- Free Agency
TORONTO — For the third consecutive week there is a new team atop the Nissan Titan Power Rankings.
Organized chaos might best describe the final month of the Canadian Football League season, with no clear front-runner emerging heading into the Grey Cup Playoffs.
Calgary, Saskatchewan, Ottawa and Hamilton have all secured home playoff dates, putting them in a favourable position as the calendar flips to November — yet one road dog shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been scorching of late, winning five consecutive contests to clinch a post-season berth for the third season in a row. And for the most part, the games haven’t been particularly close, the Bombers outscoring their opponents by an average of 18.2 points per contest over that span.
With Matt Nichols heating up and a defence that’s taking away the football at an uncanny rate, are the Bombers the team to beat heading into the post-season?
More in this week’s Nissan Titan Power Rankings:
The numbers throughout the Bombers’ five-game winning streak are astounding, with Mike O’Shea’s team allowing just 14 points and 300 yards per game while generating 21 takeaways (a differential of plus-13). Timing is everything in the CFL and the Bombers seem to be peaking at exactly the right time, setting up what could be a Cinderella run.
Zack Evans and Ed Gainey scored on defence and Willie Jefferson was unstoppable as the Riders flexed their muscles in a 35-16 win over BC. With a record-tying 11 defensive touchdowns this season, there’s no secret the defence is the strength of the Riders. Yet an inconsistent offence and an injured Zach Collaros both present some cause for concern.
With the Ticats on the limp, the REDBLACKS were the ones pouncing in Week 20, sweeping away their rivals and claiming the East Division title. Trevor Harris has been outstanding of late, throwing 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions over the last six weeks. With a dynamic offence and Noel Thorpe’s defence rounding into form, this is a legitimate Grey Cup contender.
The questions keep coming for the league-leading Stampeders, who have lost three straight games and have still yet to wrap up the West. With four defensive regulars sidelined, the Stamps gave up 503 net yards to the Bombers, including a season-high 358 yards for Matt Nichols. A season-ending trip to BC is almost a must-win.
The previous number one took quite a hit in Week 20, falling victim to the Riders’ vaunted defence in a 35-16 loss. We know all about the likes of Willie Jefferson, Ed Gainey and the rest of that terrifying unit, but the road woes are concerning for a Lions team that will have to win two in a row in the East in order to make the Grey Cup.
The absence of Brandon Banks has cast quite the shadow over the Tiger-Cats, who struggled offensively in a 30-13 loss to the REDBLACKS. Perhaps the fourth time is the charm, as the two East clubs are on track to meet in the final, but not without a win over the Lions in the semi. Plenty of question marks for June Jones’ club.
The City of Champions will crown an outsider in November, with the Grey Cup hosts being eliminated following Winnipeg’s Week 20 victory. It’s been a strange season full of peaks and valleys for Mike Reilly‘s Edmonton Eskimos, who will try to end their season on a positive note against the Bombers.
Johnny Manziel got the weight off his chest with career victory No. 1. The Alouettes’ quarterback continues to impress, averaging 8.4 yards per attempt to go with four touchdowns and three interceptions over his last five starts. Manziel along with other young Alouettes William Stanback and Eugene Lewis give the team a nice starting point for 2019.
The defending Grey Cup Champs have fizzled this season, falling to 4-13 following a one-sided loss to the Montreal Alouettes. From a patchwork defence to inconsistent quarterback play, the off-season will bring some difficult questions. First, a trip to the nation’s capital to close out the season.