Calgary Stampeders are Grey Cup Favourites Among CFL’s Final Four — if they Can Overcome Rust
The CFL is down to its final four.
The playoffs will continue on Sunday afternoon with the East and West Division finals, which will feature, oddly enough, three teams from the West.
The Edmonton Eskimos, who on Sunday became the third team to win a crossover game since the rule was instituted in 1996, will invade TD Place to take on the Ottawa Redblacks in a rematch of last year’s Grey Cup. The Eskimos won that game and will go into the East final with a better regular-season record than the Redblacks.
Over in the West, the Calgary Stampeders will attempt to win their first meaningful game in 41 days when they host the B.C. Lions at McMahon Stadium.
The Stamps put together the second-best 18-game regular-season record in league history at 15-2-1, but that meant they clinched top spot in the West on Thanksgiving Day and got the first-round bye. They also had the bye in the final week of the regular season.
The winners on Sunday will meet a week later at Toronto’s BMO Field in the 104th Grey Cup. Here’s a quick primer to get you ready for this weekend’s division finals:
HOW THEY GOT HERE
The Stampeders finished first in the West by winning 14 games in a row and going unbeaten in 16. They have five of the league’s seven major award nominees and are the heavy favourites to win the Grey Cup. They haven’t played a game since Oct. 30, however, and on that day they rested a handful of starters. In other words, there will be plenty of rust on them when they hit the field on Sunday.
The Lions were well on their way to losing Sunday’s West Division semi-final, trailing 25-6 in the first half, but they stormed back and edged the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 32-31 at BC Place in a thriller. It was the second-largest comeback in league playoff history. The Leos might be without their best receiver against the Stamps, however, as slotback Manny Arceneaux suffered a concussion and an ankle injury against the Bombers.
The defending Grey Cup champs almost blew a decent-sized lead against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but they escaped with a 24-21 triumph in the East semifinal at Tim Hortons Field. They didn’t get out of town unscathed, however, as quarterback Mike Reilly took a hard hit on the left arm from Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence and failed to finish the game. He says he’ll play in Ottawa, where the Esks will attempt to become the first of nine crossover teams to get to the Grey Cup.
The Redblacks have been resting since they sat a whole whack of starters in their regular season finale on Nov. 4. They clinched top spot in the East on Oct. 29, so it’s been a few weeks since Henry Burris and Co. have hit the field in anger. The Redblacks did not play consistent football all season long, so they will have to find a way to get it going early against the Eskimos in front of a packed house at TD Place.
Edmonton Eskimos at Ottawa Redblacks
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST
- THE ARM OF REILLY: Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence drilled Esks quarterback Mike Reilly’s left (non-throwing) arm and knocked him out of Sunday’s East semifinal. Reilly is vowing to play, and his shoulder will be something to watch if he is under centre.
- THE REMATCH: It’s a unique non-Grey Cup rematch, because the Eskimos are invading the East Division playoff bracket via the crossover. Last November at Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field, the Esks defence frustrated Henry Burris and the Redblacks offence. Edmonton’s defence isn’t as good this year.
- HISTORY LESSONS: The Eskimos and Redblacks organizations don’t like one another. The Esks wouldn’t let the Redblacks’ log cutters perform at the Grey Cup, and the Redblacks responded by asking for compensation when Edmonton hired Jason Maas away from the nation’s capital.
B.C. Lions at Calgary Stampeders
Sunday, 4:30 p.m. EST
- MANNY SHOW CANCELLED? A picture of Lions slotback Manny Arceneaux’s dented face mask was making the social media rounds on Tuesday, indicating the force with which Bombers safety Taylor Loffler hit the league’s third-leading pass catcher to knock him cold. A concussion and a wonky ankle could keep Arceneaux out on Sunday.
- BE READY TO PLAY: The Stampeders haven’t played a meaningful football game in a month and a half, so they must guard against a slow start. The Lions didn’t exactly start quickly against the Bombers in the West semi-final, either, so the squad that comes ready to play could get a crucial edge early.
- GROWTH SPURT: Lions quarterback Jon Jennings got beat up both literally and figuratively in last year’s West semi-final at McMahon, but now he has another year of experience, not to mention his first playoff win, under his belt and was the only quarterback to beat Calgary’s starting lineup this season.