TORONTO — The BC Lions have transformed from playoff dark horse to legitimate Grey Cup contender.
Despite being just two games over .500 and ranking fourth in the West, Wally Buono’s group has a long list of things working in its favour as the 106th Grey Cup Playoffs approach.
It starts with the last seven games, six of which the Lions have won by an average margin of 8.5 points. The team’s recent surge includes wins over playoff-bound Ottawa, Hamilton and Calgary, in addition to a playoff-clinching 42-32 win over the Eskimos in Week 19.
Then there’s the impact of recent additions DeVier Posey and Tyrell Sutton. Posey, the 105th Grey Cup MVP, adds a legitimate home run threat that can stretch the field, while Sutton delivers a power run game that rivals any across the three-down game.
Last but not least is the man behind centre, Travis Lulay. Despite his age (35), Lulay has a proven history that includes winning Most Outstanding Player, a Grey Cup Championship and Grey Cup MVP.
With the fortune of good health and the perfect timing on their side, is it time to get serious about the BC Lions? More in this week’s Nissan Titan Power Rankings:
Who would have guessed that the Lions, 3-6 at the start of September, would be two wins away from playing host in the Western Semi? Second is still an option for Wally Buono’s team, which can steal a home playoff game with a four-point win over the Riders and a season-closing victory over Calgary.
The Stampeders have averaged 3.5 losses per season over the last six years, while Bo Levi Mitchell remains the league’s all-time winning percentage leader behind centre. Despite their recent struggles, there’s no reason to believe the Stampeders are in trouble as they embark on a third straight division title.
When the Bombers win, they win big, as evidenced by a 20.8-point average margin of victory the last four games. But how will they fare in a close game, with the playoffs on the line, in late October? The Blue and Gold are 2-4 in games decided by 10 points or fewer, an area that will test them as they look to lock down a playoff spot vs. the Stamps.
The Riders can lock up a home playoff game this weekend, needing either a victory or a losing margin of fewer than four points against the Lions. With a torrid run of eight wins in the last 10 games, along with arguably the league’s top defence, the team’s ceiling will come down to the uneven play of quarterback Zach Collaros.
If consistent and elite-level play behind centre is all the REDBLACKS need, they’ve been getting it lately from Trevor Harris. The oft-maligned quarterback is averaging 9.7 yards per attempt over his last five starts, throwing eight touchdown passes and just two interceptions. Rick Campbell’s team is just one win away from clinching the East and is a definite Grey Cup contender.
The boom-or-bust Ticats were at it again over the weekend, surrendering a 16-point lead — and what seemed like a really good chance to win the East — during a 35-31 loss to the REDBLACKS. The bigger loss may have been receiver Brandon Banks, who’s out for the season after breaking his clavicle. Another test headed in the direction of Jeremiah Masoli and June Jones.
Don’t expect Eskimos fans to be decked out in red and white this weekend — yet their playoff livelihood depends on a win by the hated Stamps over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It’s a helpless feeling for the Green and Gold, who expected so much more in the year they host the 106th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.
Not much has separated the Argos and Als this season, and that carried onto the field in a last-minute win by the Boatmen in Week 19. A 26-22 win over the Alouettes failed to answer any meaningful questions, including the inconsistent play of James Franklin, who threw two picks but also led the late game-winning drive. The rematch awaits.
Despite leading throughout much of the second half, the Als came up short in Toronto thanks to James Franklin‘s late game-winning quarterback sneak. The good news for the Als is that Johnny Manziel continues to progress, while Eugene Lewis is proving to be a big part of the team’s long-term plans at receiver. Baby steps.