Path to glory: one reason why every CFL playoff team will win the Grey Cup

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

The CFL playoffs are scheduled to kickoff on Sunday and for six fanbases, hope has filled the air.

It doesn’t matter what your record is or how you qualified, the postseason brings with it a blank slate and a chance at immortality. No more than three games now stand between each franchise and their coveted silver chalice, virtually a roll of the dice in a league where parity reigns supreme.

In the spirit of that eternal optimism, here is one reason why your favourite team will win the Grey Cup in three weeks’ time.

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Elimination isn’t anything new

Like any underdog football team, the Ticats’ best shot at pulling a string of playoff upsets is if their quarterback suddenly gets piping hot. While Dane Evans has shown himself capable of doing just that, it certainly hasn’t happened with the type of regularity that would merit inclusion on this list.

Instead, the biggest x-factor the Ticats have in their corner is that an elimination game will be well-trodden ground for them. Despite their sub-.500 record and the dubious distinction of being the only playoff team to have allowed more points than they’ve scored, the core of this team has still gone to the past two Grey Cups. The postseason is not unfamiliar territory and they’ve already shown their resilience and gumption by winning five of their final six games — virtually all must-wins.

No other team has been forced to play such high-stakes football consistently but it has been Hamilton’s reality for the entire second half of the season. Like an injured animal backed into a corner, that makes them uniquely dangerous.

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/B.C. Lions

Calgary Stampeders: Beware the three-headed monster

When the cold winds of playoff winter blow through the Canadian prairies, there are few things more valuable than a reliable running back. On that front, the Stampeders have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal.

In addition to former NFL fourth-round draft pick and CFL leading rusher Ka’Deem Carey in the backfield, Calgary has shifty returner Peyton Logan and bulldozer Dedrick Mills as well. Even when ratio requirements prevent all three from co-existing on the same gameday roster, you can add short-yardage god Tommy Stevens to that dangerous equation.

The result of that rotation behind a talented offensive line is a rushing attack that is head and shoulders above the rest of the league. The Stamps have busted 78 runs of 10 yards or more — 20 more than any other team. They average 6.4 yards per carry and 135.3 yards per game, while the next-best franchises can boast just 5.3 per attempt and 113.5 each outing.

If the weather gets worse and Calgary can continue to dictate the pace of play to that extent, who is really capable of getting in their way?

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Montreal Alouettes: You better be ready to strap them up

The Alouettes’ early season coaching changes hardly created a seismic shift in results for the organization, as they still sit at .500 and are in the East Semi-Final for a third year. However, defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe has made his mark on the defence and has the group playing with post-season physicality already.

While their consistency as a team has sometimes left something to be desired, the lovely Larks fly around with a ferocity usually reserved for birds of prey. Players like Micah Awe and Adarius Pickett take pleasure in contact and will punish opponents over the middle, sometimes resulting in the occasional fine. At a time of year when every team will be cranking up their intensity level, the Alouettes are already there.

That has the potential to extend to their offence as well, where William Stanback’s slow return to the backfield has many questioning his importance. If the bruising back can find another level for the playoffs, Montreal will be able to play bully ball with the best of them — with physical intimidation setting the tone on both sides of the ball.

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/B.C. Lions

B.C. Lions: Rourke’s return

Well, this one is obvious. The healthy return of young phenom Nathan Rourke at quarterback completely changes the complexion of the Lions’ offence and their Grey Cup hopes.

Much remains to be determined regarding how the Canadian sensation will look in his first full game of action following a nine-week absence due to Lisfranc surgery, with last week’s quarter-long tune-up against Winnipeg barely providing us with an amuse-bouche. What is certain is that Rourke is on the short list of players who could single-handedly win his team a championship, even if he’s only a fraction of the passer he was at the start of 2022.

Rourke’s record-setting pace through the first nine games of the year included six outings with more than 300 yards passing and three with more than 400. No other CFL quarterback matched those numbers in a complete campaign, nor came close to his 78.7 percent accuracy. Playing on one foot or two, he will elevate the entire Lions roster.

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Toronto Argonauts: Believe in the ballhawks

Despite finishing first in the East, the Argonauts have a bit of a reputation as an underperforming top seed and lack some of the dynamism of the Western contenders. However, there is one area where Toronto well ahead of the competition: takeaways.

The Boatmen are better than only Ottawa when it comes to passing yards allowed per game, but that hasn’t turned into points against them due to opportunistic big plays. Toronto leads the league with 29 interceptions — ten more than anyone else — and are the only team with more picks than touchdowns allowed through the air this year.

11 different Argos have chipped in with an interception, with six coming from league-leader Jamal Peters. Five times those interceptions have been carried back for points — a figure that is also tied for the best in the CFL. If those momentum swings continue, Toronto can overcome an average offence.

Photo: David Mahussier/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Going deep

You could talk for ages about how the Bombers’ veteran roster and unparalleled team culture makes them uniquely equipped to achieve the coveted three-peat, but that would ignore what is truly dangerous about this particular Winnipeg squad. Fittingly, it just happens to be their ability to drop bombs.

Buck Pierce’s offensive unit can lull you to sleep for stretches but no one else in the league hits the big play with such incredible regularity. The Bombers boast the fewest pass attempts and the biggest average per throw of any team, with an incredible 44 touchdowns through the air to go with it.

The ability of soon-to-be two-time M.O.P. Zach Collaros to buy time in the pocket and make magic happen on the run gives the Bombers a different dimension that few teams have been able to stop. League-leading receiver Dalton Schoen has often been the beneficiary, finishing the year with an absurd 20.6 yards per catch average and 16 touchdowns as a rookie. However, Nic Demski, Rasheed Bailey, and Greg Ellingson have all been on the end of a few momentum-changing deep shots.

So long as nearly eight percent of their passes are connecting for gains of over 30 yards, Winnipeg no longer has to play the perfect, disciplined football of their run-first era. They can win with a sudden aerial assault that would leave any opponent shellshocked.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.