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December 14, 2017

Early Look: 14 dates to circle in 2018

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

TORONTO — Canadian Football League fans received an advance holiday gift on Thursday when the 2018 CFL schedule was released earlier than usual.

That means while the 105th Grey Cup is only weeks removed, it’s not too early to start making plans for what’s to come when the season kicks off next June.

» RELATED: CFL releases 2018 schedule

From three timeless rivalries on Labour Day Weekend to a triple-header that will close out the season, we break down some dates you should circle in 2018.

June 14, 2018 | Week 1

Season-Opener: Edmonton at Winnipeg

C.J. Gable runs the ball vs. Winnipeg in the Western Semi-Final last month (Jason Halstead/CFL.ca)

The Eskimos and Bombers will pick up exactly where they left off in last November’s Western Semi-Final at Investors Group Field. All three meetings between these clubs came down to the wire last season, with Winnipeg taking two out of three but Edmonton winning the one that mattered most.

In the highly-contentious West, game No. 1 on the 2018 docket will bring an intense tone-setting battle between two teams expected to be in the mix for a division title.

June 15, 2018 | Week 1

Eastern Final Rematch: Toronto at Saskatchewan

Armanti Edwards makes a run after the catch in last year’s Eastern Final vs. the Riders (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

It’s not like a season-opener at new Mosaic Stadium needs any added incentive, but June 15 will have a little more electricity in the air. Riders fans won’t have forgotten November’s Eastern Final, which had their team moments away from a trip to the Grey Cup before Ricky Ray and the Argos spoiled it all.

We can only hope that some of the same heroes and villains — Ricky Ray, Duron Carter, S.J. Green, Willie Jefferson, Brandon Bridge, for instance — will be present, as many are pending free agency.

June 21, 2018 | Week 2

Eastern Semi-Final Rematch: Saskatchewan at Ottawa

The REDBLACKS pick things up where they left off in 2017, with a rematch against the Riders (Patrick Doyle/CFL.ca)

A Week 1 bye means the REDBLACKS also open their season against the team that eliminated them from the playoffs in 2017. Ottawa and Saskatchewan faced off in a rare playoff bout last November, with the Riders earning a 31-20 victory and a spot in the Eastern Final.

We now know that Trevor Harris will be back in the nation’s capital, but both teams could still see plenty of changes before then. The REDBLACKS will have a new-look defence led by Noel Thorpe while Saskatchewan has several key free agents along with questions at quarterback.

June 23, 2018 | Week 2

Grey Cup Rematch: Calgary at Toronto

The Argos and Stamps will be met with nicer conditions for the Grey Cup rematch in 2018 (CFL.ca)

This year the Stamps have to wait a week before drawing the defending Grey Cup Champions, a phrase that may sting considering what went down in November. After all, they may feel like they should be the defending Grey Cup Champs.

Yes, there’s still some disbelief over what happened in the 105th Grey Cup, which the Stamps dominated statistically but lost in a dramatic Argo upset. While winning a game in Week 2 won’t change the past for the Red and White, it at least presents a chance for some closure and also a 2-0 start to the season.

June 28, 2018 | Week 3

Ottawa at Calgary

The Stamps and REDBLACKS have produced some of the CFL’s classics the last couple of years (Patrick Doyle/CFL.ca)

The REDBLACKS and Stamps have produced some of the most thrilling games the last few seasons, from the 104th Grey Cup overtime game to two ties in as many years. Last year their two meetings combined for 144 points, while the Stamps erased a late two-score deficit to come back and force a tie in the season-opener.

From an Ottawa perspective, the season-opening home-and-home left the REDBLACKS winless, eventually leading to a 1-6-1 start. They need a better start against the Riders and Stamps in 2018 to have a shot at winning the East.

July 7, 2018 | Week 4

Edmonton at Toronto

There’s a chance James Franklin could start against his former team in Week 4 this year (David Chidley/CFL.ca)

Mark this with an asterisk, because it could mean nothing more than an exciting matchup between two teams that played each other very closely in 2017 (the Argos and Esks split their season series with both games coming down to the final drive). On the other hand, if James Franklin ends up signing with the Argos, this date could mark the quarterback’s first game against his former team.

The Eskimos traded the rights of their promising young pivot to Toronto this off-season, but Franklin has yet to sign on the dotted line. Incidentally, that could come down to a decision from Ricky Ray, who’s yet to decide whether he’ll return for another season.

July 28, 2018 | Week 7

Calgary at Saskatchewan

Questions surround Duron Carter and whether he’ll be back in a Riders uniform in 2018 (Matt Smith/CFL.ca)

The last meeting between these teams produced one of the most iconic moments of the 2017 season, when Riders receiver Duron Carter, making his first career start at defensive back, intercepted Bo Levi Mitchell and scored a touchdown, cementing a Saskatchewan blowout win. This, of course, came after Mitchell taunted Carter on Twitter, promising to pick on him all night at his new position.

