Inside the CFL: Fearless predictions, part twoJun 26, 2012 - 11:30 AM Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - In "Fearless predictions part one," this corner predicted the Montreal Alouettes would represent the East in the 100th Grey Cup in Toronto.
Who will the Als play in that game?
Once again, glad you asked.
First place - BC Lions
If there ever was a team that showed how to bounce back from adversity, it was the 2011 edition of the Leos.
They went 0-5 to start the season and the fans were wondering if general manager/head coach Wally Buono should give up his coaching duties. From that terrible start, they went on an 11-2 run, finished in first place with a record of 11-7, then won the Grey Cup at home, defeating Winnipeg.
Shortly after the win, Buono announced he was stepping down as head coach, and named Mike Benevides as his successor. Benevides was an assistant under Buono for 11 years.
In the offseason, the Lions added Rich Stubler to their coaching staff as defensive coordinator. Stubler, who was in Edmonton last season, will have some familiar names in his secondary. Defensive backs Lin-J Shell and Byron Parker played for Stubler in Toronto and are well suited to play the match coverage that Stubler employs.
One area that could be a concern for the Lions is middle linebacker because Soloman Eliminian left for the NFL.
Offensively, quarterback Travis Lulay can throw the ball to a lot of weapons, and there's good reason to believe this offense will remain one of the CFL's most dangerous.
The skinny: Win early. In the last three seasons, the Lions are 2-13 in games before August. It will be interesting to see what reaction Buono will have if the Lions get off to another horrendous start and how much pressure Benevides will be under if that happens. Still, being back in BC Place is a big advantage for the Lions, and an 0-5 start seems remote. Three of the first five games are at home, and the two road games are in Saskatchewan and Calgary. Win at least three of those, and the Lions will be sitting pretty.
Second place - Calgary Stampeders
There's a new man leading the way in Cowtown. Former Iowa Hawkeye Drew Tate is the starting quarterback for the Stampeders.
Tate, who missed the first five games last year due to injury, won his first three games as a starter, completing 101-of-158 passes for 1,346 yards (a completion rate of 64 percent). He threw eight touchdown passes and had five interceptions. However, in the Western Division semifinal, he struggled and was pulled at halftime.
If Tate should struggle this season, a familiar name will replace him. Kevin Glenn, the 32-year-old Detroit native, joined the Stamps in an offseason deal that sent longtime Stamp starting pivot Henry Burris to Hamilton.
The Stampeders, who were only one of three teams to score over 500 points last year, have a plethora of receivers: Nik Lewis, Marquay McDaniel, Romby Bryant, Chris Bauman and Johnny Forzani. They're also expecting big things from Cornell grad Jon Cornish, who is one of the rare Canadian starters at tailback. In 2011, Cornish started seven games and racked up 611 yards on 80 carries, a 7.6-yard average.
On the other side of the ball, the Stamps were decimated with injuries last year, especially on the defensive line and at linebacker. That could be why no team recorded fewer sacks last season then Calgary. The Stampeders are hoping lightning doesn't strike twice.
The skinny: Make McMahon miserable. Head coach and GM John Hufnagel says the 5-4 home record in 2011 was "unsatisfying." He'd like to turn McMahon Stadium into a place that visiting teams hate to play at. Perhaps they'd play better at home if they stopped shooting themselves in the foot. The Stampeders had 39 turnovers in 2011, 20 fumbles and 167 penalties, all areas of concern.
Clean up those areas, win at least six games at home, and the Stampeders, who finished in third place with an 11-7 record in 2011, should finish with at least the same record, good enough for second place.
Third place - Edmonton Eskimos
It was a trade that sent shock waves throughout the CFL. Last December, GM Eric Tillman sent nine-year starting quarterback Ricky Ray to the Toronto Argos for Steven Jyles.
If you look at the numbers, you have to wonder what Tillman was thinking.
Ray has thrown for over 40,000 yards and a 67 percent completion rate. Jyles, a six-year CFL vet, has started just 20 games and has a completion rate of under 60 percent. Last season, Jyles played in eight games in Toronto, throwing for 1,430 yards and eight TDs.
To be fair, the move appears to have salary cap written all over it as the Eskimos prepare for the next generation of quarterbacks. However, right now, the backup quarterbacks are 38-year-old Kerry Joseph and former Mississippi star Jeremiah Masoli.
The loss of running back Jerome Messam to the Miami Dolphins is huge. Can Colorado grad Hugh Charles or former Western Washington product Calvin McCarty pick up the slack?
Head coach Kavis Reed loves his defensive line, where former Eskimo Rashad Jeanty, Marcus Howard and Julius Williams are expected to add a lot of heat to opposing quarterbacks.
The skinny: ET go home! Eskimo fans may be yelling that if their team falters this year. Are there some questions about this team? No doubt, Tillman said at the start of training camp. Last year, Edmonton finished in second place with an 11-7 record, beating Calgary in the semifinal, then were blasted 40-23 by BC in the West Division final. Tillman says he wants to be judged by his moves at the end of the season. Fine. It'll be a long season in the City of Champions, with the Eskimos hard-pressed to get above the .500 mark.
Fourth place - Saskatchewan Roughriders
Last season, the Riders finished 5-13, missed the playoffs, then wasted little time in hiring a new head coach for the second time in two seasons. Corey Chamblin comes to the Prairies after a stint in Hamilton as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.
He has a lot of work to do. Quarterback Darian Durant is the only returning pivot with CFL experience. The backups are Levi Brown, from Troy, the University of Buffalo's Drew Willy, and J.T. O'Sullivan, the former NFL quarterback out of UC Davis. None of those names should ease the angst of the Rider nation, if Durant falters, or gets hurt.
The fans better hope the offensive line can protect Durant. Three long-time stalwarts are gone either through retirement or being released: Gene Makowsky, Marc Parenteau and Alex Gauthier.
Brandon LaBatte, who played in Winnipeg before signing with the Riders, is a huge addition, while first overall draft pick Ben Heenan is looked upon to contribute quickly.
Defensively, the Riders need to replace three linebackers: Barrin Simpson, who was released; Sean Lucas, who retired; and Jerell Freeman, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts.
The skinny: The heat is on. Last season, the Riders had just 29 sacks, third- worst in the CFL. Of those 29 sacks, only 15 came from defensive linemen. This year, the Riders want to set a new league record for sacks in a season. The previous mark is 85, set by the 1986 Calgary Stampeders. Rider fans are hoping the defense can get some pressure on opposing quarterbacks and cause turnovers and create field position. If not, the heat will be turned up on GM Brendan Taman and Chamblin. Last year, rookie head coach Greg Marshall started the season at 1-7 and was fired. If Saskatchewan starts this season the same way, will Chamblin meet the same fate?
West Division semifinal: Crossover time. If the fourth-place team in a division has more than the third-place team in another division, they cross over to be in the playoffs. That will be the case this year, when the fourth- place Winnipeg Blue Bombers will have more points than the third-place Eskimos. The Stampeders will defeat Winnipeg in that game.
West Division final: BC will defeat the Stampeders.
Grey Cup: The BC Lions will defeat the Montreal Alouettes.
Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter on AM900 CHML.
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