TORONTO — Is there currently a more polarizing player in the CFL than Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols?
Since arriving in Winnipeg during the 2015 season, Nichols has helped the Blue and Gold become a perennial playoff contender, last year reaching the Western Final and since then starting the season 7-2, good for first place in the West Division.
Still, the 32-year-old has his detractors. For many, Nichols is the living embodiment of the ‘game manager’ label, failing to record a 300-yard passing game in nine outings this season while hitting such a benchmark just once in his last 25 games.
Facts are facts, though, and in 2019 it can’t be denied that Nichols has played a key role in his team’s success. Not only does he lead the CFL with a quarterback rating of 107.2, he’s also thrown 15 touchdown passes against only five interceptions. In addition, Nichols has completed 71.3 per cent of his passes, while his 8.1 yards per attempt mark a career-high.
Often one of the most maligned quarterbacks in the league, how will Nichols’ absence impact the Bombers’ Grey Cup hopes? The debate is on in The Weekly Say.
Can the Bombers keep winning without Nichols?
Marshall Ferguson: Yes. There is more than enough talent on that roster but it will take plenty of growth from Chris Streveler in a short period of time.
Matthew Cauz: Of course. There is a whole lotta talent on this team and with all the other quarterback injuries going on there will only be a couple weeks where the Bombers’ opponent will have a clear advantage at that position.
Jim Morris: It’s going to be hard. Over the next six games Winnipeg plays Saskatchewan three times, Edmonton, Hamilton and Montreal. Chris Streveler showed some promise last season but probably hasn’t got enough experience yet to prevent the Bombers from crashing.
Donnovan Bennett: Probably not. They have two teams up next in Edmonton and Saskatchewan who are not only competing with Winnipeg for top spot in the West but they boast two of the best defences in the league. Nichols hardly ever throws for over 300 yards but does lead the league with 15 TD passes. Streveler on the other hand just has 16 pass attempts this year. Streveler was 1-2 as a starter filling in for Nichols at the start of 2017. If he wins a third of his games replacing Nichols the Bombers will still be in contention.
Don Landry: If Andrew Harris can take on even more responsibility in that offence, then yes. I don’t think Chris Streveler is the same calibre as Matt Nichols, so it’ll take Harris being Harris to keep the ball moving. Good news is he seems to crave more and more and more this season. As well, I think the Winnipeg defence is up to the task of tipping the scales of a game’s balance in the team’s favour.
Jamie Nye: ABSOLUTELY!!!!!! They have so much talent and they can build an offence around Chris Streveler to succeed in the CFL. Let’s not forget their defence is one of the best in the league as well. There should be no concern that the bottom is going to fall out for the Bombers. Will they go 7-2 in the back half of the season? No, but even a 5-4 record will put Winnipeg in a tight race for first place at 12 wins.
Chris O’Leary: This will be a big test for Chris Streveler. If he can produce, the Bombers will be OK. If you’re relying on a Willie Jefferson pick-six — that’d be deja vu for him from his time in Saskatchewan, wouldn’t it? — or a special teams touchdown for a win every week, you’re not going to get very far.
If the Argos trade Wilder, which team would be a fit?
Morris: Truthfully most teams in the league could use a James Wilder Jr. I think with the way Ottawa is struggling, Wilder could have the most impact with the REDBLACKS.
Bennett: Which team would be the best fit for a trade? Best is a relative term. Ottawa would be the best relative to the rest of the league as they don’t have a rusher that has grabbed a hold of the job and they are committed to playing an American at the position. But I don’t see a great fit anywhere via trade because you are bringing in a significant salary mid-season and being asked to give something up to do it. Couple that with the fact this saga has become so public is why Toronto has little to no leverage in trade. Now if he’s cut by Toronto then that’s a different story.
Cauz: I’m going with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Yes, Cameron Marshall ran the ball well in the team’s win over Ottawa, but with Sean Thomas Erlington still injured and Jeremiah Masoli done for the season the Tabbies could use all the offensive weapons they can get. We know that Wilder Jr. is great out of the backfield so he would make life easier for Dane Evans.
Ferguson: BC. John White has carried the load but he’ll need a break at some point. Wilder could give the Lions a change of pace and make the offence more dynamic to help protect Reilly.
Landry: I don’t see a great fit out there for Wilder. Everybody seems to have good running backs in their stable and many have good back-ups, too. I think his best fit is to do what the Argos are asking of him and fight his way back to a place where he’s getting touches at crucial times. The best fit for him is the team that has him.
Nye: The Calgary Stampeders have had their share of injuries and I’d think a contender with injuries is a better fit than a team like BC, who need to build up young talent to move forward, similar to what is going on in Toronto. The salary of Wilder has to hamper any potential trade until some one gets desperate. We are likely one more injury away from a team making a move to gauge what a trade would look like.
O’Leary: I look across the league and I see teams that lag in the run game, but don’t necessarily see a lack of talented running backs. Would Ottawa or Hamilton want to shake things up by adding Wilder? Calgary’s running backs have been beaten up all year. Could Wilder fit there? He’d be a Messam/Cornish type back, but missing the national status they brought. I still think Wilder’s best fit is in Toronto, if they can figure things out there.
Which current receiving duo would you pick first?
Cauz: I’m not going Edmonton even though Ricky Collins is leading the league and Greg Ellingson is Greg Ellingson. It’s an easy answer and let’s face it, Edmonton always produces top receiver seasons. Instead I’m going with Shaq Evans and Kyran Moore, who have been productive despite uncertainty at the quarterback position.
Ferguson: Banks and Addison. Sounds homer-ish, but these guys are the most dynamic play making duo going right now. Banks with the top end speed capable of beating you in the quick game or long and Addison who has done a bit of everything for Hamilton though nine games.
Bennett: Whoever you deem the top two receivers are in Edmonton. Ricky Collins Jr., Greg Ellingson and DaVaris Daniels are all top 10 level receivers in the league and they all happen to play on the same team. No other team has more than one number one receiver, who alone can dictate coverage. Edmonton has three.
Landry: Holy Hal Patterson, what a question. Can I choose the quarterback throwing to them? I’ll go with Greg Ellingson and Ricky Collins Jr. But if I had a bit more more guts, I’d say DeVier Posey and Eugene Lewis. The eye-popping numbers aren’t there yet. But, oh, they will be.
Nye: Brandon Banks is the receiver I’d want more than any other right now in the CFL and Bralon Addison is coming into his own as the second option in Hamilton over Luke Tasker. While Greg Ellingson and Ricky Collins are lights out in Edmonton right now, I’d want my No. 1 as Banks, no matter who his number two is. However, Addison is a very good compliment.
O’Leary: Right now, I’d take Ricky Collins and Greg Ellingson. If I had healing powers I’d take Eric Rogers and a healthy Kamar Jorden.