Time to put my neck on the line for the 2014 season.
Let me start of the West Division predictions with this; Who knows? It’s wide open season, especially among the top three teams. Edmonton, Winnipeg can only get better than what they were last year. I don’t see a 14-win leader in the West this year. Try all teams between 11 and 6 wins. But I’m going to take my butt off the fence and predict...
First Place: Saskatchewan Roughriders - As a note, I did not pick them to finish first in the West or to even appear in the Grey Cup last year, so no homerism here. They have the #1 QB in the West. They have the #1 offensive line in the West. They have the #1 secondary in the West. All of this will allow them some stability early to get over some early season bumps in the road and find their groove in the back half of the season. Complete opposite of last year, where they started 8-1. More like a 5-4 start and a 6-3 finish.
Second Place: B.C. Lions - I really think the trade for Kevin Glenn will pay off big time for the Grey Cup hosts. Add to that the dynamic of Stefan Logan and Andrew Harris out of the backfield. The offence may not be a chuck it 30+ yards down field big play team, but they’ll certainly get some big plays that start with a quick hitch or dump off. As for the defence, they may have the best pass rush in the league up the middle. Can I also say 11 wins for B.C? I think I just did.
Third Place: Calgary Stampeders - Bo Levi Mitchell/Drew Tate... it doesn’t matter who throws the ball, as long as they have Jon Cornish running it they’ll stack up some wins. The question comes with the offensive line changes, can they get off the ball as powerful as they did last season. I’m not so sure. With Charleston Hughes and Keon Raymond, etc on the defence, they have playmakers, and add to that the best kicking in the CFL West Division, they’ll be right there fighting for first in the West. 11 wins? Fine, I’ll give them 10.
Fourth Place: Edmonton Eskimos - Mike Reilly is a fierce leader who a team is going to follow him all the way through, especially if he stays on his feet a little more. A new dynamic pair of running backs and the offence will win some games. Still questions on the defensive side of the ball, but I’m excited to see what Chris Jones does with talent like JC Sherritt, Rennie Curran and Marcus Howard. They could threaten a crossover to the East.
Fifth Place: Winnipeg Blue Bombers - I still have questions about the offensive line. If they give Drew Willy time to find a pretty good crop of receivers, they’ll be able to go score-for-score with the opposition. But there has to be concern with unproven special teams and defence, which is interesting as that has been head coach Mike O’Shea’s specialty over his career. But a rookie kicker has a lot to prove. Their pass rush has always been great, but can the new faces at LB and DB get on the same page? A team that may find itself after labour day and could start to surprise.
First Place: Hamilton Tiger-Cats - The Tabbies aren’t going to need the first half of the season to find their game like last season and that should allow them to leap frog Toronto for first place and host the Eastern Final at the new Tim Hortons Field. I have only two concerns with Hamilton. Is Zach Collaros the guy? Is the offensive line going to keep him on his feet? Kent Austin is two for two getting teams to the Grey Cup game in his two years as a head coach, and it’ll be hard to bet against him this time.
Second Place: Toronto Argonauts - The race in the East is going to come down to the head-to-head battles between the Argos and Ticats. The QEW should be full on game day between the two markets when they face each other, because that will be the best football played in the East this season. Ricky Ray and Chad Owens will be great, but expect the Argos defence to miss coordinator Chris Jones, who will turn the fortunes around in Edmonton.
Third Place: Ottawa REDBLACKS - What, you think I was not going to take a flyer on a team? Why not! Ottawa has a very talented coaching staff. Henry Burris may be getting closer and closer to the end of his career, but he can still lead a team to victory. The whole dilemma is whether they can find an identity early enough, commit to it and find ways to win with it. I did see a very prepared and organized team in both pre-season games. They still may not be a playoff team with so much positive going on in the West.
4) Montreal Alouettes - Too much change! Bottom line. When you lose leaders like Calvillo, Richardson, Flory, and Emry, there will be some growing pains. Add in yet another change in coaching staff, a fired offensive coordinator during training camp and sorry but I find it hard to think they’ll be firing on all cylinders. Chad Johnson will be fun to watch in the first few weeks to see if he’s the real deal, though.
GREY CUP PREDICTION: Hamilton over Saskatchewan. Why not?
Jamie Nye lives and breathes the CFL and is the host of 'The Green Zone' on 980 CJME in Regina and 650 CKOM in Saskatoon. You can find his podcasts and blogs at greenzonefootball.com and follow him on twitter @jamienye