September 11, 2023

MMQB: Storylines for the stretch drive of the season

Minas Panagiotakis/

Now that the OK Tire Labour Day Weekend and a pair of customary rematches are behind us, the 2023 stretch drive has begun.

With convincing Week 14 wins, Toronto and Winnipeg have punched their post-season tickets and both are in strong shape to finish first in their division. But while this final stretch shapes up relatively straightforward for the Bombers and Argos, the other seven teams still have everything to play for with less than two months to go.

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BC Lions: First place is on the table

While Winnipeg is in the driver’s seat atop the West Division, their spot is significantly more tenuous than Toronto’s dominant position out East. That’s because the Lions are still very much a factor in this conversation. At 8-4, BC sits just two wins back of Winnipeg with a game in hand and one more head-to-head matchup on the docket.

And with the way Vernon Adams Jr. has this offence clicking, there’s no reason not to believe the Lions will keep the race for first place interesting. Adams has thrown for 300 or more yards in all four of his starts since returning from injury, including his dominant performance to kick off Labour Day Weekend in Montreal. Factoring in their remaining schedule, it’s just way too early to write BC off in the race for first.

Of their final six games, the Lions only play one team above the .500 mark based on today’s standings. And that one game just happens to be a Week 18 showdown with the Bombers at BC Place. If the Lions can keep within two wins of Winnipeg between now and then, Week 18 shapes up to be massive.

Montreal and Hamilton: The battle for second

Don’t look now, but the No. 2 seed in the East Division is up in the air all of the sudden. The Alouettes have dropped three in a row to fall to 6-6. The Ticats, on the other hand, have wins in two of their last three and have moved to within a game of Montreal at 5-7. The schedule could end up working out perfectly, too, as these two meet on the final day of the regular season.

On the one hand, Hamilton has a difficult schedule remaining. On top of their finale in Montreal, the Tiger-Cats also play Winnipeg, Toronto and BC in their final six. On the other, it looks like Taylor Powell has found his groove. In his last three outings, the rookie quarterback has completed more than 71 per cent of his passes and thrown seven touchdown passes against just one interception.

As for the Alouettes, the urgency level is rising as they get set for a second straight game with Toronto on Friday. And while there are a few areas Montreal needs to clean up, their largest issue most recently also feels like the most fixable. The Als are moving the ball well but have run into issues converting into points. Montreal’s total of 20 offensive touchdowns is one of the league’s lowest, but this team has some high-end playmakers at their disposal. I’m optimistic the Alouettes can change this narrative in the final third of 2023.

Saskatchewan Roughriders: Hold the line

The Riders are in the thick of the hunt for a playoff spot, with Jake Dolegala taking advantage of his starting opportunity (Arthur Ward/

At 6-6, the Riders find themselves in somewhat of a West Division no-man’s land. Could they track down BC for second? It’s not crazy to suggest, especially with one more head-to-head game with the Lions in Week 17. Conversely, could they lose ground and be overtaken by Calgary or Edmonton? Again, with remaining head-to-head games with both, it’s not impossible.

All the Riders can do is take care of their own business with six games remaining. Minus Saturday’s write-off loss to the Bombers, Sask has been impressive on both sides of the ball recently. Larry Dean, Nic Marshall, and Micah Johnson have led the way defensively. On offence, Jake Dolegala is making the most of his starting opportunity and is effectively using a solid array of weapons. Let’s see what this Riders team can accomplish down the stretch.

Calgary Stampeders: Two uphill climbs

After splitting their home-and-home with Edmonton, the Stamps find themselves in essentially the same spot they were in prior to Labour Day. If your outlook is glass half-empty, Calgary is in a tough spot to make the playoffs. On the flip side, though, the Stampeders are chasing down a post-season spot in both conferences, giving them two possible routes into the dance.

In the West, Calgary sits two wins behind the Roughriders with one more game played. While definitely an uphill battle, the Stamps have one more game with their arch-rival in Week 19. A win there would give Calgary the season series and thus the tiebreak. The Stampeders are also two games back of Hamilton and the East Division crossover with a head-to-head showdown in Week 17 still to come.

Of course, for Calgary to track down the teams they’re chasing, they’ll realistically need to win at least three of their final five, if not four. Jake Maier’s last three starts at quarterback have been encouraging, while tailback Ka’Deem Carey is coming off his most productive game of the season. Those are a couple steppingstones the Stamps can use as they undertake the steep road ahead.

Edmonton and Ottawa: An outside chance

After an 0-9 start, the Elks have won three of their last four, punctuated by a thrilling comeback Saturday at home to Calgary. Even if Edmonton is unable to make up the three wins they need on the Riders or Ticats, just seeing more of this group succeed will be immensely important down the stretch. Tre Ford continues to solidify his starting spot at quarterback while the likes of Nyles Morgan, Kevin Brown, and Eugene Lewis, among others, are at the very least laying down important roots for next season.

The situation for the REDBLACKS is very similar. They also need to make up three wins by virtue of losing their season series with Hamilton. And, even if they end up missing the playoffs, the final six games for Ottawa will serve as important reps. That’s especially true for rookie standouts Dustin Crum and Devonte Williams.

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