July 5, 2024

O’Leary: Streaking Als on the verge of history

Minas Panagiotakis/CFL.ca

There was a time — it started in the 2019 season — where I used to take the Montreal Alouettes every single week in the CFL.ca writers picks. The Als were a little down on their luck back then but ended up having something of an up-and-coming team. Not too many other people were picking them and at that time it felt like a fun way to spice up the rankings grid, so that it didn’t look like a completed Rubik’s Cube every week.

Five weeks into the 2024 season, picking the Als to win is far from an outlandish thing.

They’re a unanimous pick by the writers this week to take down the visiting Calgary Stampeders on Saturday night. In fact, through five weeks of pick-making by the writers, the Als have been picked against just four times. Total. As in, the six of us have had 30 total opportunities to pick with or against an Alouettes win and we’ve gone with them 26 times this year.

If you’re playing along on CFL Pick Em presented by Old Dutch, you know as well as we do that picking the 4-0 Als has been a rewarding process.

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Their 4-0 start of course overlaps with the success they had last season. Winners of their final eight games of the 2023 campaign, including their run to the 110th Grey Cup, the Als’ overall win streak stands at 12 games. Wherever this streak goes, we’re watching an Alouettes team that’s playing at a historically good level. When you think about the talent that’s rolled through the Alouettes roster since the team returned to Montreal in 1996, that’s saying A LOT.

The Als’ 4-0 start is the fourth time in modern franchise history that they’ve hit that mark (2001, 2004, 2009) and the team has started 4-0 or better seven times since 1996. A win on Saturday would match the start that the 2000 Als had. To match the modern franchise record of a best start, the Als will need to hit 8-0 to duplicate the 2002 squad, which like the 2009 team won a Grey Cup.

Their 12-game overall win streak and nine-game regular season win streak is entering this group into some elite territory as well.

Spanning from Sept. 23, 2023 through last week’s win over Toronto on June 28, the Alouettes’ nine-game regular season run — a franchise record — has them on the cusp of entering into the records of the league’s longest unbeaten streak. A tenth win would put them amongst the likes of the 1977 Argos, the 1994-1995 Stampeders and the 1972 Tiger-Cats. They’d still have a long way to go to climb to the top of that overall streak list. The Stamps hold the record for the longest overall unbeaten streak. They racked up 22 games in a row, spanning from Aug. 25, 1948 to Oct. 15, 1949.

Talk to head coach Jason Maas or reigning Grey Cup MVP Cody Fajardo though and you’ll almost certainly get a line about how those things are great, but don’t matter. The Als are focused on defending the Grey Cup and going on a winning streak in November, when your season is on the line.

A funny thing about all of these record-setting teams and their win streaks: they didn’t all win Grey Cups. A lot of the teams mentioned above, like the 1977 Argos and the 1994 and 1995 Stamps missed the mark. The 1948 Stamps won the Grey Cup, but the Alouettes won it in 1949, despite that long win streak. Even some of those hot-start Alouette teams of the early 2000s — the 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2006 teams — racked up wins but didn’t lift the Grey Cup in those years.

The Alouettes’ win last season is another great example of how little weight being the favourite can carry. The Bombers were 14-4 and handled the BC Lions in the Western Final before rolling into their fourth consecutive Grey Cup game. In the days after the Als had won last year, we looked back at a 10-season span and saw that the team with the best record in the league had won the Grey cup just four times (Winnipeg 2021, Calgary 2018, Edmonton 2015, Calgary 2014).

All of that to say that while these streaks are impressive, they guarantee nothing. Maas, Fajardo and the Als know that. The accomplishments are impressive in the moment, though. We’re just past the one-month mark of the 2024 season and we already have a team that’s on the verge of making some positive history. Now, as defending Grey Cup champs and approaching a benchmark in this run, they’re an easy pick week after week.

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