It’s a long wait for the rematch, which will surely lose some of its lustre if Carter ends up leaving through free agency. But for now, the Week 7 matchup between Calgary and Saskatchewan looks like one of the most appealing games on the 2018 docket, one that brings plenty of big personalities and extra energy to the table.

Sept. 2, 2018 | Week 12

Winnipeg at Saskatchewan

Bombers running back Andrew Harris runs with the ball during last year’s Labour Day Classic (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

While the Banjo Bowl is the big ticket, the Labour Day Weekend clash between the Bombers and Riders is equally impressive, especially since the rivalry moved into new Mosaic Stadium. The budding hatred between the two teams and their fans prompted TSN to check noise levels last year, bringing the rivalry into the stands with the most crowd noise yet.

Home advantage seems to make a profound difference for these teams, meaning the pressure is on Saskatchewan on Labour Day Weekend to set the tone with a ‘W’.

Sept. 3, 2018 | Week 12

Labour Day: Edmonton at Calgary | Toronto at Hamilton

Last year the Eskimos were swept by Calgary in the annual Labour Day home-and-home (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

They say the season starts Labour Day, which actually carries even more weight than usual because an earlier start time in June means Labour Day is a week later in the schedule. The first part of a double-header brings us the familiar Mike Reilly vs. Bo Levi Mitchell head-to-head, the first Battle of Alberta of 2018.

Then, in the midst of the off-season uncertainty, it’s hard to say what Ontario’s QEW clash will entail — but is it crazy to imagine James Franklin and Johnny Manziel starting at quarterback in this game? The Argos and Ticats close things out under the lights at Tim Hortons Field.

Sept. 8, 2018 | Week 13

Hamilton at Toronto | Saskatchewan at Winnipeg | Calgary at Edmonton

The Ticats hope to have pending free agent receiver Luke Tasker back for the 2018 season (The Canadian Press)

In addition to the season starting a week earlier, one of the most exciting new developments on the 2018 schedule has to be a triple-header of Labour Day rematches. Fans not going to the game can sit back and watch football all day, enjoying three heated grudge matches at a pivotal time in the season, including the return of the Hamilton-Toronto rematch along with the Banjo Bowl.

The day concludes with a clash between two of the CFL’s top quarterbacks, as the Eskimos and Stamps play in a rematch of the Western Final.

Sept. 15, 2018 | Week 14

Calgary at Hamilton

June Jones and the Ticats will look to fare better against the Stamps in 2018 after last year being swept (David Chidley/CFL.ca)

The yet-to-be-announced Hall of Fame class of 2018 will be inducted in front of fans at Tim Hortons Field, as the Stampeders and Ticats play in the annual Hall of Fame game. With CFL legends looking on, there’s always a little something extra in the air when Hamilton hosts this annual key mid-September matchup.

Oct. 13, 2018 | Week 18

Saskatchewan at Winnipeg

Duron Carter celebrates after scoring vs. the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

With the early schedule release and so many uncertainties this off-season, it’s difficult at this point to pick out the biggest storylines late in the season. The Saskatchewan-Winnipeg meeting in Week 18, however, the third between these clubs in 2018, checks off all the right boxes for a late-season classic.

The Bombers’ move back west and the recent resurgence of both teams are perfect ingredients for the league’s fastest-emerging rivalry, because for the first time in recent memory, both of these teams are considered strong contenders to win not only the West Division but also the Grey Cup.

Nov. 3, 2018 | Week 21

Winnipeg at Edmonton | Montreal at Hamilton | Calgary at BC

Wally Buono will coach his last regular season game, fittingly against his former team (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

If the September triple-header wasn’t enough, why not close out the regular season with three heated divisional battles on the same day? With the 2017 season having gone down to the very last game to determine the East (the Argos defeated BC while REDBLACKS fans watched on), it’s fair to say all three of these matchups could carry significant playoff implications.

Winnipeg and Edmonton finish their season the same way they started it, while Montreal and Hamilton could very well be fighting for a playoff spot (or a division title) in the East. Meanwhile, in a fitting finale in Vancouver, Wally Buono will coach his last game as a BC Lion against the other team he once coached for, the Calgary Stampeders.

Nov. 25, 2018

106th Grey Cup Championship

The Argos celebrate after winning the 105th Grey Cup presented by Shaw (CFL.ca)

The City of Edmonton and Commonwealth Stadium will play host to the 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw. After the last two Grey Cups delivered instant classics, both involving upsets of the Calgary Stampeders, expect plenty of enticing storylines no matter who ends up playing in the big game.