Picking the CFL schedule in the early weeks is suicide to anyone who has an ego. It’s literally a crapshoot. It’s also one of the more enjoyable parts of the year because one if one pays close attention, they’ll have a shot to look like an absolute genius during the back half of the year.
Take my case for example…I was basically dead last in all 4 of the pools I belonged to during 2015 but I stayed firm to my beliefs and enjoyed a strong finish where I ended up winning 2 and tying for 1st in another one.
Either way, what we can all agree on is that it’s so exciting to finally have the CFL season begin!
This was one of our more popular columns at Pro Perspective last year, and we’re happy to have our partners at CJ Evan Home Designs back again to help us add to all of your CFL conversations.
Without further ado, here’s the 1 installment of our CJ Evans Home Designs Weekly CFL Pick Em!!!
Hamilton @ Toronto
During our Eastern Division preview of the 2016 CFL season on our OFFSIDES podcast, former DC Gary Etcheverry picked the Toronto Argonauts to make it through to the Grey Cup. If that is the case this year, the Argo’s MUST BE strong at home, and there’s no better way to jump out than with a big win against the rival Hamilton TiCats.
I’m going to go with the Double Blue in this one. I agree with Etcheverry in that I think the hiring of Rich Stubler was a FANTASTIC move for Jim Barker and Scott Milanovich! There’s also enough film on Jeremiah Masoli now that Stubler can put together a game plan that attempts to nullify the strengths of the new TiCats pivot.
Coaching aside, the main reason I’ve got the Argos is that week 1 is going to be the week where Ricky Ray is the healthiest he’s going to be all year. Even though it may take a quarter or two to knock the rust off, especially with anticipating the Hamilton D to come out as aggressive as ever; I like the chances of that long and talented receiving core against a unit that got hit with two unfortunate injuries to their projected starting secondary.
The personnel adds to the Toronto D this off season are worth noting here as well. Having to supplant Cleyon Laing and Tristan Okpalaugo wasn’t easy but Brian Bulke and Justin Hickman are fine replacements. Add in Keon Raymond who has played in Stublers D for the last couple of years, and a healthy Corey Greenwood, and Ricky Foley is probably feeling pretty good about his squad’s chances.
This is a start to a LOOONG season and this Argo group is a veteran bunch. They’ve got a new home, a new look, an it may take the TiCats a week or so to find their groove. These games are always a physical war with a lot of emphasis on the kicking game. The loss of long time kicker Justin Medlock, may be what hurts Hamilton the most early on.
PICK: Toronto. Can’t wait to see the atmosphere at BMO Field.
Montreal @ Winnipeg
We’ve made a big deal over the Fantasy Team signings that Winnipeg made during the off months but you cannot ignore them. Justin Medlock, in my humble opinion, was the biggest add because he brings consistency to a position that cost the Bombers a few close games last year.
Keith Shologan also brings a skillset that has been missing in Winterpeg since the retirement of Doug Brown (he’s just not as tall). Defensive Coordinator Richie Hall now has a true, ass-kicking Nose Tackle, in Sholo, to hold the line of scrimmage and take up two blockers while Euclid Cummings (who slid in under the radar) will add a pass rush option that takes all the pressure off stand-out DE Jamal Westerman.
Upgrading the Defensive Line and Kicker will go a long way in helping out the Offence in Bomberville that also has some cool new toys. Unfortunately, the success of the Bombers O is directly attached to Drew Willy’s health. Protecting their Franchise QB’s health took a blow when they lost Centre Jeff Keeping for a stretch during the exhibition season, and that’s why I liken their journey in 2016 to the Roughriders of last year. Right now the Bombers seem like they’re one injury away from being closer to 3-13 than 13-3.
With Montreal rolling into the loudest building in the league, this will be a good glimpse at two teams with new OC’s, and some potentially devastating Offensive weapons. Throw in two QBs that have the ability to make all the throws and solid kicking games, this may be a case where the victor is the team that prevails in the Defensive Phase of the game.
For the first time in a long time, Winnipeg’s D may have the edge in that regard.
Pick: Winnipeg...Protect the QB
Ottawa @ Edmonton
This has the makings of an early instant classic, and one could sit around for hours and make a case for each team. I think that Ottawa gets the edge defensively if we match both units up, strictly because nobody truly knows what Mike Benevides has in store scheme wise. We’d all be nuts if that is going to be the determining factor in this prediction.
I’d love to tip the scales here to one the Special Teams units but how can one possibly pick between kicking games administered by Coach McDiarmid in Edmonton and Bobby Dyce in Ottawa? What’s worse is that the Kickers Sean White and Chris Milo also seem to be a wash right now.
Even with Mike Reilly looking like he’s poised to put the stranglehold on the CFL’s “Best QB” category how can one possibly discount Henry Burris, the leagues reigning MOP? One can’t.
Maybe the Head Coaching match-up is where we find the advantage? That seems to be where the prognosticators are claiming that Edmonton has a chink in their armour.
I think we’ll go into the trenches in order to find our basis for this forecast.
When one looks at the match-ups at the Line of Scrimmage, one may be inclined to take the Edmonton Hoggies vs. a re-built Ottawa Dline, over the chances of the Redblacks Oline vs. the absolutely stacked defensive line for the Eskimos.
The most telling part of the Grey Cup last year was the way that Edmonton’s Offensive Line physically OWNED the Redblacks front four during the last minute and some change of that game. It was beautiful.
That Edmonton Oline, despite having different coaching, is still the foundation of what they want to do in the City of Champions and the Redblacks come into the game drastically different from last year. Keith Shologan, Shawn Lemon, and Justin Capicciotti are no longer part of that team, and it may be tough to ask a relatively new group to withstand the defending Grey Cup Champions physicality over the span of 4 Quarters.
Pick: The Reigning and Defending Grey Cup Champion Edmonton Eskimos
Calgary @ BC
Many experts are expecting the BC Lions to be decidedly better this year, especially with being able to rely on both Jonathon Jennings and Travis Lulay. The Lions and Stampeders may be the most interesting teams to watch this year. ESPECIALLY EARLY ON. Coincidently, they’re also the two teams that I’m the most anxious to see, so having them tip-off to close out the action in Week 1 of 2016 is perfect.
Despite all eyes being on the way Dave Dickenson, and Wally Buono navigate their individual journey’s this year, I’ll have my eye on the scheme that DeVone Claybrooks employs during his first crack at being the Defensive Coordinator over in CowTown. Claybrooks has huge shoes to fill with Rich Stubler departing to TO, and the Stamps were largely successful with the playbook that they used while Stubler was in town.
I see this game as being similar to the first game we analyzed (Tor vs. Ham). Week 1 is going to be the HEALTHIEST that this Stampeder Offensive Line will be all year (despite not having Karl Lavoie). One would expect a healthy dose of the run game in an effort to control the clock and extend possessions.
It behooves the Stampeders to string drives together because BC’s Offence can hit quickly and often when they’re at home, keeping their Defence off the field may be exactly what’s needed to compete in the confines of the Lions Den. It could get ugly if the Stamps are forced into a few early 2 and Outs.
We haven’t picked a visitor yet in this week’s Pick Em, so let’s give Calgary the nod in an up and down game.
Pick: Calgary...Don’t sleep on a Bo Levi Mitchell lead organization.