The Canadian Press
Week 20 of the CFL season decided everything we needed to know about the playoff picture.
The second last week of the season set our playoff matchups in stone, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to be determined. I’ve got four questions that still need to be answered as we look ahead to Week 21.
Is Nathan Rourke going to play?
The BC Lions clinched second in the West Division on Friday with their 31-14 win over Edmonton. Now all eyes turn to their final game against Winnipeg and whether we see Rourke suit up in his first game since August. BC’s star quarterback sustained a Lisfranc fracture in his right foot in Week 11 and hasn’t played since, but that could change this weekend.
» Argos clinch division with wild win over Als
» Ticats defeat REDBLACKS with walk-off field goal
» Carey, Mills help Stamps rush past Riders
» Lions lock down second in West with win over Elks
» Matchups Set: 109th Grey Cup playoffs ready for kickoff
“(Rourke) is gonna practice,” Lions head coach Rick Campbell told the Vancouver Province. “I think the smart move is to not commit to anything until we practice a few days and kind of see where we are.
“Our number one step with Nathan is to get him practicing and seeing how he’s feeling about things. And then as far as whether he plays or won’t, we’ll cross that bridge. The goal with Nathan would be to do whatever best thing to have him ready for the for the playoff game.”
We know BC is hosting the Western Semi-Final against the Calgary Stampeders in just under two weeks. Having Rourke, the Most Outstanding Player frontrunner before his injury, back for that game is a huge priority. If it makes sense health-wise to have Rourke suit up against the Bombers, getting him some reps prior to their showdown with Calgary seems desirable. We’ll see if that’s how things play out.
Similarly, eyes will be on star receivers Bryan Burnham and Lucky Whitehead to see if they’re able to suit up prior to the playoffs, too. Burnham hasn’t played since fracturing his wrist in Week 16. Whitehead, on the other hand, has been on the shelf since Week 17 with an ankle injury.
Do we see Dane Evans for Hamilton?
Evans was forced to leave Friday’s game against Ottawa as the Tiger-Cats were doing their part to punch their post-season ticket. Evans sustained a thumb injury with his team locked in a 24-24 tie in the fourth quarter and was replaced by veteran Matthew Shiltz the rest of the way. It was Shiltz at the helm as Hamilton drove the ball into field goal range for Seth Small’s deciding kick in a 30-27 win.
As of writing this, we don’t know Evans’s status for Week 21 or the Eastern Semi-Final in Montreal. While it’s been an up and down campaign for Evans, he’s still Hamilton’s number one and has a couple of playoff wins under his belt already. Getting him back would be ideal, but Shiltz will be ready to go if that’s not how things play out.
“It’s the CFL and two quarterbacks are going to have to play,” Shiltz said after Friday’s win over the REDBLACKS. “We’ll see how Dane is feeling and I’m praying he’s going to be OK but if not, it’s like any other position on the field, it’s next man up.”
How do teams manage their starters?
This is a question that comes up in some form or another every year heading towards the playoffs. With all six playoff teams decided in Week 21, however, it takes on a different wrinkle. Each team and coaching staff will have a slightly different approach when it comes to resting, managing, or playing their starters this weekend.
This is old hat for Winnipeg, for instance. With the West Division locked up in 2021, the Bombers used some starters normally in their season finale, rested others, and gave quarterback Zach Collaros a few series before sitting him down the rest of the way. A year later, Winnipeg and Toronto are the two teams with byes in the first week of the playoffs and thus may manage things differently than Hamilton, Montreal, Calgary, or BC.
Who wins the rushing and receiving titles?
Knowing that, it’ll be interesting to see how a couple of regular season statistical races are wrapped up in Week 21. Let’s be honest: these things don’t truly matter to players and teams compared to winning a Grey Cup. But, on the outside, it’ll still be fun to watch these races play out this weekend.
On the ground, Calgary’s Ka’Deem Carey enters the final week leading the league with 1,088 rushing yards. That’s 34 more than James Butler of the Lions who sits second at 1,054. After finishing second to William Stanback in 2021, I’m sure it would be a nice bonus for Carey to win the regular season rushing crown this year, but only if it makes sense. And, with Carey and Butler going head-to-head in the Western Semi-Final, well, I think you know what showdown matters more.
At receiver, we’ve got a race between three players separated by just 54 yards. Leading the way is rookie sensation Dalton Schoen of the Blue Bombers at 1,357 receiving yards. Right behind him is BC’s Dominique Rhymes (1,346), with Eugene Lewis of the Alouettes sitting third at 1,303. Depending on how each of their respective team opts to use each player, this could be a fun race to the finish.