June 7, 2019

Cauz: Breaking down the 2019 LeoVegas Grey Cup odds

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Oh my God, we are roughly one week out from the start of the season! Where did the time go? In just the blink of the eye we will be watching Zach Collaros back in Hamilton taking on the best quarterback in the East. I blame ‘Game of Thrones’ and the Toronto Raptors for just how quickly the 2019 CFL season has snuck up on so many of us.

So with the pre-season already in the books (damn, here’s hoping for a full and positive rehab for Anthony Parker and his Achilles injury), it’s time for my annual preview column where I try to raise your hopes about your team’s chances of winning the Grey Cup, while at the same time crushing your championship dreams Thanos style as I explain why betting on them to win it all is a huge mistake.

For this season we are going with the good people at LeoVegas for each respective team’s odds to win it all. As always I will do my best to explain why you need to wager on your team to win the Cup and why it’s a fool’s game to invest in your favourite franchise.

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James Wilder is primed for a big year as the Argos’ lead back (Shannon Vizniowski/CFL.ca)

Before I begin, I think it needs to be mentioned that 2019 should be a wildly unique season for one simple reason: there is no presumptive favourite. Let’s be honest, over the past six years or so Calgary has entered the year as a juggernaut of a team with Edmonton usually being not that far behind them. Well, the Stamps lost so much talent that I find it difficult to just pencil them in for 13-15 wins and an automatic bid to the Western Final. While I understand why people would still view Calgary as the best team in the league, at the very least you had to seriously stop and consider that question about who the best team in the league is before you answered, and the gap has certainly shrunk.

By the way, Calgary fans, don’t get angry at me, this premise has nothing to do with how I feel about John Hufnagel and Bo Levi Mitchell and more about the respect I have for so many now-former Stampeders who are plying their trade elsewhere. Now, on to the predictions!

Calgary Stampeders (13-5, Grey Cup Champions)

+260 to win the Grey Cup

Why they will the Grey Cup

Yes, the talent drain over the past year is dramatic, but there is no team that deserves the benefit of the doubt more than the Calgary Stampeders. Under Hufnagel’s watch Calgary has always been on the forefront of finding new talent and transforming that talent into CFL All-Stars. With Bo Levi Mitchell re-signed, Calgary not only boasts the best player (2018 MOP winner) at the most important position but also one of the most durable quarterbacks in the CFL.

On offence I’m excited to see a full season out of receiver Reggie Begelton, who lit it up after the Kamar Jordan injury (Week 13 and 14 Begelton stepped up with 12 receptions for 303 yards and one touchdown) and was productive in Calgary’s first pre-season game, a 37-1 beatdown of a 12-win Saskatchewan Roughriders team (I am aware that Collaros did not dress). Juwan Brescacin has seen his production improve in each of his first three years, and if Eric Rogers can come even close to his 2015 form then there should be more than enough weapons for Mitchell.

Yes, there are going to be questions on the defensive side of the ball, but I bet by the end of the year there will be a couple players that will emerge as stars. Aren’t there always in Calgary? This year it could be veteran Cordarro Law who busts out a double digit sack season. Or what about DT Derek Wiggan, who at the age of just 26 is already entering his fifth season and must have learned a great deal from so many of his now departed all-star teammates?

Why there is no chance they’re raising the Cup

I know the CFL is a league that is often about roster overhauls, but in Calgary it was not only about the quantity but much more importantly it was about the quality! We know that 11 of the Stampeders’ 24 starters from last year’s Grey Cup win are no longer a part of the team. Now consider the names. Alex Singleton and Micah Johnson have racked up five CFL All-Star awards in the past three seasons and Singleton won the 2017 Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award. Ja’Gared Davis put together a crazy 2018 season with a career highs in tackles, fumble recoveries and interceptions and managed to register seven sacks.

Not only is Calgary going to miss that kind of production from three supremely talented stars but think about the impact it will have on the rest of the defence. Players like Singleton and Johnson force opposing offences to game plan to stop them, leaving other defenders with more favourable matchups. These are the sorts of players that can do damage individually while making their teammates around them better.  Finally, Calgary is attempting to do something we haven’t seen since the Montreal Alouettes and that’s win back-to-back titles.


