As you read this column, I'm currently in Daytona Beach (friend's wedding) desperately trying to find a sports bar that is playing the season opening game between the Argonauts and the Blue Bombers.
Hopefully this part of Florida is also experiencing an acute case of Drew Willy fever. There is no cure!
So as anyone who reads this column knows, I lean heavily on gimmicks, while eschewing originality or high degrees of intelligence. If you want those may I recommend Rod Pedersen, Bob Irving, Dave Naylor … well the list goes on and on.
My gimmick for this year’s 2014 CFL Season Preview is to look at the odds for every team to win the Grey Cup, brought to you by the good people at Bodog, and explain why that number is both way too high and also ridiculously low.
Odds to win the 2014 CFL Grey Cup
BC Lions - 15/4
This number is way too high. In fact you need to take your kids’ college fund and bet it on the Lions to win it all because:
Before we get to their quarterback depth can you find me a linebacking crew in the league that stacks up with the likes of Solomon Elimimian, Adam Bighill and the recently added Jamall Johnson? The Lions will field the most dangerous defence in 2014.
No team has a better situation at quarterback than the Lions. Some will argue the Stampeders, but I don't see any Grey Cup rings on Tate or Mitchell. More importantly in BC you have a clearly defined hierarchy with Lulay as the starter and Kevin Glenn as the league’s best backup.
Yes the Lions haven't returned to the Grey Cup since winning it all in 2011, but they have been to the playoffs the past two years, winning 24 regular season games in the process. This is a smart organization that knows how to replace injured or departed players.
That number is way too low. The Lions don't have a chance of winning the Grey Cup because:
I'll do my best to avoid easy sports clichés, but there is a final round of the Spelling Bee amount of pressure on the Lions to get it done. Since winning the 2011 Grey Cup, the Lions have entered the past two seasons with the label as the most talented team in the league.
However, in both years they were like a talented freshman on a Kentucky basketball team, one and done.
Despite the presence of Travis Lulay, the Lions finished an uncharacteristic seventh in passing yardage last season. Trying to improve on those numbers may prove to be even more difficult with the departure of last year’s number one target in Nick Moore who now resides in Winnipeg. Throw in Emmanuel Arceneaux's broken hand and BC could have trouble generating big plays downfield.
I can’t think of another assistant coach who will be under the spotlight quite like new offensive coordinator Khari Jones.
Finally the Lions will have to do better in the return game which consistently ranked at the bottom of the league in 2013. With the aforementioned losses at wide out this is a team that will need to find ways for the offence to begin work with a shorter field.
Calgary Stampeders - 4/1
This number is way too high. In fact you need to take your entire mortgage and bet it on the Stampeders to win it all because:
The Lions may have the more settled quarterback situation, but the Stamps have the two signal callers with more upside in Drew Tate and Bo Levi Mitchell.
Both have shown the ability to carry the team on their backs and be difference makers, not just field managers who play “within themselves” and try not to make any mistakes. You know the type of quarterback who bore the hell out of all of us.
Also, either gentleman will have the benefit of single coverage all over the field with Jon "I led the league in everything last year" Cornish lining up in the backfield.
Calgary was a statistical beast last year leading in a number of important categories from points scored to quarterback sacks, and led the league in the single most important statistic behind “Grey Cups Won”, scoring differential.
Finally when you throw around names like Jon Cornish, Nik Lewis, Brett Jones, Charleston Hughes and Juwan Simpson, I think it's safe to give the Stampeders the title of most talented team in the league.
That number is way too low. The Stampeders don't have a chance of winning the Grey Cup because:
Yes Tate and Mitchell have shown elite level skills, but they also have shown an inability to stay healthy, and the fact that neither has stepped up and won the job is more than a bit concerning.
I won't go nuts about the fact that both threw a couple interceptions in their final pre-season game, as it is the pre-season. However at this late stage in the game shouldn’t one guy have put his mark on the team?
