2009 CFL Preview and Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 06/30/2009
The long, long football drought is about to come to and end. Finally. It's not the best option out there, but the Canadian Football League is better than nothing, and it starts up an 18-game season on July 1.
The three-down league is a lot better than it used to be. It has better quality players and higher caliber coaching than ever before, and it makes the game very watchable despite all of the quirks (a point for a missed field goal - what the heck is that?!?). It's also a great league for bettors. With just eight teams it's easy to get a handle on the league, and teams play each other so much - especially in their own division - that their strengths and weaknesses can't be hidden. There's also a surprising disparity in talent levels at skill positions throughout the league, so it's often reasonably easy to spot an edge. Here's a quick preview of the coming season to get you ready for all of the action. Good luck, eh.
British Columbia Lions - The Lions had trouble settling on a QB last year, but they have committed firmly to Buck Pierce as their No. 1 guy. He's easily one of the top three pivots in the league when he's at his best. The biggest hole will be the loss of defensive end Cameron Wake, who is now with the Miami Dolphins. Wake is a super-freak, and he was the best defensive player in the league for two years. The Lions have long been the class of the West, but the departure of Wake and so many other veterans puts them in a rebuilding mode of sorts, and lowers expectations. Third place or better in the division would be a solid year.
Calgary Stampeders - The defending Grey Cup champions are the team to beat again. Their offense was potent last year - they had the top receiver and top running back. The bad news for the rest of the league is that the entire offense is intact. This is the third year under the same offensive system. The improvement last year was impressive, so it should be dominant again this year. The defense is almost as good, and it's also mostly intact as well. Head coach John Hufnagel is in his second year with the team, and has obviously found success. He has plenty of American experience, including time as offensive coordinator for the Giants. No team has won back-to-back Grey Cups since 1997 when Doug Flutie pulled it off in Toronto, but Calgary is definitely the favorite to do it this year. Their motivation will be especially high because Calgary is hosting the championship game.
Edmonton Eskimos - The Eskimos have a very good QB in Ricky Ray (the level of QB play in the league is generally high right now). Unfortunately, they don't have a receiving corps that can be trusted to catch the ball effectively, so the offense will be stunted. College football fans may be interested to note that former Boise State star Jared Zabransky is in camp trying to earn the third QB spot on the roster. The Esks have a chance at having a great running game. Canadian running back Jesse Lumsden is a beast - the best Canadian offensive player in the league. He has struggled with injuries, though, and it is hard to rely on him all year. If he can stay healthy, and if new coach Richie Hall hits the ground running, then this team could be dangerous. Second place in the division is a possibility.
Saskatchewan Roughriders - The Riders have the most rabid fans in the league, but unfortunately they don't have much of a quarterback. Darian Durant, the former UNC star, has been installed at No. 1, but he falls far behind the rest of the pivots in the West. He'll have decent receivers and a solid running game supporting him, but the success of the team rides on him or whoever winds up at QB. The defense isn't great, having lost several free agents and their coordinator in the offseason. Anything better than fourth place for this team will be an achievement.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats - Hamilton has been a bad joke for a lot of years. Their chances of changing that rest on the shoulders of QB Quinton Porter. Porter, whose biggest claim to fame is that he was the Boston College starter who was benched to make way for Matt Ryan, showed promise last year, and hopes are very high for him. He's supported by a very good running game, but there are questions at receiver. If the young receiving corps can live up to potential, and if the reworked offensive line gels, then this team could do some damage - or at least more than they have done in the last five years. I won't fall into the trap of being too optimistic, though. I'll expect them to finish fourth, and any improvement they make will be a pleasant surprise.
Montreal Alouettes - Ever wondered where Chris Leak wound up after leaving Florida? Montreal. He's behind Anthny Calvillo on the depth chart. Unfortunately for him, Calvillo has long been the best QB in the league, so playing opportunities should be limited for the backup. The Als have long been the best team in the East, and there should be no change in that this year. They came close to winning the Grey Cup at home last year, and there is a decent chance they will be back again this season. Their offense is sound, their defense remains strong, and the only thing that could derail them is a key injury or two.
Toronto Argonauts - The Argos cleaned house in the front office after a disaster of a year last year. The new coaching staff is setting a much better tone, but it has one characteristic that I really hate - the head coach is also the offensive coordinator. That's especially scary when the coach has no previous experience in the league. Luckily, he has a sound QB to make his job a little bit easier - Kerry Joseph. They should also have a better offensive line than last year, but that's not saying much. The defense was getting old, so it has a different look pretty much across the board this year. It was good last year, so hopefully it doesn't lose too much ground. I would think that this team is fighting for third or fourth in the division, but there are so many unknowns that they could potentially be a surprise.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers - This team lost 15 of their 24 starters from last year, so they probably had to wear name tags for the first several practices. That obviously means that there is uncertainty all over the field. The most interesting position to watch will be QB. Former Louisville standout Stefan LeFors has been given the chance to start this year, and I'm curious to see if he can handle it. He has a skill set that suits the league, he's familiar with the typical high-scoring CFL offenses thanks to his time with the Cardinals, and he has a very good receiving corps beside him, so it might just work out. He's lucky in that expectations aren't particularly high for this team - they are definitely in rebuilding mode. Still, there is only one team that isn't rebuilding in the East, so anything really could happen.