CFL Handicapping: Grey Cup Predictions and Betting Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 11/23/2011
Winnipeg Blue Bombers at B.C. Lions
Sunday, Nov. 27, 6:30 p.m. ET
From the window of my home office I can see a CFL stadium. I’d take the NFL, or especially college football, any day over my home league, but I can’t help but be intimately familiar with the quirks and charms of our national undertaking.
While knowledge of the league is almost second nature to me as a Canadian sports fan — just like hockey knowledge seeps into our brains from the moment we are born — I will assume that most of you reading this don’t know the Canadian Football League very well at all.
As we get ready for the 99th Grey Cup on Sunday, then, let’s do a preview of the game that will cover everything from the basics of the Canadian game to the two teams that will be contesting the game. And, of course, we will offer some Grey Cup predictions and betting odds as well.
There are a few major rule differences that make Canadian football unique.
Teams get a single point for missing a field goal — a stupid rule called a rouge. There are 12 players per side instead of 11, and receivers can be in forward motion before the snap as long as they don’t cross the line of scrimmage before the snap.
The biggest difference by far, though, is that this is three-down football. The loss of a down actually makes the game more wide open and often higher scoring because teams have to be more aggressive with every play in order to keep the ball moving.
The location for the game is set more than a year in advance, so it’s just good luck that this is a home game for the Lions. They would be just the third team in the last 34 years to win at home if they come out on top.
It will be played in B.C. Place in downtown Vancouver. You might recognize the building from the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, though it has had a dramatic overhaul since that includes a ludicrously expensive new roof.
Five weeks into the 18-game regular season it certainly didn’t look like B.C. would be here. They lost all five opening games, and really looked terrible doing so.
They finally won one, but then came right back and lost another in ugly fashion. At that point, though, things turned right around.
They won eight straight, dropped one, then won their last two to win their conference and earn a first-round playoff bye. They cruised through their lone playoff game, and are now favored by a touchdown here.
Winnipeg has only occasionally been a power in the CFL, and they never seem to be able to carry momentum from one season to the next.
Despite playing in a league with just eight teams they haven’t won the Grey Cup since 1990 — in a game also played in B.C. Place.
They certainly weren’t expected to get this close this year. Last year they posted a league-worst 4-14 record. They made some offseason changes, but not enough to pull off a turnaround like this — or so it seemed.
They won seven of their first eight games, held on despite a somewhat rougher second half, and clinched first in their conference despite losing seven of their last 10.
They are a team built entirely around their defense, and it’s an impressive unit.
The Lions have a massive edge here.
B.C. goes with Travis Lulay. He is the Western Conference nominee for Player of the Year, and was neck-and-neck with Montreal’s legendary QB Anthony Calvillo — who leads all of pro football in career TD passes, passing yards, and completions — in the league’s passing stats.
He’s a very confident player, and he’s only getting better as the season progresses since this is his first full season as starter.
Winnipeg goes with Buck Pierce. He was a very good QB in the league a few years ago, but he has struggled with injuries in recent years, and his interceptions outnumbered his touchdowns this year.
The interesting angle, though, is that his good times came as a member of the Lions, and they gave up on him after the 2009 season. If he’s still bitter about that — and he certainly was bitter at the time — then revenge could be a motivating factor for him.
The head coaches
B.C. again has a major advantage here.
Wally Buono is a CFL legend. He won three Grey Cups in 13 years in Calgary, and has added one more in eight years with the Lions. He’s a genius at finding and developing quarterbacks, and is the guy behind the huge success of Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia in the league.
His teams have won their conference 13 times in 22 years, and he leads the league in regular season wins. He’s an extremely good coach, and his turnaround with this team this year shows that he still has it.
Winnipeg has Paul LaPolice. He’s in just his second year as a head coach in the league, and had bounced around as an assistant with five different CFL teams since 2000. This is just his second playoff game as head coach, and his first on the road.
It’s a coaching mismatch.
B.C. is going to win this game by a whole lot, so they are a comfortable pick at -7. I just don’t see this one being particularly close.
In order to come out on top Winnipeg will have to have an exceptional defensive day, but they haven’t been as strong defensively late in the season as they were early on. Travis Lulay will have a huge day to be named MVP of the game.
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