CFL Grey Cup Odds and Playoff Primer with Advice and Handicapping
by Trevor Whenham - 11/11/2014
The 49th Super Bowl is coming up in a few months, but Canadians just aren't impressed. Canada's football championship, the Grey Cup, will be contested for the 102nd time on Nov. 30 in Vancouver. There is a long way to go before we get to that big party, though. Teams play 18 games in a CFL season just to narrow the nine-team field down to six playoff squads. Now the three teams in each division that remain will play down to one representative in the big game over the next two weeks. Here's how the six teams stack up (odds to win the Grey Cup are from Bovada):
Calgary Stampeders (11/10): The Stampeders are the best team in the CFL right now, and it isn't even close. They are 15-3, and they went 2-1 in their last three despite the fact that they had already clinched everything there is to clinch and were just playing out the string. They have the best player in the league in Jon Cornish, the best talent and depth, the top coaching, and on and on. They just play on a different level than the rest.
None of that matters, though. This is a team that has been right at the top of this league for the last decade, and they have just one Grey Cup in 2008 to show for it. Since then they have found new and frustrating ways to fall short in the playoffs each year. Last year they went 14-4 and then lost at home in the Western Final to the eventual champs from Saskatchewan. The year before they were humiliated in the Grey Cup game. In 2011 they lost the division semi-final. The two years before that they fell in the finals.
Coach John Hufnagel won the Grey Cup in his rookie year with the team, but since then the story has been regular-season excellence - he has averaged 12.5 wins in the last six seasons - and postseason frustration.
There is absolutely no reason why this team shouldn't win it all, and the only team that can legitimately beat them is themselves, but nothing at all is certain here. With three meaningless games followed by a first-round playoff bye, they will go a full month between meaningful games. It makes me more than a little uneasy, but they remain my confident pick to win it all.
Edmonton Eskimos (7/2): There is plenty of good news here - they are the second-best team in the CFL by a solid margin, and they host a hapless Saskatchewan team to kick off the playoffs. Things set up well for them. The problem is, though, that they have to travel through Calgary to get to the Grey Cup, and they have had nothing but issues with their neighbors to the south all year.
The two teams met three times this year, and the Esks just weren't good enough in any of the matchups. If the team could avoid Calgary until the neutral field of the Grey Cup game then I'd be more optimistic. Having to play in Calgary, though, makes it hard to get excited about them at this price.
There is a bigger issue here, too - QB Mike Reilly, who is among the best in the league, missed the final game of the season. It meant nothing, so it was easy to believe that the team was just being cautious and letting him heal his bumps and bruises. Rumors are flying, though, that he broke his foot. If he is unavailable then this team will be hard-pressed to achieve anything meaningful.
Saskatchewan Roughriders (12/1): They are the defending champions, but a large number of issues - with none more pressing than the absence of a legitimate starting quarterback due to injuries and incompetence - have derailed their season. Darian Durant is the starter, but he has been out since September with an elbow issue. He was supposed to return for the final game of the regular season against Edmonton, but that didn't happen. Now if he returns for the playoffs he will be very rusty - yet still better than the alternatives.
They, of course, can win, and they have the experience of last year to draw on, but the gap between them and the Stampeders at this point is just massive.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats (9/2): Hamilton won their last game over Montreal to clinch the top spot in the East and cap a remarkable turnaround - they started out 1-6 and have gone 8-3 since. They are hot, and after plenty of quarterback issues of their own they finally have Zach Collaros back and healthy. They are also playing at home in their shiny new stadium that only opened this season, and they haven't lost there is six tries. Having that home-field advantage could be massive, and their coach is the best in the East right now, so the Ti-Cats are as easy to like as any team in the East. The problem, though, is that the top two teams in the West - if Reilly is healthy - are far better than any team in the East.
Montreal Alouettes (8/1): The Als had a remarkable turnaround of their own. They won six straight and eight of nine following a horrific start. The division was theirs to win, but they threw that opportunity away with the loss to Hamilton in the finale.
The key to this turnaround was the discovery of former Tennessee standout Jonathan Crompton. They had gone through too many quarterbacks without success until he emerged and dominated. I'd like him better here, though, if he had more experience, if he was playing at home in the Eastern final if they make it that far, or if they were facing an Eastern team in the semi-final instead of the B.C. Lions.
I see no value at this price.
B.C. Lions (8/1): One of the many pleasing quirks of the CFL is the crossover. If the fourth-place team in one division has a better record than the third-place team in the other division then that fourth-place team becomes the third playoff team in the other division. That is what happened here. B.C. only wound up fourth on the last day of the season, and they are likely very happy about it. Now they don't have to play in Edmonton and potentially Calgary like the third-place Roughriders, but they get Montreal and Hamilton instead.
Despite that lucky break, though, it is hard to get excited about this team. They have dropped five of their last seven, and those two wins came against Winnipeg and Ottawa - easily the two worst teams in the league. They didn't show up the last two weeks at all, they have QB issues of their own, and they just are not in a good place right now.
The only thing that makes them even remotely attractive is that if they made it to the Grey Cup they would be playing at home. It's not enough to make them playable, though.
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