Ep. 26: Ranking the quarterbacks

TSN CFL Fantasy is back! After a busy off-season, Pat Steinberg, Jeff Krever and Hannah Nordman are ranking the quarterbacks as they preview the 2019 season. It’s the CFL Fantasy Podcast presented by LeoVegas!

BC Lions (9-9, lost in the Eastern Semi-Final)

+500 to win the Grey Cup

Why they will the Grey Cup

Why beat around the bush? Mike Reilly!!! The Lions have been looking for the answer at quarterback ever since the mysterious and sudden decline of Jonathon Jennings. They managed to squeak into the playoffs with the third worst passing attack and they now have the most productive passer in the league, with three straight seasons of 5,500-plus passing yards, who is still in the prime of his career. The Lions signing of Reilly is the biggest off-season move since Doug Flutie came to Toronto. I can’t wait to see Bryan Burnham, who had a “down” year at 1,029 receiving yards in 2018, and Reilly just terrorize opposing secondaries!

Speaking of receivers, the 2019 Lions represents the last chance for Duron Carter to shine in this league. This is the best opportunity he will have to prove that he is elite. I’m a big fan of the coaching staff that is a mix of an up-and-coming head coach (DeVone Claybrooks), a young staff filled with every kind of playing experience (Ryan Phillips, Nik Lewis, Drew Tate) mixed with that veteran coach (Rich Stubler) to help balance it all out. Finally, there is no way that Sukh Chungh on offence and Aaron Grymes on defence won’t be significant contributors.

Why there is no chance they’re raising the Cup

Wow, Vegas really loves Mike Reilly to be giving BC the second best odds of winning the Grey Cup! This is not a shot at Reilly or the team but that really doesn’t feel like a value play. Yes, the Lions were technically a playoff team last year, but they were outscored by 50 points in the regular season and were absolutely dummied by Hamilton in the playoffs. Edmonton, who missed the post-season just behind the Lions, actually finished with a better scoring differential.

I have questions about who is going to run the ball for a team who finished second last in rushing yardage in 2018. Yes, I know that Solomon Elimimian only played in four games last year, but remember he didn’t miss a game in the two seasons prior, putting up 273 tackles and 10 sacks. That’s a whole lot of production and veteran leadership that is no longer around. Finally, I wonder whether Odell Willis at 34 has another double digit season, and it needs to be brought up that there is a reason Carter is about to play for his fourth team in four years. I’m hoping he can emerge as a stable force for the Lions but that is a massive red flag.

Ottawa REDBLACKS (11-7, Grey Cup runner-up)

+550 to win the Grey Cup

Why they will the Grey Cup

Wait, Ottawa has better odds than Winnipeg? I’m sure that will go over just swimmingly with Bombers fans. While certainly not to the same level as Calgary, the Ottawa REDBLACKS deserve some benefit of the doubt that they know what they’re doing. Rick Campbell is an excellent coach and the team has been to three of the past four Grey Cups, winning one, competitive in the other two and winning the East in three of those years.

Why there is no chance they’re raising the Cup

Announcer: It’s time now to play everybody’s favourite CFL off-season themed Game Show: ‘Where Did Everybody Go!’ starring the Ottawa REDBLACKS! In the first round let’s go with CFL-All Stars. Say goodbye to SirVincent Rogers, who spent the past four seasons winning multiple awards while protecting Trevor Harris. Next round is the CFL East All-Stars, which saw Ottawa lose the CFL’s leader in carries in William Powell, who also finished just behind Andrew Harris in rushing yards. Next is Greg Ellingson, who finished 2018 third in receptions and sixth in receiving yards.

Contestant: Wow, that’s a lot of talent!

Announcer: But wait! We’re not done there. Let’s move on to the bonus round to impressive contributing players who didn’t quite make the All-Star Team, led by Diontae Spencer, who surpassed 1,000 yards receiving, led all REDBLACKS with seven receiving touchdowns and also, you know, led the entire CFL in total combined yards.

Contestant: Wow we must be done with Ottawa, right?

Announcer: Nope! Don’t forget Trevor Harris, who led all quarterbacks in completion percentage while throwing for over 5,100 yards.

