I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It’s all very meaningless except that it ain’t meaningless at all.
As the 2023 CFL regular season comes to a close with playoff spots set in stone, you could be forgiven for looking past Week 21 and towards next week’s Eastern and Western Semi-Finals. Don’t do it. Don’t get caught in the spectator version of a trap game.
The most intriguing storyline for me heading into this weekend is Saturday’s game between the Hamilton Ticats and the Alouettes in Montreal, and how these teams approach it considering they’ll meet again one week later in the Eastern Semi.
We might not know exactly how the head coaches, Jason Maas and Orlondo Steinauer, will approach things with regard to playing time, but we do know how the players will approach this game, and that is the part that has me most looking forward to this clash. No matter who is on the field – and there should be plenty of starters for good chunks of this considering both teams are coming off a bye – they will be taking it ultra-seriously.
“We’re going in to win,” said Maas this week. “And play our guys.” Maas also said he’d have a message for his players. “Don’t hold back.”
Maas stated, this week, that he’d be limiting starting quarterback Cody Fajardo to about a quarter’s worth of work. It will be interesting to see how his counterpart in Hamilton handles his own stable of pivots. With both Bo Levi Mitchell and Matthew Shiltz healthy heading into the playoffs, Steinauer finds himself in a very good situation, but also in one where he needs to strike the right balance.
With an eye on the playoff game ahead, I expect this one to be a slobberknocker of a hard-hitter, with each side insisting on setting the tone for next week. If this game is played rather plainly when it comes to schemes, it will not be that way when it comes to emotion and physicality.
That’s something we should be able to expect from the Calgary Stampeders, too, when they take on the Blue Bombers at home on Friday night.
Despite winning two in a row and coming off their best game of the season in blasting the BC Lions in Week 20, Stampeders coach Dave Dickenson is far from satisfied.
“We’re not playing that great,” said Dickenson after one of his team’s snowy practices this week. “We need to build on momentum.”
You can be sure that Dickenson’s message prior to this game will be one of intensity. So we will see just how much of that his team has in its tank when it measures itself against one of the CFL’s elite teams. Are the Stampeders we’ve seen in their last two games the team they really are? Or are they actually the group that had spent most of the season in a gear-grinding stall?
The Bombers, meanwhile, will start backup quarterback Dru Brown in place of Zach Collaros. Brown has looked perfectly well-suited to that Bombers’ offence each time he has seen action, including a superb outing last week against Edmonton. The Bombers will rest plenty of their starters, including all four of the men who usually start on their defensive line, so we’re all going to get a good look at just how well Winnipeg has built depth behind some of their stars.
The CFL’s final matchup of the regular season – Toronto at Ottawa – is the game with the least amount on the line. There’s no momentum in need of gathering, no message that needs to be sent.
Still, this game has the potential to be very entertaining. Both of the previous games these two have played this season have been just that, with a total of 142 points scored and 1,630 net yards gained. Even if Toronto coach Ryan Dinwiddie follows through with his assertion that starting quarterback Chad Kelly will not play much if at all, the emerging Cameron Dukes has shown he is capable of putting together marches and orchestrating chunk plays.
It’s not as though this game is without some stakes, even if those stakes are of the nothing more than aesthetic variety.
If the Toronto wins, they’ll set a franchise record for victories in a season with 16, tying the league’s all-time mark set by Edmonton in 1989. In this, the team’s 150th anniversary season, the Argos have shown that they care about such things.
The Argonauts wouldn’t mind springing Javon Leake one more time on a punt return and if they do, he’ll have five on the season, tying the mark currently held by two men; Chris Williams and Henry Williams.
The REDBLACKS have some trinkets to try to collect themselves, like a thousand-yard season for running back Devonte Williams, who is just 48 yards from that milestone. Receiver Justin Hardy is 110 yards shy of his own thousand-yard season.
Let’s circle back to those first two games while we’re looking for the stories within the bigger stories.
Will the Bombers give Brady Oliveira the chance to pick up the measly two yards he needs to get to the 1,500-yard rushing mark? He’s listed as the starter so it appears they will. He also needs just 18 receiving yards to get to 500 and when you do the math, you see he needs only 20 to push his combined yards total to 2,000. They could do that and still have lots of game left to give backup Johnny Augustine a heavy workload too.
Calgary middle linebacker Micah Awe could reach the top five in single-season tackles totals if he has a great game. With 118 to his credit, he’s nine shy of Bruce Holmes, who tallied 127 back in 1990.
One more thing. Hamilton defensive end Jamal Davis told the ‘Ticats Today’ podcast crew that he gained ten pounds during the bye week and attributed that to intensive weight training. Do you think he’s ready for his first game against the team he played for up until a month ago?
Week 21 is bereft of actual playoff and standings consequences but it does till have come with plenty of storylines and lots of intrigue.
Don’t get trapped into thinking it doesn’t.