We all love the idea that competition brings out the best in everyone, and that is true. However, having a clear cut number one at QB is far better than having two guys going neck and neck every week in practice to earn the right to start.
Teams take their cue from the quarterback position and you win with consistency and everyone being on the same page.
Saskatchewan Roughriders - 4/1
This number is way too high. In fact you need to take your brand new car and bet it on the Roughriders to win it all because:
Did you see what the Roughriders did in the playoffs last year? Find me a more impressive Grey Cup run, I dare you.
Darian Durant has finally come into his own and deserves to hold the belt as the best quarterback in the league.
Defensively, Saskatchewan gave up the fewest points in 2013 and was second in the league in my favourite defensive statistical category: most time forcing a team to go two-and-out. (Shout out to Chris Schultz form tsn.ca for making me aware of that one)
Now instead of going on about the glory of the Green and White I need to take a moment to mention the twitter battle between Tyron Brackenridge and Montreal's newest acquisition Chad Johnson (The artist formally known as Chad Ochocinco).
I'll keep this brief.
Johnson mentioned Brackenridge was a guy he couldn't wait to go up against, Brackenridge took notice, the two went back and forth for a bit but then sadly kissed and made up. Whatever. I can't wait for these teams to meet up in Week 8, if only because Johnson will surely remember this line Brackenridge tweeted at him: "your CFL career will be short messing with me! You better ask your teammates."
That number is way too low. The Roughriders don't have a chance of winning the Grey Cup because:
This one is simple. The Lions and Stampeders again look like elite teams, the hangover from winning the Grey Cup and the loss of Weston Dressler and Kory Sheets. You're talking about Durant's security blanket in Dressler and the only guy that gave Jon Cornish a run for his money in Sheets. You simply don't replace that level of talent.
There will be a great deal of pressure on Taj Smith to build on his 2013 season and for Rob Bagg to stay healthy.
I want to see the average fantasy draft selection for Keith Toston, Jermaine Thomas and Anthony Allan, or as I like to call them three guys who no one has heard of before but all have the unenviable task of replacing Sheets.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats - 7/1
This number is way too high. In fact, just quit your job now and bet your life savings on the Tiger-Cats to win it all because:
In Kent Austin you trust. The man has just two years as a head coach and in both seasons he has advanced to the Grey Cup, winning one of them. I like the move of jettisoning Henry Burris and bringing in Zach Collaros. I know that may sound cold (and in many ways it is!), but Austin looked at Burris and saw a guy that nearing the end of his career. Big picture, it is the smart decision going with the much younger Collaros and seeing if you can build a team around him.
Collaros displayed multiple flashes of brilliance last season replacing Ricky Ray, and is surrounded with a crazy cast of receivers in Andy Fantuz, Bakari Grant, Greg Ellingson and the newest member, Cary Koch.
Between Collaros’ potential, the athleticism of these wideouts, and the offensive mind of Austin, Hamilton should put up a ton of points in 2014.
That number is way too low; the Tiger Cats don't have a chance of winning the Grey Cup because:
Hamilton could get off to a slow start this season as they won't play their first home game in their new stadium until Week 5. Let’s face it football players are creatures of habit they most often work best when they’re told what to do and follow a strict schedule.
Think of them as robots with better personalities and abs. I do wonder if such a unique start to the year could play havoc with the team’s overall record.
Of course the same could have been (and was!) said for last year’s team that played all its home games in Guelph and they still managed to reel off 10 wins and a Grey Cup appearance.
Toronto Argonauts - 15/2
This number is way too high. In fact you need to go to take out the largest bank loan possible and bet it on the Argonauts to win it all because:
Let’s start with the low hanging fruit; they have the best quarterback in the East. Ricky Ray threw the ball just 302 times in 2013 due to injury. Only twice did the ball land in the hands of the opposition and 77.2 per cent of the time he completed his pass. Yes I know there were a high number of dump offs, bubble screens and safe throws, but 77.2 per cent is a nutty number by any measure.
