As the 2014 CFL season is quickly approaching, here is a preview on how each team will do.
Eastern Conference Western Conference
1) Toronto Argonauts 1) Saskatchewan Roughriders
2) Hamilton Tiger-Cats 2) BC Lions
3) Montreal Alouettes 3) Calgary Stampeders
4) Ottawa Redblacks 4) Edmonton Eskimos
5) Winnipeg Blue Bombers
1) Toronto Argonauts: After losing to their provincial rivals in last years Eastern Conference Finals, the Argos saw some unexpected changes. First RB Chad Kackert suddenly retired right before the start of training camp due to injury. Head Coach Scott Milanovich will have to rely on to get the job done at tailback. The defence will get a boost as they signed all Canadian LB Shea Emry away from Montreal. While Emry gives them a huge presence, they will miss DB Patrick Watkins (Eskimos) and depth player Jason Pottinger (Redblacks) as they gave them much needed leadership who did what they were told. If QB Ricky Ray can stay healthy and the defence does the job, the Argos will win the division and can possibly go back to the Grey Cup. If not, it will be a difficult year in Toronto.
2) Hamilton Tiger-Cats: The Tabbies surprised last year as the played in the Grey Cup game for the first time since 1999. If they want to have a repeat of last year, they will do it without QB Henry Burris as he was cut and replaced by former Argo QB Zach Collaros. He will be the one to get the offence going with sophomore RB C.J Gable and a great receiving corps that has been further bolstered with the signing of Cary Koch. He is one of those under the radar players who gets the job done when asked upon. The defence got even more stronger with all Canadian DB Craig Butler joining the frame with LB Simoni Lawrence and company. If Collaros can replicate what Burris did last season, the Tiger-Cats can have a repeat of last season and can possibly win the Grey Cup this time around.
3) Montreal Alouettes: After a disappointing season that saw the Als barely make the playoffs with a 8-10 record, GM Jim Popp made huge changes during the offseason. For the second straight year, the Als have a new Head Coach in Tom Higgins. He has a lot of CFL experience and will want to start off on the right foot but the biggest change of all is at QB. Troy Smith will have huge shoes to fill as he will be the one replacing Anthony Calvillo for the starting job. As well the Als added an old NFL veteran in Chad Johnson who will join a great receiving corps with S.J Green, and sophomore Duron Carter. With SB Jamel Richardson released, expect Carter to see more balls thrown his way and being a huge downfield threat. The defence remains the same except without MLB Shea Emry as he is now an Argo. If the Als want to make the playoffs for an eighteenth straight year, the offence will have to give the defence more run support or that streak will be in jeopardy.
4) Ottawa Redblacks: This is the first season for the expansion Ottawa Redblacks. Unlike most expansion franchises in their first season, this can be a competitive team as they signed an experienced QB in Henry Burris. He will be the one who will guide the offence with RB Chevon Walker, SB Paris Jackson and a good offensive line anchored by Joe Eppele, John Gott and J'Michael Deane. The defence will also have good talent with guys like DB Jovon Johnson, LB's T.J Hill and Anton McKenzie along with DT Keith Shologan and DE Malik Jackson. The Redblacks will give a scare to the majority of teams, but like most expansion franchises in their first season, they will miss the playoffs in 2014.
1) Saskatchewan Roughriders: The defending Grey Cup champions saw some huge names leave for the NFL during the off-season. Gone are RB Kory Sheets (Raiders) and SB Weston Dressler (Chiefs). Those two were reliable leaders on the Riders options. That will put more pressure on guys like SB's Chris Getzlaf and Taj Smith and WR Rob Bagg if he can stay healthy for an entire season. The offence will also miss the leadership that Geroy Simon brought as he announced his retirement. The defence saw guys like Craig Butler (Hamilton Tiger-Cats) and Keith Shologan (Ottawa Redblacks) leave. Saskatchewan's hope of winning a second consecutive championship simply rests on Durant's shoulders. The Riders will go wherever he goes.
2) BC Lions: Another season filled with expectations that led to another year of disappointment. The Lions finished third last year and were soundly defeated by the eventual Grey Cup champs in Saskatchewan. After seeing starting QB Travis Lulay go down with injury, GM Wally Buono acquired a valuable backup in Kevin Glenn. He gives them the experience that they need should Lulay go down with injury once again. The defence saw the reacquisition of Jamall Johnson who will join a terrific linebacking corps with Adam Bighill and Solomon Elimimian. The hopes of the Lions becoming the third team to play in the Grey Cup game in their home building, Lulay will have to stay healthy and RB Andrew Harris will have to continue to get the yards to help his team win.
3) Calgary Stampeders: The Stamps had a great regular season last year finishing first in the West. The only problem, they were not able to go to the Grey Cup. To get back to the big game this year, they will rely on QB Bo-Levi Mitchell as he can stay more healthy than Drew Tate can. RB Jon Cornish can still be effective as he led the league in both rushing yards and touchdowns last year. Their defence remains the same as last years but their hopes of going back to the Grey Cup will be solely on the shoulders of Mitchell and Cornish, the main leaders on the offensive side of the ball.
4) Edmonton Eskimos: Last year was another season of disappointment for the Eskimos. QB Mike Reilly did a good job last year but he could not avoid seeing Edmonton finish with a 4-14 record. To fix the mess, GM Ed Hervey hired Chris Jones to become their new head coach. He is a proven winner as he has won everywhere he has been such as Montreal, Calgary and Toronto. Hervey was not done there as he added players like DB Patrick Watkins from Toronto, former Lions receiver Akeem Foster and offensive linemen Justin Sorensen and Andrew Jones. These changes will help, but for the second consecutive year, the Eskimos will simply not make the playoffs.
5) Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Last season was a complete mess for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. They finished dead last in the East with a terrible 3-15 record in their first year at Investors Group Field. To improve on such a bad year, the offseason saw huge changes. First former all-star linebacker Mike O'Shea is the new Head Coach. He has some experience as he was special teams coordinator with the Argos for a couple of seasons. The offence is completely different as Drew Willy is the new starting QB. He gives them more options as he is more durable than his predecessor in Buck Pierce. While these additions will help, the Bombers lost two important pieces in Henoc Muamba (NFL) on defence and SB Terrence Edwards to retirement. The Bombers will improve but it will be another long year in the Peg as they will miss the playoffs for a third straight year.