November 5, 2012

Steinberg’s MMQB: Storylines aplenty in Semi-Finals

When the Calgary Stampeders host the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Sunday’s Western Semi-Final, we’ll have had plenty of storylines to sink our teeth into.  Aside from the tried and true rivalry angles, which are always fun, this matchup has plenty of history playing into it as well.

Checkered past

100th Grey Cup Playoff Centre

The 2012 Division Semi-Final matchups are set as the Toronto Argonauts host the Edmonton Eskimos in the Eastern Semi, while the Calgary Stampeders host the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Here is everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s games.
» Eastern Semi-Final Playoff Centre
» Western Semi-Final Playoff Centre

It’s been 18 years since the Stamps took a playoff win over their rival to the east.  1994’s Western Semi was the last time the Riders fell to Calgary in the post-season. Since that time, they’ve racked up five straight playoff wins and pose a considerable mental hurdle for their Red and White opponent.
Usually, I’m not a big believer in historic stats having much to do with an individual game itself. This is the rare occasion where I might buy into the numbers a little more. Why? Because of what happened in recent back-to-back post-seasons.  
The Riders took playoff wins in both 2009 and 2010 against a Stampeders team that looks strikingly similar to the group that will take the McMahon Stadium field on Sunday.
Plenty of core Calgary players were vital players two and three years ago including the likes of Nik Lewis, Juwan Simpson, and Keon Raymond. It has almost felt like an automatic in recent years: the Stamps lose to the Riders in the playoffs.  
So how does the sizable group of holdovers in Calgary react to the challenge at hand?  Do we see a lack of playoff success against Saskatchewan used as a motivating, rallying point?  Or does the weight of the situation make it six-straight Rider playoff wins and the extension of rather loud bragging rights?
Beyond the historic intrigue of the matchup, this game has lots of unknown heading in. I’ve narrowed it down to one burning question per side.  First, what Riders team shows up?  No other team has taken their fans on a Six Flags roller-coaster ride like these guys have.  
When things are good, they tend to stay good for a little while.  Unfortunately, the same seems to hold true when things aren’t so tidy.
The Riders opened the 2012 season with three-straight wins and a ton of fanfare. They won their games in impressive fashion and looked poised to move to 4-0 at McMahon before Calgary staged an epic fourth quarter comeback and broke some green hearts in an overtime win.  
That started a stretch of five consecutive losses heading into Labour Day weekend.  Ah, but then things turned around. Saskatchewan rattled off five wins in their next six games with a win over the Stampeders mixed in.  But what goes up in Regina in 2012 must come down.  The Riders walked to the regular season finish line with four straight losses.
So who shows up?  Head Coach Corey Chamblin has used innovative methods to motivate his team all year long.  He might have to dig deep into his bag of tricks this week to get this train back on the tracks against a very efficient Stampeders team.

As for Calgary, there’s one question being asked louder than any other: who starts at quarterback?  I’ve been on record saying I believe Drew Tate should be the guy if he’s good to go in every sense of the term.  
He sure looked good to go on Friday night. Tate threw for 139 yards and a touchdown and ran for another major in his stint against the Eskimos.  He looked crisp, in sync with his offence, and very much like the guy that started the season in style.
Don’t get me wrong, Kevin Glenn looked pretty darn good as well.  In reality, Glenn’s performance was immaterial. The Stampeders have been rolling with him all season long and are fully confident in giving him the ball Sunday.  
Nothing he could have done, good or bad, against Edmonton was really going to change that.  Instead, Friday was about Tate and whether he looked fully recovered from a shoulder injury that saw him sit out for an extended stretch.
Whether you believe the Stamps should give the ball to Tate or stick with Glenn, one thing is certain.  Because of his impressive outing, Tate made it so Head Coach John Hufnagel has an actual decision to make.  A mediocre performance would have made it an easy call to go with Glenn.

Pieces in Place
Heading into the season, the Hamilton Tiger Cats were considered Grey Cup favorites by many.  Nineteen weeks later, the season has come to an end.  

The Road Begins Here

With the post-season just days away, why not join your team on the road to the 100th Grey Cup? 100th Grey Cup Playoff tickets are on sale now!
» BUY: 100th Grey Cup Playoff tickets

During Thursday’s 43-40 loss to the Toronto Argonauts to officially end their playoff hopes, Hamilton showed us the type of performance that has defined their season: so close, yet so far.
Heading into Thursday, the Ticats still had a very real chance to make the playoffs, but unfortunately came up a little short.  

The expectations placed on the Tiger-Cats heading into the season weren’t totally unfounded.  This team added some key pieces to a team that pulled off an impressive playoff win one season prior.  Those pieces still remain and the makings of a good core are there.  How they exploit their strengths will be the biggest test for Hamilton this winter.
Bold move

With 19 weeks of football in the books for the 2012 Canadian Football League season, no one should be surprised when something catches you off guard.  
This has been one of the most unpredictable, yet entertaining, CFL seasons in a long, long time.  
Yet, Edmonton’s decision to part ways with their General Manager eight days before a playoff game still has many of us scratching our heads.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened Saturday in Edmonton.  Friday night’s tight 30-27 loss to Calgary guaranteed the Eskimos fourth place in the West and a trip to Toronto on November 11th for the Eastern Semi-Final.  
It also sets the stage for great storylines for the entire week leading in. Chief among those storylines was Argos quarterback Ricky Ray facing the team, and the man, that traded him during the off-season.  Except the story was missing one key component; Eskimos GM Eric Tillman is no longer with the team.
In using common sense and talking to folks very close to the situation, I think the team made this move for all the right reasons.  
There were good reasons to make this move, timing aside.  I’m not even talking about the Ray trade, because that’s too easy. Plus, Eskimos President Len Rhodes admitted that he signed off on the deal at his news conference.  However, the Ray trade is not the reason why Tillman is no longer employed by one of the proudest franchises this league has ever known.  
Some have said that it may be because personnel moves were a concern. JC Sherrit, Damaso Munoz, TJ Hill, among others, have yet to sign new contracts before potentially heading into free agency following the season.  That’s not acceptable and is a fair reason for concern.
Tillman didn’t live in Edmonton and that was well-documented and rightfully so.  The Eskimos are a community run team, and that word ‘community’ is emphasized very heavily within the organization, also for good reason.  
But why eight days before a playoff game?  Isn’t this a distraction for your group of players heading on the road looking to continue their season?  Again, using common sense, I truly believe Edmonton made this move to give themselves a better shot on Sunday afternoon.