Now is the time of the article where I ridiculously put all my faith in a new player even though logic and precedence says I'm a dunce. This year it's Steve Slaton.
I loved watching this guy at West Virginia and remembered his rookie season with the Houston Texans when he ran for over 1,200 yards. Yes I know the history of players like this thriving in the CFL is rare. But if I'm not allowed to make one irrational leap of faith, then quite frankly I don't know what country we're living in anymore.
Yes I am aware he only got one carry in the final pre-season carry for zero yards. My counter, the coaching staff is resting him for the regular season.
That number is way too low. The Argonauts don't have a chance of winning the Grey Cup because:
New Defensive Coordinator Tim Burke must be getting very little sleep watching last year’s game film. What used to be a strength of the team, the defence, was a bit of a problem for most of 2013.
When they weren't getting to the quarterback (second-to-last in sacks), they were watching opposing passers torch the secondary for nearly 300 yards a game. Yes this was an opportunistic bunch that generated a ton of turnovers but that sort of high risk defence is not sustainable and hurt the team.
The biggest concern for Toronto beyond the loss of Chad Kackert and Patrick Watkins was the departure of Chris Jones and Mike O'Shea, two of the brightest minds in this league and two key pieces to Toronto's Grey Cup win in 2012.
We always focus on which players are coming and going and which head coaches are getting fired, but it's guys like Chris and Mike that keep teams winning. Both will be dearly missed around these parts.
Montreal Alouettes - 8/1
This number is way too high. In fact you need to take your cheque book and write as many zeros as you can, and bet it on the Alouettes to win it all because:
Despite the massive quarterback upheaval, Troy Smith did manage to get the Alouettes into the playoffs last year. At this point I think it's best to not talk about how Troy did in the post-season and move on to the defence, shall we?
Here is my favourite statistic in regards to how good defensively Montreal was last year, and it has nothing to do with the 12 men that lined up on the defensive side of the ball. Montreal’s offence was second-to-last in most first downs generated.
That means the offence did a whole lot of punting, which meant the D had to spend more time on the field trying to put out any fires left by the offence. Any defence can look good when you’re offence is chewing up time of possession, but Montreal’s D allowed the fewest yards and points playing with a team that was in a state of flux on the other side of the ball.
That’s a higher degree of difficulty and is the best reason why Montreal, sans Calvillo, can win the Grey Cup.
That number is way too low; the Alouettes don't have a chance of winning the Grey Cup because:
Can I just write Anthony Calvillo is gone 17 times and be done with this part?
For anyone looking to define what the cyclical nature of sports looks like just take a gander at the Montreal Alouettes. What goes up must come down.
Finally I don't want to offend the guy, trust me I hope it works out, but doesn't the signing of Chad Johnson just feel a little bit desperate? I'm sure he's motivated and the league will be better off if he is a success, but my guess is Johnson will have a bigger impact in the tweeter world vs. on the field.
Edmonton Eskimos - 9/1
This number is way too high. In fact you need to take two weeks salary and bet it on the Eskimos to win it all because:
New head coach Chris Jones deserves this chance to show the rest of the league he is ready for this opportunity. On work ethic alone Jones will bring a lot to the Eskimos organization. I remember producing a morning radio show live from the Argonauts training camp where I encountered Jones at 4:30am AFTER he had come back from a run.
He was heading over to study film. I immediately felt shame considering I was planning a two hour nap later that day. I can't wait to see JC Sherritt play in Jones' system.
At quarterback I had no idea who Mike Reilly was last season until Week 8 when he hung up 511 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions against my Argonauts. The guy is tough and looks like the kind of quarterback you can build your team around.
That number is way too low. The Eskimos don't have a chance of winning the Grey Cup because:
Having said that about Mike Reilly, that Week 8 game also was a bit of a microcosm of the season for the Eskimos. Sure Reilly put up those numbers, but Edmonton still lost 36-33.
