Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Picking the CFL Conference Finals!

One Step Away…

We’re down to the Final Four in the CFL Grey Cup chase, and if you enjoyed last weekend’s double header, this weekend’s conference finals are surely going to be a can’t-miss event.

We got both games right last weekend, in terms of our picks, but this weekend is a little tougher; especially when it comes to the West.  I’m hearing a lot of people saying that Edmonton is going to roll over Calgary, but those people may want to curb their enthusiasm just a bit.  If there’s one thing that we all know about a John Hufnagel coached team, it’s that they will be prepared for any and all situations.

Let's not stand on ceremony here folks, we'll jump right into it.  Here are our Conference Final Predictions brought to you by our good friends at
Here we go...

Hamilton @ Ottawa

It sounds simple when you break down a football game to the basics.  All a team has to do is win 2 out of the games 3 phases; a combination of Offense, Defense and Special Teams. 

Now that’s all well and good when a coaching staff has access to the team they handpicked coming out of training camp. Unfortunately in Hamilton’s case, the loss of their starting QB and the need to adjust their offensive scheme, has put the Cats in a position where they’ve literally been FORCED to win the offensive and defensive phases of a contest. 

But that’s okay!  That’s football.  It’s the ultimate team game.  When someone goes down, the rest of the team has to rally together and find a way to get it done.  Kudos to the Hamilton TiCats for beating a very good Toronto team.  They played solid D, won the field position battle on Special Teams, and made the plays they needed to, including Justin Medlocks game winner. 

Now here’s the problem for the Steel City.  The team that awaits them (the Ottawa RedBlacks) has all the pieces to their puzzle, and subsequently, those pieces are playing at a high level in all 3 phases that we mentioned above.

Ottawa plays solid Special Teams, especially in coverage where they’ve got two players in the top 5 among Special Teams Tackles (Pruneau, and Romick) so winning the Special Teams phase is going to be tough if you’re the TiCats.  Statistically, the RedBlacks have the better Defense as well.  Ottawa is number 2 overall in yards allowed per game, and here’s the big one…The RedBlacks boast the league’s top run defense; and that’s terrible from the Black and Golds perspective.

Hamilton is absolutely dependant on the run game right now, and Ottawa knows it.  As athletic as Jeremaih Masoli is, he’s not going to win Hamilton the game if he’s constantly put in 2nd and 7+ situations.  Hamilton needs to be a 2nd a 4-5 yard team on Sunday.  That way the Black and Gold have more options like bringing Banks into the box, and using Masoli’s legs as a weapon.  It’s all about extending drives, and giving their Defense time off the field.

Having the TiCat D resting also means that the Ottawa Offense, and Henry Burris, aren’t on the field either!  That’s the best case scenario for Hamilton.

The RedBlacks hold the CFLs best Offense, and #1 passing attack.  To be quite frank, the Offensive Unit has been lethal at times in Ottawa.  I get the feeling that there are people sitting around waiting on “Bad Hank” to show up, and I hope those people aren’t holding their breath.  Burris has put together a phenomenal season, and hasn’t shown the streaky tendencies that CFL fans want to identify him with.  Henry still has an absolute cannon for an arm, and the receivers to fill up a stat sheet.  But don’t forget that he can still do it on the ground.  If a team sleeps on his ability to extend a drive with his feet, Smilin Hank has no problem reminding everyone.

Don’t get me wrong, Ottawa is far from perfect offensively.  The RedBlack Guard-Centre-Guard combination has had trouble at times during the season picking up defensive games and blitzes so Hamilton’s aggressiveness won’t allow Henry to just sit in the pocket and step into every throw he makes, but Hamilton is going to have to pitch a gem on D in order to stay in the game.

Sunday’s effort in the Coffee Grounds of Tim Hortons field was definitely one that the Hamilton TiCats can hang their hats on but this weekend may just be too much of a mountain to climb.  Both clubs match-up well.  Two solid Defenses, and two teams with solid kicking games and Special Teams units. The major difference is on the Offensive side of the ball. 

