November 2, 2023

Steinberg: 6 things to keep an eye on for Division Semi-Finals

Peter McCabe/

Welcome to the 2023 CFL post-season!

The first week of the playoffs gets going Saturday afternoon with a pair of rematches from one year ago. The Eastern Semi-Final kicks us off with Montreal hosting Hamilton for a second straight year. And, for a second consecutive season, it’s BC at home to Calgary in the Western Semi-Final on Saturday evening.

I’ve got my eye on all kinds of things heading into Semi-Final weekend…in no particular order.

» 3 storylines to watch in the Western Semi-Final
» 3 stats that could loom large in the Eastern Semi-Final
» Head to Head: Who has the edge in the Western Semi-Final?


William Stanback, Montreal Alouettes

2023 wasn’t Stanback’s most productive year, but it feels like the two-time 1,000-yard tailback is hitting stride at exactly the right time. Stanback went over 80 yards on the ground in three of Montreal’s last five games and scored all three of his touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) during that same span.

And even though Stanback’s numbers are down from his 2021 peak, we’re still talking about one of the league’s most dynamic backs. With the way Stanback performed down the stretch, it feels like he’ll be a big contributor if Montreal is to make it back to a second straight Eastern Final.

Vernon Adams vs. Calgary’s defence

Saturday’s Western Semi-Final sees a matchup of the CFL’s number one passing offence against one of the league’s most well-rounded defensive units. And central in that matchup will be the league’s most prolific passer in 2023: Vernon Adams Jr. The pivot finished the regular season with 4,769 passing yards, over 500 more than Zach Collaros, this year’s number two.

And while Calgary didn’t lead the league in any team defensive categories, they were solid across the board. The Stamps ranked top five in sacks, interceptions, net offensive yards against, and passing yards against. And let’s not forget the job they did against Adams and company in their 41-16 win over BC in Week 20.

Can Jake Maier be more effective in his second playoff start?

Maier made his first career CFL playoff start in last year’s Western Semi-Final and it didn’t go according to plan. As Calgary fell 30-16 to the Lions, Maier was pulled in the fourth quarter after completing 12 of 22 passes for 138 yards and no touchdowns. I’m curious to see how Maier performs in his second playoff opportunity against the very same opponent.

Montreal’s offensive line vs. Hamilton’s defensive front

One area where the Als struggled during the regular season was protecting quarterback Cody Fajardo. Montreal allowed 61 sacks over the course of 18 games, which was good for well over three per game. That’s a matchup to watch against a Hamilton defensive group that can make plays.

Linebackers Jameer Thurman and Simoni Lawrence each had five sacks while Casey Sayles set a new career high with seven in his first season with the Tiger-Cats. And it sure was nice to see Dylan Wynn back in action to wrap up the regular season. In a year that’s been a struggle at times, Wynn picked up his first sack in Hamilton’s season finale and we’ll see if he can carry that momentum into the playoffs.

Can Montreal make it four wins vs. Hamilton this season?


It’s hard to sweep a CFL season series, especially against a division rival. But that’s exactly what Montreal will be looking to do on Saturday in their fourth meeting with the Tiger-Cats. The Als won all three head-to-head matchups during the regular season, but by shrinking margins each time. That sets up a very interesting challenge for Montreal.

Mathieu Betts, BC Lions

Betts has arguably been the league’s most impactful defensive player in 2023 and now gets a chance to perform in the playoff spotlight once again. Betts recorded one sack and three tackles in last year’s Western Semi-Final win against Calgary and enters this year’s post-season coming off an explosive breakout season.

Betts led the league in 2023 with 18 sacks, which is the highest ever total by a National player and the most by anyone since John Bowman recorded 19 in 2015. BC will be favoured by most entering Saturday’s matchup with the Stamps and Betts is a big reason why.

My picks: Hamilton and Calgary

I’m leaning Tiger-Cats on Saturday because I really do think it’s difficult to beat the same time four times in the same season. And even though they lost their last two games of the regular season, those losses came by a combined five points.

As for my Stamps pick, it’s mainly because I really like the groove they’re in entering the playoffs. With must-win stakes hanging over their Week 19 and 20 games with Saskatchewan and BC, respectively, Calgary won their two biggest games of the year to clinch an 18th consecutive playoff berth. I’ll take the hot hand in this one.

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