Usually when entering a season, there is an early favourite to capture the Grey Cup. Two years ago, it was the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders entering the season as the early contenders. Last campaign, the Argos and Saskatchewan Roughriders held that distinction. Yet coming into 2014, there did not seem (at least to myself anyway) to be a clear-cut favourite to hoist the championship at seasons end. Heck, after two weeks of play, I think the line between who is a contender or pretender in the CFL may be even more blurred than it was when the season began.
In the East, the only pretender thus far appears to be the Hamilton Ti-Cats. Releasing Henry Burris to bring in former Argos backup QB Zach Collaros as the starter was a major mistake. Collaros may be younger than Burris, but has nowhere near the experience or veteran no-how that ‘Smilin’ Hank’ possesses. Plus, while Collaros had moments of brilliance in Toronto, especially when it came to scrambling out of a tricky situation, he would make just as many plays that would make you say, “what was Zach doing?” It also doesn’t help that he may have the worst offensive line in the game in front of him (I’m surprised Collaros made it out of pre-season without an injury from so many sacks), and it appears to be hindering the Ti-Cats overall offensive output, as they are 8th in Total YPG, 7th in Passing Yards, and 6th in rushing.
Aside from Hamilton, the rest of the division could be up for grabs. While the Argos are certainly the favourites, which is the real team? The one that had one of the worst defensive efforts in years against Winnipeg in week one, or the one that saw QB Ricky Ray put on a masterful performance in picking apart the Riders defense? The Argos have acquired CB Dwight Anderson to try and boost the defense (we’ll see how that works out, rumours are Anderson was not well-liked in Saskatchewan’s locker room), and it won’t help matters that dynamic SB Andre Durie will be out for at least six weeks, and LB Shea Emry may not be at 100% for Saturday’s game versus Calgary. That same question about the Argos could be asked about the Montreal Alouettes as well. Which team is the real one? The one that was blown out by Saskatchewan, or the one in which Troy Smith looked like a #1 QB is destroying the Lions? Finally, the Ottawa Redblacks should have started the season 1-0, as Burris looked like typical, efficient Burris, who may have also revived the career of WR Paris Jackson. Unfortunately for Ottawa, the defense looks more than questionable, coughing up a huge lead in Winnipeg. For the time being, there does not appear to be a clear-cut favourite to take the division.
In the West, the B.C. Lions could be on that list of pretenders with Hamilton. If they want to avoid that list, they better hope Kevin Glenn can keep it together until Travis Lulay is healthy, as Glenn has thrown six INT’s in two games. Like the East, the West has no dominant team thus far though. The Stampeders were great in their first game, but how much will they struggle with RB Jon Cornish on the shelf? With the Riders win over Hamilton in week one, they looked like defending Grey Cup champs, but laid an egg against the Argos last Saturday. That leaves Edmonton and Winnipeg, two teams who have struggled in recent years, yet have started 2014 with 2-0 records. While they barely squeaked out a comeback win over Ottawa, Blue Bombers coach Mike O’Shea is an excellent coach, and it appears he has this team believing they can be winners, especially QB Drew Willy. The Eskimos won close games over the Lions and Ti-Cats, but can QB Mike Reilly continue to lead this team to the top of the division as the season progresses?
Photo credits: radio-canada.ca and cbc.ca
There are so many questions to be answered, and while there does not appear to be any dominant team or Grey Cup favourite at this point, there is still plenty of time for a team (or teams) to hit a hot streak and emerge as a contender. If I have to make an early prediction, I’ll take the Argos in the East, and Stampeders in the West.