3DownNation Grey Cup picks: can the Argos stop a Bombers dynasty?

Photo courtesy: Thomas Skrlj/CFL

Deep in the heartland of the CFL, a dynasty could be born.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers stand on the precipice of a third straight Grey Cup, with a chance to live on in legend. They can do it at the stadium of their most iconic rival, a facility that they have claimed every historic first imaginable and is sure to be packed to the brim with travelling Manitobans.

Standing in their way are the Toronto Argonauts, led by running back Andrew Harris — Winnipeg’s native son and the man who launched the Bombers’ era of dominance. Cast aside in the offseason and miraculously recovered from a torn pectoral muscle, he’s looking to write potentially the final chapter of his Hall of Fame story against the team that he helped build.

Meanwhile, the other lynchpin piece of Winnipeg’s rise to the top is facing his own adversity. Quarterback Zach Collaros, the back-to-back CFL Most Outstanding Player, has been at the centre of a media hurricane all week, battling an ankle injury suffered in the West Final. After missing practice twice, he’ll make the start but whether he can be the same mobile passer remains to be seen.

The storylines are not few and far between in this matchup. Toronto quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson could finally secure elite status with a victory. Winnipeg running back Brady Oliveira can best his mentor with a strong performance. Argos’ receiver Brandon Banks could finally win the ring that has so long eluded him.

For one final time this CFL season, here is how our contributors see the game playing out.

Grey Cup: Toronto Argonauts vs. Winnipeg Blue Bombers – 6:00 p.m. EDT

DUNK: The Argos admittedly aren’t scared of Winnipeg, but the Blue Bombers know how to find ways to win in the clutch. That’s one of the major differences and separating factors between these two teams. Zach Collaros moved around well on his right ankle during his one practice session of the week and a pain shot should help him play at full go. He’s supremely focused and determined to complete a three-peat along with his veteran group of teammates.

Straight-up: BOMBERS. Against the spread: BOMBERS.

HODGE: This game won’t be a blowout but, with all due respect to the Argos, these clubs are simply a tier apart. Zach Collaros appears to be moving well on his ankle, the offence is balanced, the defence is swarming, and the special teams are solid. There’s an aura of serene calmness surrounding the Blue Bombers whose veterans know how to manage the hustle and bustle of Grey Cup week. If Toronto wins this game, it’ll be because of A.J. Ouellette and Andrew Harris carrying the load on offence to control the ball and keep Collaros off the field.

Straight-up: BOMBERS. Against the spread: BOMBERS.

ABBOTT: All year long, the Argos have burned me for my failure to believe in them but I still can’t get on board with the Boatmen. The two-headed monster of Andrew Harris and A.J. Ouellette is terrifying, but it will only take a scoring drive or two from the Bombers to neutralize them. That leaves Toronto reliant on a hot-and-cold McLeod Bethel-Thompson and a crew of extremely solid receivers that simply aren’t game-breakers. With conditions in Regina taking a turn for the better, this game will come down to Zach Collaros and his ankle. I trust him to hit the deep shot against an opportunistic Argos defence when it matters.

Straight-up: BOMBERS. Against the spread: BOMBERS.

BALLANTINE: Talk about the worst of both worlds. On one side, you have the Bombers going for a three-peat, which no one outside of Winnipeg really wants. On the other, you have Andrew Harris, far from a sympathetic character to root for, attempting to do the same. All that aside, the Argos just seem to have something of a Grey Cup moxie, winning when they get there in spite of the odds. The Argos have won their last six Grey Cup appearances, and have only lost the big game three times since the Second World War. By all rights, the Bombers should win, but this Stampeders fan knows too well the “Any Grey Cup Sunday” nature of the greatest championship in sports. Give me the upset. 

Straight-up: ARGOS. Against the spread: ARGOS.

FILOSO: On one hand, it’s hard to deny that the Bombers look like the more complete team. Not to mention, they’ve had their sights set on this since the season started and are excellent in all three phases of the game. Furthermore, they’ve been there, done that and are looking to solidify their dynasty — and place in history — with a third ring in as many years. And yet, as much as I want to pick Winnipeg to win, I can’t shake this nagging feeling Toronto pulls off the upset. Whether it’s due to Collaros not being 100 percent, or how good the duo of A.J. Ouellette and Andrew Harris looked last week, or how opportunistic that Argo defence can be, or the fact that Toronto seems to be in a pattern of winning a Grey Cup every five years (2012, 2017, 2022?), I just think Dinwiddie’s squad gets it done. 

Straight-up: ARGOS. Against the spread: ARGOS.

GASSON: I’m of two schools of thought. On one hand, I’ve continuously said the Bombers have to lose a postseason game eventually but while that’s true, they don’t seem to be due for one yet. On the other hand, we’ve seen heavily favoured teams lose this game before. Anything can happen. As much as has been made of the condition of Zach Collaros’ ankle –and rightly so — I think the X factor remains Winnipeg’s running game. Three-peat it is. 

Straight-up: BOMBERS. Against the spread: BOMBERS.

HUDSON: The Bombers are clearly the better team by known measures. They don’t have any real injury concerns beyond what appears to be a non-issue for Collaros and I’m not even sure Winnipeg needs a mobile QB to beat Argos. The league could use a storyline greater than the same champion from the last four years to break out of their lack of national visibility, but that’s not how winners are chosen. At least we’ll get a lesser-known matchup in terms of recent exposure between teams so the game won’t be dominated by schedule design stupidity.

Straight-up: BOMBERS. Against the spread: BOMBERS.