As good as Reilly looked last year, it should be remembered the team was second-to-last in total offence and many of the yards that Reilly threw were with his team trailing. It's easier to rack up yardage against prevent defences, and even easier to put up big numbers against the 2013 Toronto Argonaut defence. (See I'm not a complete homer!)
Winnipeg Blue Bombers - 12/1
This number is way too high. In fact you need to take any money you find under, inside, or around your couch and bet it on the Blue Bombers to win it all because:
Well, we no longer have to worry about the health of Buck Pierce or the revolving door of quarterbacks.
Instead it is the beginning of the Drew Willy era. I liked the move by Mike O'Shea to immediately announce from the start that Willy was the team’s starter. As mentioned before with Calgary, knowing who your starter is creates a level of order for the rest of the offence.
It also puts Willy in the best position to succeed and gives him the majority of first team reps; something he desperately needs considering his career has been that of a back up until now.
Though they don't get as much attention as other groups I'm a fan of the Bombers defensive line and the likes of Bryant Turner, Jake Thomas, Greg Peach and Jason Vega should benefit from Coach O'Shea's presence.
That number is way too low; the Blue Bombers don't have a chance of winning the Grey Cup because:
This is a team that has been to the playoffs since making the Grey Cup a couple seasons ago. The days of Swaggerville are a distant memory.
Yes Drew Willy is a tough guy and has his moments, but he is a relatively unproven player, who has yet to experience the sort of pressure that comes with being the unquestioned starter.
Also, unlike new starter Zach Collaros, it’s not like Willy is blessed with an abundance of skill position players to help ease his transition.
Ottawa REDBLACKS - 18/1
This number is way too high. In fact you need to take those two loonies you were saving for a Tim Hortons coffee and bet it on the REDBLACKS to win it all because:
Nope, I refuse to do it for the REDBLACKS. Even if Henry Burris makes yet another deal with the devil and has a phenomenal 2014 there is no way an expansion team is winning the Grey Cup is there?
In fact I don't want to live in a world where an expansion team won a championship; it would just sully the whole experience of living and dying with your team until they win it all. Imagine being a Winnipeg fan, your team hasn’t won the Grey Cup since 1990 and you have to watch an expansion team win it all?
Yes I know Ottawa technically has been a part of the league since the 19th century but the REDBLACKS are new to the game. Sorry but every team needs to suffer before getting a chance to lift the Cup.
No offence to Ottawa, I'm not rooting against you. In fact I couldn't be happier you're back. The CFL is a better league with you thriving. I'm guessing your fans are just happy to have a team to root for again and are hoping for a consistently good effort week in and week out.
I'm looking forward to your battles with Toronto for the title of the true capital of Canada. Yes I understand that last sentence probably pissed off a lot of people.
That number is way too low. The REDBLACKS don't have a chance of winning the Grey Cup because:
Because they're an expansion team and the world doesn't work that way.
Listen, I'm excited for Burris to put up 400 yard games with a couple touchdowns and even more interceptions week in and week out.
Throw in my obsession in running back Chevon Walker and Ottawa should be far more entertaining than your typical expansion team.
Ottawa did pick up a bunch of recognizable names in guys like Joe Eppele, Jovon Johnson and Keith Shologan, but there is a reason why teams left them unprotected. I'm not trying to be harsh, Ottawa has some proven players that will bust their butts on every play but we are talking about a lot of older players or guys with injury issues.
The important part is that Ottawa is back where it belongs and I can't wait till Week 4 to see TD Place Stadium rocking for its home opener.
Matthew Cauz is the Weekend Host for 'GAME DAY' on TSN 1050 Radio. Previously, he was a producer and football analyst for SUN TV where he appeared regularly on the “Casino Rama Grill Room” and he spent seven years working for TSN's “Off The Record”. Follow Matthew on Twitter @mcauz56.