Contestant: All right now this is getting ridiculous. Please say we’re done.

Announcer: Sort of. Don’t forget Jaime Elizondo, who had been the team’s offensive coordinator for the past three years and left the organization in April.

Contestant: Well at least Ottawa has memories of Henry Burris.

Dominique Davis has been named the REDBLACKS’ starting quarterback (Ottawa REDBLACKS)

Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-8, lost in the Western Final)

+650 to win the Grey Cup

Why they will the Grey Cup

I recently wrote about 2019 potentially being the year for Winnipeg with both Calgary and Edmonton weakened this off-season. At the very least the pressure is going to be on a Bombers squad that won their first playoff game since 2011. This is a stable, well run organization led by Mike O’Shea, who is entering his sixth season as head coach and has amassed a 33-21 record over the past three seasons.

No team is better situated to handle the loss of their starting quarterback better than Winnipeg with Chris Streveler waiting in the wings. Yes, he has work to do as a pure pocket passer, but the guy made things happen with both his arm and his feet, and he alone accounted for 21 touchdowns (10 rushing and 11 through the air) in 2018. I love the Darvin Adams and big boy Chris Matthews combination at receiver, and Andrew Harris is still the best all-around running back. Finally, you find me a better linebacker/defensive end combination than Adam Bighill and Willie Jefferson.

Why there is no chance they’re raising the Cup

At some point the wheels are going to fall off for 32-year-old Andrew Harris. This sport isn’t particularly kind to those over 30 and especially not to running backs that have averaged 282 touches over the past four seasons. Winnipeg was decimated in both the secondary (Taylor Loffler, Kevin Fogg and Chris Randle) and on the offensive line with the departure of nationals Matthias Goossen and Sukh Chungh. The Bombers have never entered a season with as much pressure on them as they will entering 2019. Not every team can handle such high expectations, let’s see how they do.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats (8-10, lost in the Eastern Final)

+800 to win the Grey Cup

Why they will the Grey Cup

Wait, I’m getting +800 odds for the best team in the East? Sorry Ottawa, but after that gutting your offence took, Hamilton is jumping the front of the line in the East. The Tiger-Cats have the best quarterback in the East with Jeremiah Masoli and a number of quality Canadian starters including OL Mike Filer and Brandon Revenberg, receiver Mike Jones, man mountain Ted Laurent on the defensive line and Mike Daly in the secondary. I was shocked to see the release of Jalen Saunders; the coaching staff must have more than enough faith in Bralon Addison, who had an impressive November with 24 catches for 356 yards during a three game span. One final note about the offence: Masoli’s life both in and out of the pocket got a bit easier with the re-signing of right tackle Ryker Mathews.

On defence, the Ticats got a big boost as they were a big part in “Operation Weaken Calgary’s Defence” by signing Ja’Gared Davis. Seriously, how did Hamilton win only eight games?? They outscored their opponents by 57 points and outgained them by 71 yards. By all accounts, 2018 should have been a double digit win season.

Why there is no chance they’re raising the Cup

Wait, didn’t Hamilton go 8-10 last year? Lemme check. Oh yeah, they did. This was a team that always seemed to make one or two small mistakes at precisely the wrong time and it cost them several games, especially in starting field position. The addition of Davis should help ease the loss of linebacker Larry Dean, but this was one of the least explosive defences in the CFL ranking near the bottom in sacks, interceptions and turnovers created. Also, does anyone know just how healthy Brandon Banks is after suffering that broken clavicle in Week 19?

Jeremiah Masoli looks to pick up where he left off after a stellar 2018 season (Hamilton Tiger-Cats)

Saskatchewan Roughriders (12-6, lost in the Western Semi-Final)

+800 to win the Grey Cup

Why they will the Grey Cup

Even with the loss of Willie Jefferson, the Roughriders will have the best defence in the CFL with the addition of Micah Johnson and Solomon Elimimian. Johnson is currently on a hot streak with three straight CFL All-Star honours, and while his 2018 season was cut short, you can’t overlook just how productive Elimimian was the two seasons prior. The additions of William Powell and Emmanuel Arceneaux will help give a boost to an inconsistent offence that only needs to play at a B level for this team to succeed.

