TORONTO — It’s a new season and the field is wide open in the Canadian Football League.
While odds-makers list the Calgary Stampeders as the favourite to repeat as Grey Cup Champions, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, BC Lions and Hamilton Tiger-Cats are getting plenty of attention going into the new season.
At this time of year, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So much has changed since November, and every team starts the new season with a blank slate and renewed hope of becoming a champion.
After all, it was just two years ago that the Toronto Argonauts went from worst team in the league to eventual Grey Cup Champs — a familiar tale in a league of parity, where teams tend to flip the script often.
The defending champs get the benefit of the doubt, but after that? More in the Nissan Titan Power Rankings:
Missing roughly two-thirds of their 2018 starting defence, the Stamps face an uphill battle in their quest to repeat as Grey Cup Champions. On the other hand, most of the offence is intact, led by highly-regarded coach Dave Dickenson and two-time Most Outstanding Player Bo Levi Mitchell, who’s back on a four-year deal. You just can’t count this team out.
As the drought approaches three decades, 2019 may be the Bombers’ best chance yet to win a Grey Cup. They were close last year, falling to Calgary in the Western Final, and this off-season GM Kyle Walters has re-stocked the shelves, adding Willie Jefferson to the defensive line and Chris Matthews to the receiving corps. On paper this could be the CFL’s deepest, most talented roster.
If the Lions are flying under the radar in the hotly-contested West, don’t expect that to last. First-time head coach DeVone Caybrooks has assembled quite the cast of characters in BC, with Mike Reilly, Bryan Burnham and Duron Carter leading what’s expected to be a highly-explosive offence. In the end, though, it’s the other side of the ball that will determine just how far the Lions can go.
Will the Ticats miss June Jones? That’s the question in Steeltown, where a talented roster has new leadership on both sides of the ball in coaches Orlondo Steinauer, Tommy Condell and Mark Washington. If a league-leading offence led by Jeremiah Masoli can pick up where it left off, the Ticats are heavily favoured to win the East and contend for a long-awaited Grey Cup.
Despite missing the playoffs AND losing franchise quarterback Mike Reilly, the Eskimos are trending up after a busy off-season. Brock Sunderland transformed the team’s core over the winter, signing Trevor Harris, Greg Ellingson and DaVaris Daniels to lead the offence along with a trio of new linebackers on defence. The Eskimos may just be the dark horse of the CFL West Division.
Led by the projected No. 1 defence and a star running back in William Powell, the ingredients for success are in place in Riderville — but there are questions. Zach Collaros wasn’t the team’s first choice at quarterback after a forgettable first season in green and white, while the departure of Chris Jones affects multiple layers of the organization. There is no bigger wildcard in the CFL than Saskatchewan in 2019.
Coming off a last-place finish, cautious optimism surrounds the Argos heading into the new campaign. Star off-season addition Derel Walker looks to be in top form coming off season-ending injury, while Jacques Chapdelaine’s offence has clicked all pre-season, leading the team to a 2-0 record. If Corey Chamblin’s defence returns to its 2017 form, the Boatmen could challenge for the East Division crown.
It’s been a tough few months in the nation’s capital, with little remaining of the core that won East Division titles in three of the last four years. The list of off-season losses for the REDBLACKS is too long for this space, but General Manager Marcel Desjardins has proven adept at scouting and developing new talent. If this team can contend in 2019, it will silence more than a few critics in the process.
As surprising as it was to see Mike Sherman dismissed days before the season, the tone around the Alouettes appears to be positive. Young Antonio Pipkin has been named the team’s starting quarterback, while Khari Jones has worked hard for his first opportunity as a head coach. Perhaps laying low isn’t a bad thing for a team looking to finally break out and get back in the post-season.