There's plenty of Canadian gridiron playoff action going on today between the four CIS games (which Neate has previewed over at The CIS Blog) and the two CFL matches. Here's a look at what to expect from the pro games.
East semi-final: Edmonton Eskimos at Winnipeg Blue Bombers (1 p.m. ET, TSN)
Edmonton: 10-8 (fourth in West)
Winnipeg: 8-10 (second in East)
Edmonton: Ricky Ray, 422 completions on 605 attempts (69.8 per cent) for 5661 yards (9.36 yards per attempt, 13.41 yards per completion), 26 touchdowns versus 17 interceptions, 101.8 QB rating in 18 games, 12 300-yard games
Winnipeg: Kevin Glenn, 293 completions on 454 attempts (64.5 per cent) for 3637 yards (8.01 yards per attempt, 12.41 yards per completion), 20 touchdowns versus 20 interceptions, 85.8 QB rating in 16 games, five 300-yard games
Edmonton: Wide receiver Kamau Peterson, 101 receptions for 1315 yards (13.0 yards per catch average) in 18 games (73.1 yards per game average), four touchdowns, five 100-yard games
Winnipeg: Wide receiver Romby Bryant, 65 receptions for 1206 yards (18.6 yards per catch average) in 18 games (67.0 yards per game average), nine touchdowns, five 100-yard games
(Note: Edmonton wide receiver Kelly Campbell also beats out Bryant in most of the statistical categories with 54 receptions for 1223 yards (22.6 yards per catch average) in 15 games (81.5 yards per game average), seven touchdowns and five 100-yard games)
Edmonton: Running back A.J. Harris, 557 yards on 99 carries (5.6 yards per carry) in 11 games (50.6 yards per game), six touchdowns, one 100-yard game
Winnipeg: Running back Fred Reid, 709 yards on 101 carries (7.0 yards per carry) in 16 games (44.3 yards per game), three touchdowns, three 100-yard games
(Note: Harris's year numbers are somewhat low due to injury. Reid's per-game numbers are diminished thanks to him backing up Charles Roberts at the start of the year. As a result of the Roberts trade, Winnipeg also has former B.C. Lion power back Joe Smith (which I maintain is one of the best names ever: you can actually talk about Joe Smith from Winnipeg these days), who has ran for 381 yards on 69 attempts (5.5 yards per attempt) in eight games this year (47.6 yards per game) with two touchdowns and one 100-yard game.)
Edmonton: Defensive linemen Jim Davis and Dario Romero are tied for the team lead with six sacks.
Winnipeg: Defensive lineman Gavin Walls leads the team with eight sacks. Defensive lineman Doug Brown is in second place with six sacks.
Edmonton: Cornerback Jason Goss, who has five picks and a total of 182 resulting yards off them, including two pick-sixes.
Winnipeg: Cornerback Jovon Johnson, who has three picks and 130 resulting yards with two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
It seems odd to have an Eastern semi-final with both teams west of Ontario, but that's the CFL for you: Winnipeg has to be in the East to keep four teams in each division, and Edmonton's the crossover team thanks to the horrible nature of the East this year. Their record was not only better than third-place Toronto (4-14, ugh), but also better than second-place Winnipeg. It's one of the few cases where you'll see the team with the better record on the road. Home-field advantage will help Winnipeg to a degree, and they also have the better ground game. As the Globe's Allan Maki points out, the Bombers are 6-2 since trading Roberts for Smith and balancing Smith's power game with Reid's speed; Glenn has also looked much better in those games. Harris is a decent back for Edmonton, but they don't go to him very much thanks to their pass-happy offence, and I don't see him as a game-breaker. Edmonton has the one of the best passing offences in the league, though, and I'd take Ricky Ray over Kevin Glenn any day. The tougher competition in the West also would seem to favour the Eskimos. As Maki also writes, though, the conditions are going to be bloody cold (possible snow flurries, high of -3 and 30 km/h winds), and that tends to favour the ground game: hard to throw and catch when your hands are numb. One interesting battle to watch will be the kicking game; Edmonton has 10-year veteran Noel Prefontaine, while the Bombers will rely on rookie Alexis Serna.
Prediction: Overall, I think there's enough points in the Eskimos' favour for them to take this one. If they win next week as well, we'll have an all-Western Grey Cup, which would be something to see; all of the other Western teams have great rivalries with the Eskimos, so that could be a great game.