Hamilton and Ottawa both have playmakers that are capable of busting a game wide open when they get the ball in their hands.  The problem is that the position that touches the ball on every single offensive snap of the game is the Quarterback.  The QB is responsible for calling the play, identifying the Defensive intentions, and distributing the ball to the aforementioned playmakers that are all over this wide field. 

Ottawa has their QB.  He’s 40+ playing like he’s 28, and is having an MOP calibre year…Hamilton does not have their QB.  The TiCats have a great athlete at the helm of a reduced playbook.

Teams have to win 2 out of the 3 phases of a football game in order to be successful.  If one looks at things that way on Sunday, it’s hard to see Hamilton pulling things off.  Where does Hamilton get two phases from?

Pick:  Ottawa

Calgary @ Edmonton

The Calgary Stampeders team that we all saw in the Western Semi-Finals; that was the defending Grey Cup Champs that everyone has been waiting on.  The Stamps were in complete control from the opening whistle, and despite having to make unconventional substitutions on their Offensive Line, the Stamps rolled.  Realistically, that’s what they’ve been doing all year.  Plugging guys in, and having success.

Sundays Western Semi-Final has the potential to be an instant classic.  The Edmonton Eskimos seem to be on the doorstep of something great, but CFL fans can’t discount the Stampeders by any means.  Never mind that the Esks won the “Battle of Alberta” this year, the Eskimos could have ran the table, and it still doesn’t mean a thing unless you win in the Post-Season.  Until someone beats the Stamps when it matters, Calgary remains the Big Boy on the Block.

The first order of business, if you’re the Edmonton Eskimos, is that they have to find a way to overcome a 21 day layoff and START FAST.  Getting rest is always a good thing, however going 3 weeks without getting up to game speed and flying around can prove to be detrimental in the “one and done” setting that is the CFL playoffs.  Edmonton can’t afford to come out and look lethargic.  There is no time to get back in one’s groove. 

Hopefully Chris Jones and his coaching staff found a way to adjust practise and install some serious physical competition, because if the Stampeders jump out to an early lead the way they have in the last few weeks against opponents, Calgary will have the advantage in terms of how Edmonton will be forced to attack, which in turn, affects the way Rich Stubler will be able to scheme.

Second task...The Esks have to be the dominant team physically.  On both sides of the ball.  This game will be won in the trenches and Edmonton has the guys that are capable of getting that done.  On the Offensive side of the ball, their Olinemen are big, strong, assignment sound, and move their feet a lot quicker than people give them credit for.  Defensively, Eddie Steele, Almondo Sewell, and the rest of their interior rotation have to be the workhorses.  Edmonton's DTs cannot allow Calgary’s banged up Oline to consistently win the line of scrimmage on 1st or 2nd down situations. Steele and Sewell have to collapse the pocket on passing downs, and take up blockers in order to keep their LBs free to scrape and make plays on Jerome Messam coming out of the backfield.  It's all about stopping the Stampeders flow.  If the defending Grey Cup Champs start to get into a rhythm, Edmonton is going to end up on the wrong side of this game.

That's about it.  Like the Ottawa vs. Hamilton game, we are able to break it down very simply.  This game will be won and lost on the line of scrimmage, and that’s exactly the way every championship worthy team wants things to be.

It’s a very fitting scenario.  Across the board, just like the Eastern Conference Championship, these two teams share acute similarities.  Both defenses are stifling when on top of their games, both teams feature a QB that guys would run through a wall for, and each have receiving corps that are capable of giving any CFL secondary fits.

The loser will be the first team that flinches.  Blow for blow, these two teams will stand in the centre of the ring and trade punches until there’s one team left.  The Calgary Stampeders lost both regular season meetings, they're a banged up squad playing at Commonwealth Stadium, and many are starting to think that this will be a metaphorical passing of the torch in some ways.  I’m pretty sure we’ve seen this scenario play out before in the 2008 Grey Cup Championship game and this may be a very comfortable situation for that Stampeder locker room. 

Pick:  Calgary in a war!  I just keep getting the feeling that Bo Levi Mitchell is about to do something special...


On a sad note. The entire country of New Zealand and really the Rugby world lost a true hero tonight.  A legend who has supplied endless memories to my family and so many others around the world.
 Rest In Peace Jonah Lomu
Ofa Atu

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