When it comes to the superior division in the CFL, 2019 should be the same old.
Since Montreal Alouettes legend Anthony Calvillo retired after the 2013 CFL season, four times has an East Division team finished above .500.
And to kick the East while it’s down, from quarterback play to overall talent the East is looking lousier than the past five post-Calvillo years.
CFL East Division – 2019
First off, let’s exclude the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who remain strong and should have an easy path to first place in the East. But after Hamilton, an organization who even lost their head coach, June Jones, to Houston of the XFL, it could get real ugly.
Oh, and in comparison to what other East teams suffered, Jones was a somewhat minor loss.
In Ottawa, Trevor Harris, Greg Ellingson, Diontae Spencer, William Powell, SirVincent Rogers and Jaime Elizondo are all no longer with the Redblacks.
The Alouettes high investment in Johnny Manziel backfired after Manziel infamously bolted from the CFL, not to mention the Als ongoing ownership issues.
And in Toronto, Ricky Ray, Toronto’s Hall of Fame quarterback who started Week 1 of the 2018 season, has retired, leaving question regarding the talent they field at Ray’s old position.
Hamilton’s going to finish atop the East barring catastrophic injuries to the likes of Jeremiah Masoli, Brandon Banks, Delvin Breaux, etc.
So, with this laid out, the million-dollar question is: who’s finishing second in the CFL East Division? Here’s why each team could, in the order of likeliness to do so (according to my opinion).
Kavis Reed has assembled what looks on paper to be an extremely talented defence. It’s just that he’s brought in a defensive coordinator, Bob Slowik, with limited CFL experience.
With the recent addition of Ciante Evans, one could argue that the Als possess the best secondary in the CFL. Evans will join former Stampeders teammate Tommie Campbell and free agent acquisition Taylor Loffler to form a deadly trio in the backfield. I’m told free agent T.J. Heath is also still in the mix for the Als, although still unsigned.
Patrick Levels and Bo Lokombo are two more key free agents signings on defence, both likely suiting up to all-star linebacker Henoc Muamba’s left and right.
On the other side of the ball, the Als offensive line is sneaky good with the free agent acquisition of Spencer Wilson, who joins Tony Washington, Trey Rutherford, Kristian Matte and Tyler Johnstone as projected starters.
DeVier Posey was another splash for the Als in free agency. Posey’s a burner with elite hands and will compliment B.J. Cunningham, whose desperately needed some attention from opposing defences revoked.
William Stanback deserves a shoutout too. Stanback made his presence known early in 2018 on the teams’, fighting his way to a starting running back spot where he averaged 6.7 yards per carry on 81 rushes. He’s strong, mean, and a serious candidate to lead the CFL in rushing this year.
After that, the Als defensive line isn’t great and lacks depth. But veteran ends Gabriel Knapton and John Bowman can still produce at a decent rate.
Quarterback is another question mark, although it’s looking up.
Antonio Pipkin is the starter, period. Pipkin won his first two CFL starts in 2018 and was arguably pulled from his starting role due to Johnny Manziel’s credentials.
With Manziel gone, the Als should offer Pipkin a lengthy leash. He’s mobile, isn’t afraid to make bold plays, and has serious potential.
Lastly, the off the field ownership jumble could be distracting for the Als.
The Toronto Argonauts have revamped their coaching staff and several other positions.
On the sidelines, the big changes include Corey Chamblin as head coach and defensive coordinator and Jacques Chapdelaine as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
On offence, Chamblin has put his eggs in James Franklin’s basket. Franklin had a disappointing 2018 season, but he should be motivated to shine in what could be last shot. Behind Franklin is McLeod Bethel-Thompson and the Canadian trio made up of Brandon Bridge, Michael O’Connor and Noah Picton.
Derel Walker was the big fish for Toronto in free agency, and immediately becomes the go-to guy in the Six. Walker joins veterans S.J. Green, Armanti Edwards and Anthony Coombs in what should be an above average receiving corps.
James Wilder Jr. now has a party of backs behind him as well. Brandon Burks is back, but all of Tyrell Sutton, Chris Rainey and Mercer Timmis were brought in, which is somewhat puzzling considering the stability with Wilder Jr. and Burks alone.
On defence, Shawn Lemon and Tobi Antigha are great additions, making the Argos defensive line scary on paper. But after the front four, there are still some sizable concerns.
From points to yards per play to rushing yards, Toronto ranked last in a ton of defensive categories in 2018. The Argos brought in Micah Awe and Kevin Fogg as potential new starters in the back eight, but other than them, it’s looking like the same group as last year.
Looking at Toronto’s secondary, opponents should have no issues moving the ball through the air, as long as they throw away from Alden Darby’s area.
The detrimental blows to the Redblacks offence will make for a long season in the nation’s capital.
Dom Davis (eek) is likely the starting quarterback Week 1 unless Jon Jennings (eeek) can outduel Davis in camp.
At running back, Mossis Madu Jr. has full control. This is fine, but still a downgrade from two-time CFL all-star William Powell.
Brad Sinopoli will be the horse at receiver, but when you examine the rest of Ottawa’s receivers, it’s no secret that Sinopoli will draw numerous defenders on any given play.
Then there’s the ugly departure of Jaime Elizondo that the Redblacks responded to with some serious shade.
But on the bright side is the Redblacks defence.
He who earlier argued the Alouettes secondary is the best in the CFL has been acquainted with he who thinks the Redblacks is the best. And with Jonathan Rose, Chris Randle, Corey Tindal, Sherrod Baltimore and Antoine Pruneau, the case is valid.
The trio of Kevin Brown, Avery Williams and Anthony Cioffi at linebacker is extremely talented too. The same goes for the projected starting defensive line of Avery Ellis, Michael Klassen, Michael Wakefield and Jonathan Newsome.
Where the Redblacks defence may falter is with depth given a pile-up of injuries, but that’s something that shouldn’t be worried about until it were to happen.
All in all, I have really low expectations for the Redblacks after the changes on offence.
The Last Word – CFL East Division
I like the Montreal Alouettes to finish second in the CFL East Division. That said, I’m not sure if the Als will exceed a .500 record, in fact, I doubt it.
Out of the Als, Argos and Redblacks, I like Montreal’s quarterbacks the best. After that, I’m expecting massive things out of Stanback and Posey. Factor in the Als free agent additions on defence, and they should be able to put Pipkin in spots to win some lower-scoring games.
I’m wary of Toronto’s back eight on defence, and I’m not sold on James Franklin as a quality CFL quarterback. And unless Ottawa scores on defence on a gamely basis, I’m counting them out to even make the playoffs.
So there you go, a home playoff game is the Montreal Alouettes to lose..?
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images