West semi-final: B.C. Lions at Saskatchewan Roughriders, 4:30 p.m. ET, TSN
B.C.: 11-7 (third in West)
Saskatchewan: 12-6 (second in West)
B.C.: Buck Pierce, 232 completions on 362 attempts (64.1 per cent) for 3018 yards (8.33 yards per attempt, 13.00 yards per completion), 19 touchdowns versus 9 interceptions, 97.3 QB rating in 15 games, five 300-yard games
Saskatchewan: Michael Bishop, 141 completions on 232 attempts (60.8 per cent) for 2226 yards (9.59 yards per attempt, 15.8 yards per completion), 7 touchdowns versus 12 interceptions, 81.1 QB rating in 9 games, two 300-yard games
Advantage: B.C. Bishop has a hell of an arm, as Argonauts fans know, but he tries to force the ball too much and throws way too many picks. The Globe's David Naylor has a good profile on him here. Still, he's been just about as effective as Kerry Joseph this year, and it's amazing what Saskatchewan GM Eric Tillman was able to get out of that deal.
B.C.: Slotback Geroy Simon, 82 receptions for 1418 yards (second in CFL, 17.3 yards per catch average) in 16 games (88.6 yards per game average), 10 touchdowns, eight 100-yard games
Saskatchewan: Wide receiver Weston Dressler, 56 receptions for 1128 yards (20.1 yards per catch average) in 15 games (75.2 yards per game average), six touchdowns, six 100-yard games
(Note: B.C. wide receiver Paris Jackson also beats out Dressler in passing yardage and touchdowns with 76 receptions for 1180 yards (15.5 yards per catch average) in 17 games (69.4 yards per game average), eight touchdowns and four 100-yard games. B.C. slotback Jason Clermont has 50 receptions for 640 yards in 14 games as well. Saskatchewan's had a ton of injuries at receiver all year long).
B.C.: Running back Stefan Logan, 889 yards on 122 carries (7.3 yards per carry) in 12 games (74.1 yards per game), zero touchdowns, three 100-yard games
Saskatchewan: Running back Wes Cates, 1229 yards on 216 carries (5.7 yards per carry) in 15 games (81.9 yards per game), 12 touchdowns, four 100-yard games
(Note: B.C. has a double-headed running threat in Logan and the aforementioned Charles Roberts, who's been pretty good since leaving Winnipeg. On the year, he has 298 yards on 65 carries (4.6 yards per carry) in seven games (42.6 yards per game). Those totals are dragged down by his poor start to the season with the Bombers. He also has five touchdowns and one 100-yard game).
Advantage: B.C. This one is close, as both teams have excellent ground games. Logan picks up more yards per carry, though, and Roberts and kick returner/running back Ian Smart give B.C. a great set of backfield options: with Saskatchewan, it's Cates or bust (Sportsnet.ca's Perry Lefko coined the fantastic term "The Wes Cates offence").
B.C.: Defensive lineman Cameron Wake leads the team with an incredible 23 sacks (only three less than the entire Hamilton Tiger-Cats team).
Saskatchewan: Linebacker Kitwana Jones leads the team with five sacks.
(Note: B.C. has three other players with more sacks then Jones: linemen Aaron Hunt (11) and Brent Johnson (10) and linebacker Jamall Johnson (six).)
B.C.: Safety Barron Miles, who has nine picks (tied for the league lead) in 16 games and a total of 113 resulting yards off them.
Saskatchewan: Safety Lance Frazier, who has five picks in 15 games and 62 resulting yards.
(Note: B.C. defensive back Korey Banks also has more interceptions than Frazier, with six in 18 games (third in the league).)
This is going to be a good one. For my money, B.C. and Saskatchewan is the best rivalry in the CFL: both sides have terrific fanbases, and they both hate each other (see this Regina Leader-Post story by Murray McCormick on BeerGate). Saskatchewan's been hit hard by injuries this year, but they've battled through it to a 12-6 record, and Mosaic Stadium is always an intimidating place to play. B.C. has the better individual talent, as shown by the breakdown above (and their 13 all-star selections against Saskatchewan's four), but it's a question if they can put it together, as they've been inconsistent at times.
Prediction: Overall, B.C. has too many dominant individual talents for Saskatchewan. Michael Bishop is likely to be running for his life all day against the Lions' front four, and that will probably lead to even more interceptions than normal, especially when you consider the strength of the Lions' secondary. Saskatchewan's also banged up, while B.C. is pretty healthy. The two-headed run threat from Logan and Roberts will help, and Buck Pierce may not have the rocket arm of Bishop, but he has a way better TD/int ratio. The Lions take this one in my mind, but it will be close.
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