Congratulations Stampeders, Roughriders, Blue Bombers, Redblacks, Ticats and Lions fans, your team made the playoffs and they are now just two or three wins away from ultimate glory. A Grey Cup championship is so close you can taste it and you should all be excited that your team will be the team everyone else is envious of come Nov. 25.
Or maybe not.
Only one team will win the Grey Cup, meaning five will not, and I am here to tell you why your favourite will and won’t win this year’s championship.
Why they will win: Late-season adversity makes them battle tested
As good as the Stamps have been over the last… forever… their failures in the past two Grey Cups have haunted them. The biggest issue is the Stamps have been so far ahead so early that they coast the rest of the way. This season was the first time in a long time where the Stamps had to win games late in the season and they didn’t do so well, dropping three in a row before finally winning their final game and clinching first in the West. It is that difficulty late in the season that will propel them to finally get that Grey Cup monkey off their back.
Why they won’t win: Too many injuries
This won’t be the only time injuries are used as a reason why a team won’t win, but the Stamps have been hit hard by injuries this year, especially to that receiving corps. Eric Rogers, Kamar Jorden, Marken Michel, DaVaris Daniels, the list goes on with the names of players who have missed time or will still be out when the Stamps roll into the West Final off their bye. Those injuries will be too much for them to handle and that is why the Stamps will fall short once again.
Why they will win: The defence and special teams
Chris Jones is a defensive whiz and he may have done his best work this year with the Riders. The defence has accounted for 11 touchdowns on the year, and the Riders tied a league record with 15 total return touchdowns on the season. The Jefferson-Hughes tandem has been as advertised, we have seen players like Sam Eguavoen and Nick Marshall become bigger playmakers, and that says nothing of stalwarts like Ed Gainey. The Riders boast the league’s most dangerous defence and a killer special teams group that will see them raise the Grey Cup when all is said and done.
Why they won’t win: The offence
If the Riders defence has an off game and the offence has to win it for them they are done. For as good as the Riders defence has been, the Riders offence has been equally awful. With uncertainty around their quarterback — it looks like Zach Collaros won’t play in the West Semi — and a full season fo evidence to point to, the Riders offence will be their downfall.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Why they will win: Talent
Jokes were made when the Bombers hit their mid-season rough patch and looked like they would miss the playoffs about how most, myself included, claimed Winnipeg was the most talented team in the CFL. Five wins in their six later and the Bombers head into the playoffs with a talent-rich roster and something to prove. Top to bottom, in all three phases, no one boasts the talent the Bombers do.
Why they won’t win: Matt Nichols falters
There are a few quarterbacks with a lot of pressure on them, with Matt Nichols at the top of the list. Nichols hasn’t been asked to win many games this year, but instead he has been asked to not lose them. “Game manager,” often used derisively, gets thrown around with Nichols and it’s a pretty apt descriptor (even though I don’t see it as the insult others do). The Bombers will have to get through a hostile Mosaic, then an amped-up McMahon, before facing whichever team comes out of the East. I just don’t see Nichols making it out of all three of those games without making the killer mistakes that keeps the #1990 joke going for at least another year.
Why they will win: Easiest path
The Redblacks, a confounding team all year, enter the post-season riding a huge wave of momentum. Winners of their last three, and five of their last seven, Ottawa is peaking at just the right time. But they also have the easiest path of any team in the playoffs. All the Redblacks have to do to get to the Grey Cup is win at home over either Hamilton or B.C. After that it’ll be a beat-up Western opponent that had to survive one of the toughest playoff gauntlets ever. Add it all up and it’ll be the Redblacks emerging triumphant in Edmonton to win their second title in three years.
Why they won’t win: Trevor Harris chokes
The one QB with probably the most pressure on him to win is Trevor Harris. Harris has put up great numbers not just this year, but in years past, but he has never taken a team over the hump in the playoffs. He was famously benched late in the 2015 season when he was with the Argos; he left to go to Ottawa and despite mostly playing well, was supplanted by Henry Burris late in the season and sat on the bench as Hank led the Redblacks to a Grey Cup win. Then last year, after an up-and-down season, Harris threw for a lot of yards (434) on a lot of passes (60) but didn’t play particularly well in Ottawa’s 31-20 East Semi loss to the Riders. Harris had a very good 2018, and was even better down the stretch drive, but until he proves he can do it come playoff time there will always be questions. Because of that, Harris won’t be able to get it done and the Redblacks will go home empty-handed.
Why they will win: Everything clicks
The Ticats have the ability to be the most dangerous team in the playoffs if everything goes their way. They have the most dangerous dual-threat QB remaining, a running game that is sneaky good, a passing attack that can kill you in many ways, a defence that has the best cover corner in the league, a linebacking trio that is amongst the best and defensive line that can make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. There probably isn’t a more dangerous team entering these playoffs than the Ticats and because of that Hamiltonians will witness something not seen in nearly two decades: a Ticats Grey Cup win.
Why they won’t win: Too many injuries
Much like the Stamps, Hamilton’s downfall will come with the amount of starting players that will not be in action in these playoffs. At receiver, we know Chris Williams, Jalen Saunders, Terrence Toliver, Shamawd Chambers and Brandon Banks will on be in civvies, all-star defensive end Jamaal Westerman, along with Canadian depth players like Justin Vaughn and Nic Shortill, will also be on the sideline as well. For a good team like Calgary, that is hard to overcome; for an inconsistent one like Hamilton, it spells another year added to their championship drought.
Why they will win: The Wally and Lulay factors
Sometimes it is things beyond numbers and what “should” happen that lead to success. Should the Redblacks have Argos have beaten the Stamps in the last two Grey Cups? Should the 2007 N.Y. Giants have defeated the then-undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII? Sometimes strange things happen and teams rally around something more than the game. That’s what the Lions have this post-season with Wally Buono and Travis Lulay. Buono is retiring when the Lions season is over and Lulay’s 2018 renaissance has been one of the league’s best stories. It’s the stuff movies get made about, and a fairytale story needs a fairytale ending and the Leos get that by sending Wally off with one final title.
Why they won’t win: They suck on the road
If the Lions want to write that fairytale story they will have to reverse a season-long trend of being the absolute dirt worst on the road. B.C. won just twice on the road in 2018, once in Montreal and the other in Calgary. While the Calgary win was, and is, impressive, it came at a time when the Stamps were in the midst of their own three-game funk. The Lions couldn’t even win in Toronto, and in the two stadia they will have to play to reach the Grey Cup they lost by a combined score of 69-35. As good as it would be to see Wally walk off the field with the Grey Cup one last time, the Lions won’t get to do that because their literal road to a title will be their undoing.