TORONTO — In years past, this space — the aptly named Way Too Early Power Rankings — has tried to cater to and pay due respect to the recently named Grey Cup champions. It should take something extraordinary to knock a champion from its well-earned perch, especially in an April Power Rankings setup, where camps haven’t even opened yet and games are even further away from being played.
In the previous three editions of these rankings, we’ve seen the defending champs ranked no lower than second.
Here in 2023, we have the extraordinary.
The Toronto Argonauts’ run to the Grey Cup was the conclusion to the 2022 season that very few predicted (shoutout to CFL.ca’s Kristina Costabile and Jim Morris, who went with their instincts during a cold, snowy week in Regina over four months ago now).
The Argos’ season was one of self-discovery, as they went from a talented but seemingly volatile group early on to a defensively-rooted team that learned how to win together. That culminated with a three-phase effort, highlighted by a late Henoc Muamba interception, an A.J. Ouellette touchdown and Robbie Smith‘s blocked field goal that lifted them over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, spoiling their bid to become a three-peat champion.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson‘s departure from the team knocked an otherwise productive off-season out of whack. Yes, many of the key players from the soon-to-be-iced-out team signed on to try to run it back this year, but the starting quarterback isn’t one of them.
Chad Kelly‘s place in that GC109 win can’t be overlooked either, as he finished out the game at QB after Bethel-Thompson dislocated his thumb. But when we look at the 18-game season ahead of Kelly, it’s hard to confidently say that the Boatmen will be able to pick up the oars and continue rowing along as the same team we saw close out the 2022 season. We just don’t know enough yet about the new No. 1.
For Argos fans and those of the other seven clubs in the league that aren’t at No. 1 on this list, take solace in knowing that in compiling these rankings, we’re often wrong and sometimes even way off on a placement. Last year at this time, we had the BC Lions, then shrouded in questions at quarterback, at the No. 8 spot. We happily eat crow on that pick and will do the same if we’re wrong about the Argos this time around.
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1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers
2022 record: 15-3, lost Grey Cup
First Up: Vs. Hamilton, June 9
Off-season notable: Kenny Lawler returns to Winnipeg and joins a receiving corps that features Dalton Schoen, Nic Demski, Rasheed Bailey and Drew Wolitarsky, just to name a few. The Bombers made very few moves in free agency (two in, three out). Expect them to be the same dominant team this year.
2. BC Lions
2022 record: 12-6, lost Western Final
First Up: At Calgary, June 8
Off-season notable: The Lions lost Nathan Rourke to the NFL and replaced him with Vernon Adams Jr. and Dane Evans, while keeping much of their 2022 roster intact. It’s not the same team as 2022, but the 2023 group should be a good one.
3. Calgary Stampeders
2022 record: 12-6, lost Western Semi-Final
First Up: Vs. BC, June 8
Off-season notable: Jake Maier heads into his first full season as a starter on a Stamps team that lost a few players but hasn’t changed much for 2023. The Stamps have scouted well and developed players within their own system for over a decade now and we expect them to be in the thick of things again this year.
4. Toronto Argonauts
2022 record: 11-7, won Grey Cup
First Up: Vs. Hamilton, June 18
Off-season notable: MBT stayed put in the States and the keys to the offence go to Chad Kelly. If Kelly plays well, this is a dangerous team. The Argos might be even better defensively this year and remain loaded with offensive threats. If you’re unhappy with this ranking, at least your team is ahead of the No. 5 team.
5. Hamilton Tiger-Cats
2022 record: 8-10, lost Eastern Semi-Final
First Up: At Winnipeg, June 9
Off-season notable: It’s a roster overhaul in Steeltown, highlighted by Bo Levi Mitchell taking control of the offence. Hosting the 110th Grey Cup this season at Tim Hortons Field, the Ticats are intent on playing in that game and making up for the opportunity lost there two years earlier against Winnipeg.
6. Ottawa REDBLACKS
2022 record: 4-14, missed playoffs
First Up: At Montreal, June 10
Off-season notable: After a long recovery period, Jeremiah Masoli will get another crack at leading the REDBLACKS franchise back into the playoffs for the first time since 2019. Like a year ago, this team is a good one on paper. A healthy QB1 will let us see how good it can be.
7. Saskatchewan Roughriders
2022 record: 6-12, missed playoffs
First Up: At Edmonton, June 11
Off-season notable: A new starting QB, a new offensive coordinator and a spruced up offensive line could be the answer to the Riders’ 2022 troubles. In an always-competitive West Division, the Riders may need to click early and get out to a strong start this year.
8. Edmonton Elks
2022 record: 4-14, missed playoffs
First Up: Vs. Saskatchewan, June 11
Off-season notable: Taylor Cornelius will have the offence from the opening of training camp, which should make a difference for the Elks this year and he’ll have a wealth of receiving talent surrounding him when he gets out there. One other thing to think about here: a Chris Jones team in Year 2 under his watch has traditionally been very improved (think 2015 Elks and 2017 Riders).
9. Montreal Alouettes
2022 record: 9-9, lost Eastern Final
First Up: Vs. Ottawa, June 10
Off-season notable: The Als certainly had their off-season challenges, undergoing an ownership change as the free agent market was opening, which cost them players. Still, they have some interesting pieces for this season and that starts with Cody Fajardo reuniting with head coach Jason Maas in the East Division. With better offensive line play in front of him, Fajardo could be poised for a bounce back season.