We are oh-so-close to the kick-off of the 2019 regular season. Prediction articles are well underway, overreactions to pre-season games have Twitter flooded with hot takes from every fanbase but the general mood is that of excitement. The entire league received a facelift (not just the New Era uniforms) as many players found new homes during free agency in February.
The West Division appears to be an even more difficult gauntlet than it was in years past if that was even possible. With the addition of Trevor Harris to the Edmonton Eskimos, one could make the argument that the three best quarterbacks reside in the West (depending on how you feel about Jeremiah Masoli). Below are each West Division team’s biggest obstacle from finishing first in the CFL West Division
Call it an obscure answer if you must but this Lions team is entering the season with likely the highest of expectations. More than the defending Grey Cup Champion Calgary Stampeders, that’s saying something. Hiring the most sought after head coach in DeVone Claybrooks and signing the most sought after quarterback in Mike Reilly would’ve been enough to raise expectations on the west coast. However, it didn’t stop there.
Duron Carter, John White, Chris Edwards, Aaron Grymes, Lemar Durant, Sukh Chungh all made their way to British Columbia. At the same time, the Lions were able to retain Bryan Burnham, TJ Lee and Hunter Steward. What does this all mean? The Lions have a long way to fall if this doesn’t translate to immediate success. Could one make reference to the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles “dream team”? They could, but I’m not sure if someone would want to take it that far.
Nevertheless, hosting a home playoff game should be the lowest the bar goes, with a new coach, culture and quarterback time will tell how quickly this team is able to pull it together and make a run for their first Grey Cup since 2011.
For the sake of not rehashing the same storyline that has dominated Saskatchewan over the past season, we’ll put it out there that the offence needs to be better. That starts with the quarterback, Zach Collaros. After striking out on Bo Levi Mitchell, Trevor Harris and Mike Reilly, the Riders brought back the veteran pivot and invested the remaining cap they had into the interior defence with Micah Johnson and Solomon Elimimian.
Make no mistake, despite the loss of Chris Jones, the defence on paper could be just as dominant as last season. But what will it mean if the offence struggles to put up points again? And that is precisely why you’re seeing a majority of predictions having the Riders finish last in the West. Saskatchewan did invest into its offence as well, bringing in star running back, William Powell. As well as offensive lineman Dakoda Shepley and going heavy on receivers early in the 2019 Draft.
For the Riders to prove their detractors wrong, it will start with Zach Collaros staying healthy, then producing. Nine touchdowns and a negative TD:INT ratio won’t get them 12 wins this year, not with Trevor Harris, Bo Levi Mitchell and Mike Reilly in the division.
While it’s often in professional sports that the championship team is raided of its talent. The Stampeders endured loses at the coaching and player level this past off-season. Calgary’s first and likely greatest loss was their defensive coordinator of the past three seasons, DeVone Claybrooks. However, the hits didn’t stop there with the defensive losses. Linebackers Alex Singleton and Jameer Thurman moved on to the NFL and Ja’Gared Davis signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Ciante Evans made a run at the AAF but quickly signed back in the CFL with the Montreal Alouettes,
Of course, the biggest loss may have been to the division rival Saskatchewan Roughriders. Micah Johnson, arguably the best defensive player in the CFL moved one province over to team up with another former Stampeder Charleston Hughes. On the offensive side of the ball, losses at receiver were the biggest talking point with Marken Michel, Chris Matthews, DaVaris Daniels and Lemar Durant all no longer with the squad.
The saving grace in all of this is that the Stampeders were able to retain prized quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell on a four-year deal. That and the Stampeders ability to produce homegrown talent may be enough to stay competitive in the CFL’s West Division.
🔊 “Talent is definitely one of the first words,”
Bo Levi Mitchell on what comes to mind when he thinks of the 🇨🇦 receiving group! pic.twitter.com/gWW4tYpj3W
— Calgary Stampeders (@calstampeders) June 9, 2019
No matter how high you are on Trevor Harris, the Edmonton Eskimos got worse at quarterback in 2019. As hard as that is to say, with their last quarterback being Mike Reilly, that’s just the fact of the matter. However, that’s not the biggest roadblock for a successful 2019 season in the CFL West Division for Edmonton. It’s coaching. As some may remember Jason Maas found himself on the hot seat towards the end of 2018 after a disappointing 9-9 campaign ended without a playoff appearance.
Fellow Last Word on Canadian Football writer, Jeff Burns broke down the Eskimos discipline issues mid-season last year. The results were quite telling. From 2016 up-to-the halfway mark of the season in 2018, Edmonton has led the league in average penalties per game. If the Eskimos are going to overcome their downgrade at quarterback and injury at left tackle, they’ll have to play much more disciplined football to stay in the race.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers
This isn’t so much a shot at Matt Nichols as it is an observation. Nichols is a fine quarterback who has proven he can make big plays when called upon and typically limits his mistakes. However, the Bombers can ill-afford for Nichols to have a stretch of games as bad as last season that saw Winnipeg lose four straight. In those games, Nichols threw for just four touchdowns to eight interceptions and averaged just 220 passing yards per game with a 58.85% completion rate.
While Chris Streveler provides some insurance, one has to assume that Winnipeg would likely want to avoid any quarterback controversy in 2019, especially with the CFL West Division as stacked as it is. If Nichols can stay consistent as he has throughout the majority of his career, the Bombers have a great shot at securing first place in the CFL West Division.
The Last Word
I’m sure this will go over like a lead balloon but the 2019 off-season has set up what could be the most competitive West Division we’ve ever seen. Whether that means the first and second place teams finishing with 13-5 records or a three-way tie for first at 11-7. Either way, it’s almost unpredictable. Every team listed has the potential to finish first but not every team will clear these obstacles and that means there will be West Division teams falling well short of their pre-season expectations.
Main image credit:
Embed from Getty Images