- FREE AGENCY
It was just three Mondays ago when I told you how Winnipeg and Edmonton looked to be putting separation between themselves and the rest of the West Division. Oops. Three weeks later, the West is as wide open as we’ve seen it in some time. In fact, when you factor in Montreal’s resurgence and Hamilton’s injury situation, the CFL seems more for grabs in the regular season than I can ever remember.
The East Division is going to be fascinating to watch play out for the rest of 2019. At 5-2, Hamilton has a two-game cushion at the top, but life after Jeremiah Masoli started with a loss to the Riders on Thursday night. Without their franchise quarterback, thoughts of the Tiger-Cats winning a Grey Cup have been dialed back significantly, and for good reason.
Things have tightened up right behind Hamilton, too. After three straight wins, the Alouettes fell 30-27 in overtime to Ottawa Friday night, which now has both teams sitting at three wins. It was a huge game for the REDBLACKS, as a fifth straight loss would have allowed Montreal to open up a gap of their own.
Instead, we’re talking about a very uncertain, wide-open landscape in the East. No one knows how the Ticats are going to finish the season without Masoli, despite the fact they still boast a great deal of high-end talent on both sides of the football. The Als are a completely different team than they’ve been in years, while Ottawa is one of the bigger competitive surprises this year.
The West Division takes things to a whole new level with four teams sitting at four wins or more with a huge matchup kicking off Week 9. The Bombers and Stampeders both sit 5-2 on top of the group and will meet for the first time Thursday night at IG Field. Both teams have traveled an interesting road, too.
After starting 5-0, Winnipeg has dropped consecutive games to give up their grip atop the league. The team’s most recent loss is the shocking one, though; the Blue Bombers saw the previously winless Toronto Argonauts march 72 yards on nine plays to take a shocking 28-27 last-minute win.
Calgary, on the other hand, sits tied for top spot overall against the odds. I’m not sure how many people saw that coming when Bo Levi Mitchell went down late in Week 2, but Nick Arbuckle has gotten the job done. While the numbers aren’t eye-popping, Arbuckle is 4-1 starting for the Stamps after steering them to a 24-18 win at home to Edmonton on Saturday.
Despite that loss in round one of the Battle of Alberta, the Eskimos are still very much a factor in the West. Edmonton boasts the league’s top passing offence and is one of the CFL’s top defensive units; they’re allowing the fewest passing yards against per game (179.4) and second-fewest rushing yards against (79.9). This is still one of the top squads going.
Finally, it has been quite a nice little run in Saskatchewan. With their 24-19 win at home to Hamilton over the weekend, the Riders have wins in four of their last five games and sit a game back of first place. Cody Fajardo looks legit; he’s 4-2 as a starter and this defence is really rounding into form.
I don’t know who’s winning the regular season division crowns. I certainly don’t know who’s winning the Grey Cup. With what we’ve seen approaching the halfway mark, I could see it going myriad different ways. There’s still plenty of football to play, which means there may yet be separation.
If things were to stay like this, however, I don’t think anyone is going to complain.
An eventful 24 hours
Did anyone have a more eventful week than McLeod Bethel-Thompson? Toronto’s current starting quarterback had to perk up when he saw his team acquire Zach Collaros from the Roughriders on Wednesday. In fact, it seemed to offer up a little motivation the very next day.
Bethel-Thompson put together his best game of the season, and one of the best of his career, as the Argonauts picked up their first win of the season Thursday against Winnipeg. Bethel-Thompson went 37-for-49 and threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns and saved his best for last.
Down 27-21 with less than two minutes remaining, Bethel-Thompson was near perfect on the aforementioned nine-play drive that won Toronto the game. He completed seven of eight passes on the drive, including an 11-yard touchdown strike to SJ Green to set up a game-winning convert. Bethel-Thompson also ran for 14 yards to set up the pass to Green, which made him very much the central figure of the comeback.
The question remains, though: will it be enough for MBT? The easy answer to that is yes…for the time being. Collaros isn’t sure when he’ll be ready to start games again after sustaining a head/neck injury on his first drive of the season. The Argos also have James Franklin on the six-game injured list, which means Bethel-Thompson is the starter for the foreseeable future
The challenge for the 31-yard-old journeyman is to keep himself there. Bethel-Thompson had a nice stretch when he first started games last season before coming down to earth. Eventually Toronto went back to Franklin to finish the season. With Collaros also in the fold now, that challenge just got a little more interesting for Bethel-Thompson.
Yes, Hamilton lost its first game without Jeremiah Masoli, but you can still put a positive spin on things. While new starting quarterback Dane Evans wasn’t spectacular, he had some really impressive moments and showed he can manage a game at the very least. Folks close to the Tiger-Cats think this guy has a ton of upside, and you saw a little bit of that against the Riders.
Furthermore, this Hamilton defence is really rounding into form. Delvin Breaux remains one of the elite shutdown corners in Canadian football, while newcomer Ja’Gared Davis is looking more dominant each week. The Ticats may now have their franchise pivot for the rest of the season, but I’m quite confident this group isn’t going to fall of the face of the earth.
Finally, things are trending quite positively in Calgary. We already talked about their 5-2 record and how Nick Arbuckle has stepped into the void at quarterback almost seamlessly. Well, now reigning Most Outstanding Player Bo Levi Mitchell is on the comeback trail. It puts the Stamps in a really advantageous position.
With how the team is winning with Arbuckle at the helm, Calgary has no need to rush Mitchell back. Post Media’s Danny Austin reports Mitchell will be back throwing in practice Friday with a targeted return of Aug. 17 at home to Montreal. If that gets pushed back a week between now and then, though, the Stamps likely won’t lose much sleep.