The CFL West appears to be the alpha male division in the very early stages of the 2014 season, if the opening weekend results are an accurate measurement.
One game is not an accurate measurement, but why should fear and common sense kick into the equation for my CFL West forecast?
I liked what I saw from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in their opener against the Argos last week, but not enough to keep them out of the CFL West basement. Drew Willy looked good against a powder-puff Argo defence and gives legitimate hope to the beleaguered Bomber fan base. The ‘Peg defence also looked good with the return of premier rush end Jason Vega.
However, I am not sold on the Bombers in a tough West Division. They are razor thin on Canadian talent and cannot afford to have any Canuck starters suffer even a hangnail in a tough 18-game season. Winnipeg will not soar with the eagles in their new division, but they will be a better team with Willy pulling the trigger and assistant coach Bob Wiley’s effect on the offensive line.
The Edmonton Eskimos will also be a better team this year and upset the Lions in their first game last week because they won the turnover battle by a 5-1 score. I am not sure whether political correctness will force me to call them the Edmonton Inuit by the end of the 2014 season, but I am more certain the Eskimos are a fourth-place team in the West.
The biggest issue is still the Eskie O-line and the big question is whether they will prolong or shorten the life of Edmonton quarterback Mike Reilly. He took another pounding in the B.C. game and quarterbacks who receive this kind of punishment eventually pay a big price.
I liked what I saw from the Edmonton receivers and defence; just not enough to compensate for the quarterback protection problems.
Something magical has happened for the host Grey Cup cities because the home town boys have won the championship in front of a home town crowd for the past three seasons. That streak began in 2011 with B.C. and will end this year with the Lions because they are not good enough to make it four host cities in a row.
The injury to Lion quarterback Travis Lulay is a potential career-ender and his absence forced B.C. to acquire well-traveled veteran pivot Kevin Glenn to take the reins this year.
Glenn has talent, but he has bounced around the league and acquired a choker label over the years with his sketchy playoff record. Glenn looked shaky against the Eskimos last week and I wonder how well the B.C. O-line will protect him this season by comparison to Glenn’s former Calgary O-line last year. My answer is only well enough for third place in the CFL West.
Calgary lost Glenn in the expansion draft because they have enough faith in young gun Bo Levi Mitchell to leave Glenn exposed to the RedBlacks. Calgary’s other quarterback Drew Tate was not taken in the draft and has assumed a backup job to Mitchell with the Stamps.
Neither quarterback looked particularly impressive in pre-season, but Mitchell racked up over 300 years and two TD passes against an awful Montreal team in the Stamps season opener.
I have always believed Mitchell is a future star in this league, but he is not yet good enough to put the Stampeders back in their familiar place atop the West Division.
The 2014 season will be an opportunity for Mitchell to learn what it takes to be a starter in the CFL and very few quarterbacks can learn it all in one season. The Stamps are a very good football team with essentially a rookie starter, given Mitchell’s brief resume as a starting quarterback. Second place is more realistic for the Stamps in 2014.
That leaves first place for Saskatchewan this year. I believe the Riders are even better on defence and retain the best 0-line in the league. Quarterback Darian Durant appears to have more confidence after a Grey Cup victory and the team will have to totally rely on him with the departure of Drew Willy and the uncertainty of a qualified Rider backup this year.
Last year I would have replaced Durant with Willy in a heartbeat when Durant went cold for several games, but that is not an option this year. However, there is enough talent around him for first place in the West.