LUDWIG: Two hot takes in one: these two have comparably good defences but the underrated source of Winnipeg’s 2022 dominance is a brilliant offence, which Toronto can’t come close to matching. Kurleigh Gittens Jr. is great, but Dalton Schoen is better. The Argos have DaVaris Daniels, Winnipeg has Nic Demski and Greg Ellingson and more, without even touching on quarterbacks. Being a 75-percent favourite isn’t a guaranteed win but I’m still taking the 75-percent favourite. And by the way, if Toronto wins, that’s more fuel to change the playoff format, given that the fourth-best team in the CFL clearly had a much-too-easy road to the big game.

Straight-up: BOMBERS. Against the spread: BOMBERS.

MCGUIRE: Winnipeg is built for this setting in ways no other team has been in a couple of generations. But if anyone is tailor-made to beat the Bombers on the prairies in November, it’s this Argo bunch. Zach Collaros’ health is clearly an issue making this a much better game than the pundits from Winnipeg predicting a blowout truly realize. That said, I can’t go against the Bombers for the W. Maybe on the spread but not for the win.

Straight-up: BOMBERS. Against the spread: ARGOS.

SMITH: There is no reason to pick the Argos to win this game and yet I am still going to. The Bombers pretty much have the better everything, from quarterback to head coach to backup special teams players. Every fibre of my being says the Bombers should win this game going away and yet for some reason, there is that tinge of doubt telling me the upset is a-coming. Maybe it’s Toronto’s six straight Grey Cup victories. Maybe it’s Winnipeg being due for a letdown at some point. Maybe it’s nothing more than a gut feeling. But whatever it is, it has led me to one conclusion: the Toronto Argonauts are going to be Grey Cup champions.

Straight-up: ARGOS. Against the spread: ARGOS.

TOTALS STRAIGHT-UP: Bombers 7, Argos 3


Most Valuable Player

DUNK: Zach Collaros — Some would say it’s an easy choice, but still the right one. Collaros loves proving doubters wrong and some people questioned whether he would play in the 109th Grey Cup. That’s enough fuel for the two-time CFL MOP to have his best performance in a CFL championship game. 

HODGE: Willie Jefferson — A defensive player hasn’t won Grey Cup MVP since Charlie Brandon did so in 1973. This feels like a game that Jefferson could take over.

ABBOTT: Zach Collaros — Voters love great players and great storylines. If Collaros goes off on an injured ankle, he’ll be both.

BALLANTINE: McLeod Bethel Thompson — MBT rides off into the sunset with a pair of trophies after taking down the two-time champs.

FILOSO: Jamal Peters — If the Argos are going to pull off the upset, they’ll need to steal a few possessions. A pair of turnovers generated by the CFL’s interception leader makes all the difference. 

GASSON: Dalton Schoen — Zach Collaros is probably the easy pick as he could default his way to another but I’ll say Schoen gets the nod as his deep play threat. 

HUDSON: Dalton Schoen — I think Schoen was my league MOP by a hair. Here’s to him getting the credit as game MVP.

LUDWIG: Dalton Schoen — Collaros may have a slower day than usual, so if only one receiver pops off, that’s likely to be Schoen.

MCGUIRE: Willie Jefferson — The fearsome pass rusher is at his best when the lights come on and he got royally screwed by Andrew Harris winning this award in 2019. This time, old man Willie gets his revenge with the Grey Cup MVP.

SMITH: McLeod Bethel-Thompson — This is usually a quarterback award but an Argos’ QB has not won Grey Cup MVP since Damon Allen in 2004. That said, if the Argos are to win this game they will need to limit turnovers. If McBeth plays mistake-free football, he’ll be your MVP.

Most Valuable Canadian

DUNK: Brady Oliviera — His physical running style can wear down the Argos defence and help ice the game as the temperatures drop at night. 

HODGE: Andrew Harris — In what could be the final game of his career, a motivated Harris gets the nod in a losing effort.

ABBOTT: Brady Oliveira — The 25-year-old outduels his former mentor and becomes the third different Winnipeg native to win this honour in three seasons.

BALLANTINE: Henoc Muamba — The Argos’ middle linebacker takes a pick-six to the house to seal the victory in the fourth quarter. 

FILOSO: Kurleigh Gittens Jr. — The Laurier product proves to be McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s favourite target, crossing the 100-yard receiving mark and finding the end zone. 

GASSON: Nic Demski — He’s always good for a big play or two a game. Demski takes home the hardware for the second year in a row. 

HUDSON: Nic Demski — My hope is Gittens and his mittens. However, the Winnipeg win I’ve predicted likely defaults this to being Demski.

LUDWIG: Nic Demski — It’s not as bold with others predicting similar outcomes, but Demski winning by virtue of being on the winning team despite being outperformed by Gittens sounds right.

MCGUIRE: Brady Oliveira — The Bombers’ back makes too much sense to not make him my pick, but don’t be surprised to see Marc Liegghio channel his inner Bob Cameron and handle the kicking chores with the prairie winds in his face. He could win it too.

SMITH: Kurleigh Gittens Jr. — GITTENS’ MITTENS! The Argos’ best receiver gets rewarded with a Grey Cup ring and a Most Valuable Canadian award after a monster game as MBT’s favourite target.

Records to date (straight-up)

FILOSO — 54-31
DUNK — 53-32
SMITH — 53-32
HODGE — 52-33
HUDSON — 51-34
GASSON — 50-35
LUDWIG — 50-35
MCGUIRE — 49-36
ABBOTT — 47-38

Records to date (against the spread)

FILOSO — 48-37
SMITH — 47-38
GASSON — 45-40
ABBOTT — 45-40
LUDWIG — 43-42
HODGE — 42-43
DUNK — 40-45
HUDSON — 39-47
MCGUIRE — 35-50