Bandwagon time: ranking the likability of the six 2023 CFL playoff teams

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/B.C. Lions

What was once nine is now six as the 2023 CFL playoffs kick off this Saturday with the East and West Semi-Finals.

For fans of the three teams left out of the party — the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Edmonton Elks and Ottawa Redblacks — you might be wondering where to place your loyalties.

Thankfully for those respective fan bases, I am here to help guide you on a path to choosing your playoff team for 2023.

Perhaps jumping on a bandwagon isn’t for you but if it is, I have come up with a foolproof ranking of the six playoff teams based on the only thing that matters: likability.

If you are looking to adopt a squad for the next three weeks, here are my comprehensive findings on which team you should choose to root for during this year’s playoffs.

(If you are curious how these rankings shook out in previous years, you can check them out here, here, here, here and here.)

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

6. Toronto Argonauts

Since I started doing these lists in 2017, the defending champions have finished in the sixth spot every year — the only exception was 2018 when the Argos, who won in 2017, did not make the playoffs. The reason for that is simple: hopping on the bandwagon of the defending champion is behaviour that we simply cannot tolerate.

Now, the Argos are not your normal unlikable team as they do have some engaging players and play a fun brand of football, scoring a league-high 591 points this year. But adversity is part of what makes a story fun to root for and the Argos have faced almost none this year. They steamrolled their way to a record-tying 16 regular-season wins and won 11 of those games by 12 or more points. They had six players nominated for league awards and have 14 players named as East Division all-stars.

This is a great Argos team, there is no denying that. But that doesn’t make them likable.

Photo: Neil Noonan/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

5. Winnipeg Blue Bombers

What is almost as intolerable as jumping on the defending champion’s bandwagon? Doing so for the team that had won the previous two titles, played in the last three title games, and has won 40 regular season games over the past three seasons.

This Winnipeg team is a little more enjoyable than previous iterations because they feel flawed. They won 14 games this year but they were not as dominant as they had been the previous two seasons. They are also an older squad, looking more like one nearing their end than one beginning their run. They seem more ripe for an upset than before.

They are still good and a solid bet to make the Grey Cup, but they are not the unstoppable juggernaut they used to be. But they are still too good to make your playoff team.

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

4. Calgary Stampeders

Most years, Calgary would be much higher on the list but this isn’t the Stampeders of old. This is a bad football team that snuck into the playoffs because the Riders just happened to be more adept at disappointing. There is nothing inherently unlikeable about this group and it would be funny if after stumbling into the playoffs at 6-12, this year’s team was the one that went on an all-time playoff run.

Outside of that, the Stamps are just boring and no one wants to back a boring team at this time of year.

Photo: Matt Johnson/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

3. Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The long championship drought is essentially the main reason the Ticats are in the upper half of these rankings. Frankly, a lot of players who were on other teams in the past which caused those teams to rank low — namely quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell with Calgary and linebacker Chris Edwards with Toronto — now play for the Tiger-Cats.

But this Hamilton team has some fun players and has begun to play some exciting football lately. They have knocked off both giants out West at least once this year and have a chance to become the first-ever team from the East Division to make or win a Grey Cup without hosting a playoff game.

Of course, should they make the final, a home Grey Cup awaits and that would make for one heck of a story. A fine team to choose but not one of the top two.

Photo courtesy: Montreal Alouettes

2. Montreal Alouettes

First and second were honestly a coin flip this year; there are reasons to find both teams incredibly likable. With the Als, part of the fun would be seeing Jason Maas and Cody Fajardo go from scapegoats in Regina to champions the following year in Montreal. Both were run out of Saskatchewan after a 6-12 season that saw the Riders fail to win a game after Labour Day, only to see the team do the exact same thing this year without either of them there.

The Als also have some players that you would actually enjoy seeing lift the Grey Cup, like veteran running back William Stanback. Shawn Lemon being cast aside and then getting the last laugh would make for a fun story as well.

The Als also have an exciting passing attack led by Austin Mack and play some exceptional special teams. There is not a lot to dislike about this group this postseason.

Photo courtesy: Jeff Vinnick/BC Lions

1. B.C. Lions

This is the third time the Lions have been eligible for this list and it is the third time they have finished atop it. They were No. 1 in 2018 in what was Wally Buono’s final season and again last year when Nathan Rourke was the talk of the league.

Rourke has moved aside for Vernon Adams Jr., who is also an incredibly enjoyable player to watch. The Lions might be so fun because you never know what you will get from them. Some weeks they look like they will hang 50 on their opponent, only to look like they have never seen a football before the next.

That level of chaos makes things interesting and fun, and likability is all about being interesting and fun. If I were looking for a team to adopt during the 2023 CFL playoffs, the B.C. Lions would be my choice without hesitation.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.