The new season is finally here after another long winter in Saskatchewan as the Riders are set to open the 2017 season against the Montreal Alouettes.
For the Green and White, the new season offers another opportunity for the franchise to return to respectability after two and a half seasons of struggles, including back-to-back seasons where they failed to make the playoffs.
Another offseason filled with change and controversy has come to an end and now it’s time to play football. With that in mind, here’s my six predictions, based basically on my gut feeling, for the Riders in 2017.
1. The Riders will make the playoffs: I have to admit, I’m not entirely sold on this one but something is bound to change in Riderville eventually. In the CFL you can pretty much count on one team to be better than expected and for one to be worse. Not much is expected of the Riders this year and they very easily could miss the playoffs again but I think improved Canadian depth, a better offensive line and a solid front seven defensively should be enough to see them rise to third in the west or crossover to the east.
2. Brandon Bridge will start: There’s no question that Kevin Glenn is the Riders starting quarterback to start the season. He’s certainly capable of putting together a strong enough season to get the Riders back into the playoffs. That being said, I think the switch will be made at some point as the Canadian pushes Glenn all season long. Bridge looked good in the pre-season and appears poised to take his game to the next level. Bridge’s ceiling this season is potentially much higher than the known Glenn at this point in his career.
3. The defence gets better…eventually: Much like last season, don’t look for the Riders defence to be at the top of it’s game early on. There’s far too many question marks and injuries in the secondary right now. Adding Jovon Johnson will certainly help but he still needs to get up to speed in Jones’ system. Any success from the defence early on will have to come from the front seven. Led by Gainey and Johnson, the secondary will improve as the season goes leaving the defence and the team in a better spot.
4. Willie Jefferson leads the way: Jefferson joined the Riders late last season and just about won the team sack race in just a handful of games. The former Eskim should pick up where he left off and be the difference maker the Riders are going to need. Jefferson should easily crack double digits in sacks this season and should be among the league leaders in quarterback takedowns.
5. Now or never for Demski: Drafted in the first round in 2015, Demski hasn’t really lived up to the billing since leaving the University of Manitoba. Demski has shown flashes of being a starting receiver but he’s never been able to sustain it. Demski might be what he is at this point and that could spell the end of his time in Saskatchewan when his contract is up at seasons end.
6. An American gets cut: Chris Jones seemingly rounded up as many American receivers as he could in the offseason. Between Naaman Roosevelt, Duron Carter, Bakari Grant, Chad Owens and so on, there’s plenty of talent to go around. There’s also plenty of cash and limited roster space. Owens is reportedly on the six-game to open the season, which creates space for some of the younger guys to make an impression as a returner. Owens might be the clubhouse leader to not finish the season in green, but he should still get his chance to prove he’s still got it. Either way, someone won’t make it to the end of the season as someone younger should push them out the door.
Bonus: If the Riders don’t make the playoffs this season, or they at least don’t significantly improve, Chris Jones, John Murphy and perhaps president Craig Reynolds won’t be back in 2018.