Doomed from the start: one reason why every CFL playoff team will be one-and-done

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

For all its glitz and glamour, the CFL postseason is a gladiatorial bloodbath at its core. And only one team emerges alive.

The hopes and dreams of five fanbases will be unceremoniously crushed over the next three weeks and hundreds of players will be forced to walk off the field with the sound of their opponents’ cheers echoing behind them. It is little wonder then why many Grey Cup winners describe the feeling as one of relief, not jubilation.

We’ve already catered to the eternal optimists by listing one reason why each of the six CFL playoff teams will be crowned champions, but now it’s time for the pessimists. Here is one reason why your favourite team is doomed from the start.

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

Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Turnovers are your grave

There are two dozen different holes that you could poke in the prospects of the league’s lone sub-.500 playoff team, but the biggest one is the uncertainty of what they’ll receive from the quarterback position. Namely, will Dane Evans be able to take care of the ball in crunch time?

The Ticats are tied for the league lead in turnovers with Edmonton at 52 apiece, thanks in large part to Evans’ failure to protect the football early in the year. While he cleaned things up considerably down the stretch, Evans still finished atop the CFL with 16 picks — as many as he threw touchdowns.

Hamilton’s passing offence could hardly be dubbed high-efficiency as they clawed their way into the postseason, but the team also led the league with 17 fumbles lost as well. If they regress to their -20 turnover margin, the Ticats don’t have a hope in hell of an upset.

Photo: Larry MacDougal/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Calgary Stampeders: No big gun in the wild west

The marketing material for any Stampeders’ game of late has given top billing to their punishing rushing attack and rightfully so, but the fact that this offence wasn’t built to showcase its quarterback should have fans slightly uneasy.

Jake Maier has looked good since taking over as the starter mid-season but the team’s passing attack has largely resolved around the short game, much as it did when Bo Levi Mitchell was throwing passes with his ailing arm. That strategy has been fruitful and helped their offensive line post dramatically lower sack totals than anyone else in the league, but the dink-and-dunk approach also has its limitation.

When Calgary has competed in shootouts against Winnipeg and B.C., they’ve needed big plays on defence or special teams to get it done — and they still haven’t come out on top. The Stamps have the personnel to take the top off a defence with Malik Henry and Reggie Begelton out wide, but is Maier a quarterback who can press the ball down the field consistently? As of yet, he hasn’t shown that side of his game with any regularity.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Montreal Alouettes: The more things change, the more they stay the same

When Danny Maciocia booted Khari Jones from the sidelines four weeks into the 2022 season, he cited a lack of team discipline as one of the reasons. That didn’t change much in the weeks that followed and the Alouettes are still liable to give up more free yardage than most would be comfortable with.

The aggressiveness and physicality of Montreal’s defence under Noel Thorpe is one of their greatest strengths, but they’ve committed an awful lot of penalties as a result. The Alouettes as a team lead the league with 1,674 yards given up to penalties but 87 of their 167 infractions have come on defence — 16 more than anyone else in the CFL.

It isn’t just free yardage by virtue of unnecessary roughness and pass interference penalties that have been a problem either, the Als give up a ton of huge plays in the passing game by being overly aggressive. Their 30 plays allowed of more than 30 yards receiving are tied with Saskatchewan for worst in the league and could come back to bite them in a big way.

Photo courtesy: B.C. Lions

B.C. Lions: Hot knife, meet butter

Every CFL playoff team has the personnel to run a power-rushing attack this postseason and none more so than their West Semi-Final opponent, but the B.C. Lions may be uniquely challenged when it comes to defending the run.

That statement may come as a surprise to the uninitiated given that B.C. sits mid-table when it comes to most run defence statistics, but those numbers lie for one very important reason. The best run defence is a great offence and no team in their right mind was handing off when they had to chase Nathan Rourke from behind.

In three meetings against Calgary this season, Stampeders running backs have averaged 6.9 yards per carry. The Bombers averaged 5.6 and that is without counting QB runs or receiver reverses, both of which have gashed B.C. for big yards. Rourke may be back but if he isn’t the player he was before the injury, the Lions lack the size and strength in their front seven to effectively batten down the hatches.

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

Toronto Argonauts: Lukewarm isn’t hot enough

The Toronto Argonauts may have won the East Division and yet there isn’t a single part of their offence that scares anyone in the league.

Yes, McLeod Bethel-Thompson led the CFL in passing yardage but his marker has been inconsistency throughout his career and — rightly or wrongly — the stink of big game collapses still sticks to him. Meanwhile, the receiving corps is led by Kurleigh Gittens Jr., a tremendous young player who would be a number two on most other teams. DaVaris Daniels and Markeith Ambles are the same solid role players they’ve always been and Brandon Banks has failed to recapture any magic, leaving Toronto without a bona fide star to take over the game.

The fact that the return of Andrew Harris — a 35-year-old running back who was averaging 4.3 yards per carry before suffering a major injury — is the most exciting story around the Argos heading into the East Final should tell you everything you need to know about this team’s chances.

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

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Eventually, the house always wins

We could sit here and nit-pick regarding the two-time defending champs, but I have little interest in pretending the Bombers aren’t the best team in the league. They are and they should be Grey Cup favourites again, but winning in sports is one part talent and one part luck. Sooner or later, the second part will run out.

For three seasons now, virtually every timely bounce that could have gone Winnipeg’s way has. They’ve found ways to win tight games in a multitude of ways, sometimes after playing down to their opponent’s level. All of those things are a testament to the strength of their team but they are also difficult events to replicate. The laws of probability dictate that something has to give.

Some how, some way, the Bombers are eventually going to lose to an inferior opponent in primetime. It has happened already in the regular season, odds are that this is the year it finally happens in the playoffs.

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.