The Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders look to be in good shape as they host struggling visitors the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders, respectively, as the CFL playoffs begin this Sunday.
In the Eastern Conference, the Argonauts finished second with a 9–9 record and have their tails up with former Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray rediscovering his good form.
Ray was rested in the final game of the regular season as the Argos knew they’d finish second behind the Montreal Alouettes and there was no point risking his injury. Despite missing three games due to injury this season, Ray still passed for over 4,000 yards.
Ray’s trade from the Eskimos forced his former team into playing musical chairs at QB. The trade was criticized heavily in Edmonton and general manager Eric Tillman was fired last weekend. Instability at quarterback, the most important position, doomed the Eskimos to the worst playoff record ever for a crossover team.
The 7–11 Eskimos used three QBs and, as of Wednesday night, had not designated a starter for Sunday. Kerry Joseph, the veteran, is perhaps slightly favoured over Matt Nichols who has played well in his last two games.
“We fully expect to use both of them,” head coach Kavis Reed said in an interview shown on CFL.ca on Wednesday.
The Esks lost their last three games of the regular season to the three best teams in the CFL. They now face the fourth best team in the CFL on the road.
One thing Edmonton can hang its hat on is two regular season wins over Toronto. The Argonauts themselves have won two close games in a row, but prior to that had lost three in a row, including losses at home to Saskatchewan and Montreal.
With Ray at the helm and relishing the chance to eliminate his former club, Toronto should have enough in the tank to outgun whatever Nichols or Joseph can throw at them.
The Eskimos-Argonauts matchup also features a battle between the league’s two leading receivers with Toronto’s Chad Owens, who had a standout season setting a record for all-purpose yards, and Edmonton’s Fred Stamps, who managed to put up good numbers again despite playing with a QB carousel.
Stamps and Riders
In the Western semifinal, the Stamps (12–6) have won four in a row while the Roughriders (8–10) have lost four in a row.
Calgary will be starting Drew Tate, 28, at QB instead of veteran Kevin Glenn, who threw for over 4,000 yards. Glenn came over to Calgary in the trade that sent Henry Burris, the league’s leading passer this year, to Hamilton.
Tate has John Hufnagel’s confidence. The Calgary GM and coach signed Tate to a three-year contract before shipping off Burris. But if there is a QB who has a strong running game that he can lean on more than anybody else, it’s Tate.
John Cornish was the runaway CFL leader in rushing yards and was nominated Wednesday as a finalist for most outstanding player. Cornish broke a 56-year-old record for most rushing yards in one season by a Canadian.
For the Roughriders, they lost out in the battle for second place with the Stampeders, and their four-game losing skid tarnished what was a promising season.
They’ve had some notable wins: 52–0 over Winnipeg, 36–10 over Toronto at Rogers Centre. But they have not fared well against the better teams like the Stampeders, Alouettes, and B.C. Lions. Against these three teams their record was 3–6.
Saskatchewan only made one trip to Calgary this season, losing a close one 41–38 back in July.
The key will be how Tate performs given his lack of action over the season and if Darien Durant, Weston Dresler, and Kory Sheets are at their best.
On paper, the two semifinals might not appear to be close. Regardless of who wins, the rubber meets the road when the two top seeds, the B.C. Lions and Montreal Alouettes, join the fray the following weekend.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports
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