogs in anything.

Winnipeg has recently seen new life with quarterback Michael Bishop added into the line-up. Bishop has been an immediate upgrade over Stefan Lefors and almost led the Bombers to victory over the Stampeders.

But the big reason for the improvement in Winnipeg’s offense is Fred Reid. Reid rushed for 176 yards against Calgary last week, and he will be the player to watch on Saturday. Winnipeg should look to get Reid involved in the run game and the passing game. The Bombers can also look to their other big gun on offense, Terrance Edwards.

The Montreal Alouettes, on the other hand, have a balanced offensive attack. They can hurt you on the ground with Avon Cobourne, or go to the air with Ben Cahoon, Jamal Richardson, and Kerry Watkins. Winnipeg’s defense has been better as of late, but it is a big task shutting down the Als offense.

Fans in Winnipeg have new faith since Michael Bishop arrived. But as a Roughriders fan all I can say is, give it a few weeks. Sure, Bishop looks good at times, but he will ultimately choke when the pressure is on. Montreal is likely going to key on Fred Reid all game, forcing Michael Bishop to throw the ball a lot and likely turn the ball over. On the other side, Anthony Calvillo should do enough to get an important road win.

My Pick: Montreal

Sunday August 16th
Game One: Hamilton Tiger Cats at Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Hamilton Tiger Cats are 4-2? Is this the same team who has been so bad for so long? Every game so far, fans have been saying, “This is the real test for Hamilton.” Well so far, they have passed most of those tests. They have swept the BC Lions in two games and beaten the Edmonton Eskimos, proving they are indeed for real. Still, they will get another test this week against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Riders have been so inconsistent this year. They look good one week against a tough opponent, and then falter the next week against an easy one. Ken Miller doesn’t seem to be inspiring the Riders to do well, and it has surely shown in their play.

Luckily, the team will be getting back defensive end John Chick, who should help stabilize the defensive line. Unluckily, however, the team will be without star middle linebacker Renauld Williams for some time. This isn’t good when DeAndra Cobb is coming into town.

Cobb has been the story of the year so far. He is tearing it up in the ground game and should pose a problem to a weak Riders run defense. Gary Etcheverry’s defense, which is good at creating turnovers, will have to also focus on shutting down Cobb. Without a running game, Quinton Porter will have to throw the ball to beat the Riders. This could only bode well for the Riders.

On offense, the Riders need to get the ball to their playmakers. With Wes Cates in the backfield and receivers like Jason Clermont and Weston Dressler, the Riders have no shortage of talent. The offensive line also needs to do a much better job giving Darian Durant protection.

Finally returning home after a two game road trip, the Riders will be playing in front of a loud home crowd. But will they give them anything to cheer about? I never thought I would pick Hamilton to win in Regina, but they have DeAndra Cobb on their side. Without Renauld Williams in the middle, I’m not sure Saskatchewan can stop the run this week.

My Pick: Hamilton
My Record: 11-13 (46%)

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