Aside from the winner take all 60-minute game played in frigid conditions in late November, the CFL’s East Division continues to be the not-so-Beast Division.
It goes back to 2013 — Winnipeg’s last year in the East — where to present-day only four times has an East Division team finished above .500.
In 2019, the East Divison is looking lousy yet again.
The East owns an acceptable .400 win percentage against the West this season. Problem is, after Jeremiah Masoli suffered a season-ending injury, the East doesn’t have a real threat.
Reilly in Last, Mitchell on Sidelines
In the West, the division is once again strong, but the wealth of victory is spread out, and it’s due to one factor: Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell’s absence of supremacy.
For various reasons, neither quarterback has lit the league on fire this season and it’s created a logjam within the division’s standings.
While he’s too humble to say it aloud, Reilly’s season can be summarized as infuriating.
Reilly’s 1-7 B.C. Lions are coming off their second road loss in 2019 where they’ve held a 15-point lead. For all intentions, their 35-34 loss in Hamilton was the dagger in B.C.’s playoff dreams.
This means Reilly will miss the CFL playoffs for a second consecutive season. For those — — myself included — who had B.C. as Grey Cup contenders, their 2019 is a colossal failure.
For Mitchell, his absence isn’t by choice. Mitchell’s sat out the past six weeks with a pectoral injury but may return to the lineup on Saturday versus Montreal.
2019’s different; either Calgary or Edmonton has finished first in the West each year since 2013, highlighted by 2015 when each team went 14-4. Today, four West teams are separated by two points and it leaves the question: who’s the best team in the CFL?
There’s a case for each of the top four West Division teams, plus Dane Evans’ Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who are 4-1 against the West in 2019 and are undefeated in five games at home. Although without Masoli or a run game, it’s tough to appoint Hamilton the league’s best squad.
Best CFL Team in West Division
After crossing off the Ti-Cats, we can narrow down the answer to west of Ontario.
The Bombers stand atop their division with a 6-2 record but they’ve faced backup quarterbacks in the majority (five) of their eight games. They’ve recently suffered two ugly losses to East Division clubs and needed two return touchdowns from rookie Janarion Grant to hold first place. Winnipeg’s also only played three of their 10 games against the West.
That said, Winnipeg is 3-0 in those games and after all, they can’t control who they play. The Bombers lead the CFL in both touchdowns for and against, and still have the league’s best rusher in Andrew Harris plus the most team rushing yards in the league.
Behind the Bombers are the Stampeders, who are coming off a two-point loss at Winnipeg. Calgary’s dealt with more injuries than any CFL team, not mentioning their off-season losses, yet still remain 5-3 and in second in the West.
Nick Arbuckle won four of his six starts and did so without Kamar Jorden and Don Jackson. With Bo Levi Mitchell eying to return in Week 10, Calgary could spell trouble for the CFL. Jorden and Jackson will also be back in 2019.
The Stamps are weaker than the outstanding rosters they’ve fielded since Mitchell’s arrival, but the drop off seems minimal, and their defence still leads the way in takeaways.
It’s hard to ignore what the Eskimos are doing on defence. Points allowed per game (17.3), opponents net offence per game (251.6), opponents first downs (126) and opponents pass yards per game (193.1) are only a few categories where they rank atop the CFL.
Led by Kwaku Boateng, Larry Dean and Josh Johnson, their defence is loaded from top to bottom while containing depth at virtually all twelve spots. Established players Jovan Santos-Knox, Forrest Hightower, Brian Walker and Alex Bazzie are currently out of Edmonton’s starting lineup.
If there are any weaknesses on the Eskimos, it’s finding the end zone and discipline, two lingering issues since Jason Maas took over as head coach in 2016. The Esks have only scored 17 touchdowns, good for sixth in the CFL and worst in the West.
They also rank dead last in penalties and penalty yards, averaging 13.1 penalties for 107.5 yards per game in 2019. Edmonton’s 105 penalties through eight games are two less than Winnipeg had in all of 2018, and three less than Winnipeg had in all of 2017.
Under the leadership of Cody Fajardo, the Riders are built for playoff football. Fajardo’s shown the ability to use his legs, and he’s been able to connect on deep shots to emerging stars Shaq Evans and Kyran Moore.
In the backfield, Fajardo along with backs William Powell and Marcus Thigpen combine for a nasty trio that can beat you with speed, finesse or strength.
On defence Saskatchewan may field the most talent on paper. While the likes of Micah Johnson and Nick Marshall have had slow starts, veterans Charleston Hughes, Loucheiz Purifoy and Solomon Elimimian have picked up the slack.
Similar to Winnipeg, Saskatchewan’s competitions been slightly weaker. The Riders have played Calgary once and have yet to face off against Edmonton or Winnipeg. But similar to Winnipeg, Saskatchewan can’t control who they play, or who they beat. The two prairie teams are set to clash in their annual back-to-back starting Labour Day weekend.
Who’s the Best? Don’t go against Bo
It changes on a weekly basis, but when factoring in their pedigree and promising defensive outings, it’s difficult to not claim that the Grey Cup could again be Calgary’s to lose. Once Bo Levi Mitchell, Kamar Jorden and Don Jackson are in the Stamps offence, look out.
The West is still tighter than it’s been in years and all four aforementioned teams have a legitimate shot at ending November as Canadian champions. Unless the not-so-beast division plays spoiler and takes home a third championship in four years.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images