Why there is no chance they’re raising the Cup

Love him or hate him, Chris Jones knows how to build a winner through any means necessary and sometimes by doing it within the rules. His departure to the NFL can’t be seen as anything but a step back for the Green and White. This is nothing against new head coach Craig Dickenson, who deserves this chance, but Jones does cast a fairly large shadow. As for the offence, I hate to admit it but even I, one of the longest card carrying members of the Zach Collaros Fan Club, may have to turn in my membership card as Collaros threw more interceptions than touchdowns and just doesn’t look like the player we watched during his peak with Hamilton.

Finally, no team benefited more from return touchdowns than the Roughriders, and it is isn’t even close. MATH ALERT: League wide, the average boost in points per game when you take into account all non-offensive points scored was 1.8 point per game. Saskatchewan’s number last year was 5.4! So much credit obviously needs to be heaped on just how aggressive/opportunistic both the defence and special teams were in 2018. But there is no way you can expect a repeat performance.

Edmonton Eskimos (9-9, missed the playoffs)

+900 to win the Grey Cup

Why they will the Grey Cup

Give Brock Sunderland and the entire Edmonton staff credit for bouncing back after losing Mike Reilly to the BC Lions. Trevor Harris should continue to thrive in an offence that year after year produces the league’s most productive receivers. DaVaris Daniels should put up monster numbers playing opposite Greg Ellingson.

Sunderland’s shopping did not stop with the offence. Looking to improve on their sixth-ranked defence, the Eskimos brought in highly productive Larry Dean, Jovan Santos-Knox and Don Unamba to help turn things around. Bigger picture, Edmonton felt like “Hamilton West,” the sort of team that was better than their record. They ended up having a better scoring differential than both the Lions and the Roughriders, two teams who qualified for the post-season.

Why there is no chance they’re raising the Cup

Wait, you get 18 games, 5,562 passing yards and 30 touchdowns out of Mike Reilly and you DIDN’T make the playoffs? Now, you no longer have Reilly, Duke Williams, Derel Walker or Bryant Mitchell, and SirVincent Rogers is out with torn triceps … good luck with all that.

Despite the loss of Mike Reilly, the Eskimos’ offence has no shortage of experience (The Canadian Press)

Toronto Argonauts (4-14, missed the playoffs)

+1200 to win the Grey Cup

Why they will the Grey Cup

Oh boy, have we hit this part of the article? James Franklin gets a fresh start not only with a new coaching staff but he gets a familiar target in the always super productive Derel Walker. S.J. Green is proving that age is just a number, plus with Armanti Edwards and James Wilder Jr., Toronto should have a sneaky good offence.

New head coach Corey Chamblin will help turn around a dreadful 2018 defence with the help of new additions Shawn Lemon and Micah Awe. As it stands right now, Toronto is the second best team in the East trailing a Hamilton squad that won only eight games last year. The difference between these two teams could be closer than we think.

Why there is no chance they’re raising the Cup

At some point Father Time will claim Green, right? Franklin has yet to prove he can be a legitimate face of a franchise quarterback, and no team gave up more points and only Montreal allowed more yards last season. Does that really sound like a winning formula for a team that finished dead last in 2018?

Montreal Alouettes (5-13, missed the playoffs)

+1400 to win the Grey Cup

Why they will the Grey Cup

Not having the distraction of noted semi football enthusiast Johnny Manziel has to help. His lack of football awareness is at least partially to blame for the team giving up a league worst 66 sacks. Two-time CFL All-Star Spencer Wilson should help stabilize things up front and new receiver DeVier Posey will help Antonio Pipkin. Adding Taylor Loffler and Ciante Evans to a secondary that already has Tommie Campbell can only improve a pass defence that finished dead last. I bet you thought I was going to go full snark with this one!

Why there is no chance they’re raising the Cup

I mean I think I was super nice in the above section, don’t you? I’m guessing opposing defences aren’t exactly losing sleep over the possibility of facing Antonio Pipkin, Matthew Shiltz, Jeff Mathews or Vernon Adams Jr. Then there is recent history. Montreal over the past four seasons has gone 21-51 — even this year’s Blue Jays have a better winning percentage. This team is a long way off.