A whole new season will start this Sunday, as the Eastern and Western semi-finals will get underway with two new playoff teams in Winnipeg and Edmonton, both of whom missed out a season ago.
For the East, a surprisingly average Montreal Alouettes team will host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Eastern semifinals. For the last X seasons, Montreal has generally awaited the winner of this game, but a rather slow season by Anthony Calvillo resulted in a turn of events.
Both teams are entering the postseason on losing streaks, with Hamilton losing their last two while Montreal has lost their last three, including a crucial third game against Winnipeg which saw them lose the tiebreaker.
There’s no question that Anthony Calvillo is an elite quarterback who can make opposing teams look weak. To throw for over 5,000 yards for the sixth time in his career is nothing to laugh at.
Looking back on the season, however, you would have to wonder if Calvillo can go another year behind center. Years have gone by in which fans have expected Calvillo to strike fear into the opposition. However, this season he has been made to look almost like your everyday quarterback.
This season, Calvillo threw eight interceptions, one more than he did a season ago, behind 32 touchdowns. However, three of those were costly during their game against Winnipeg.
To finish the season off, Calvillo threw for 63 yards on 17 attempts, and for the second time this season he was held to under 100 yards passing. The last time that happened was on September 30, 2001.
Montreal split their season series against Hamilton but won two games at home. Hamilton has only won two road games, one over a Western opponent and another over Toronto, who are not in the playoffs.
Hamilton will need to win on the road if they want to be in the Eastern final with Winnipeg, who won the series over Hamilton and to do so will look towards both Kevin Glenn and Quinton Porter.
For much of the latter part of the season, Hamilton has used a two-quarterback system and although the team names a starter, they seldom stay with that starter, as they have certain packages designed for each player.
For Hamilton to beat Montreal like they did back in their own yard, they will need to see returns from Marcus Thigpen on special teams and allow receivers to break one-on-one coverages.
Montreal has the power and size to beat Hamilton. However, if Anthony Calvillo is not at his best, it is almost certain that the rest of the team will falter, as well.
To pick a winner here between two struggling teams, you’d have to look at experience, and behind Calvillo’s postseason stretch, we have to give the old man the nod here.
West Edmonton has earned a home playoff game, their first since 2004, and will host the Calgary Stampeders, who are coming off a three-game wining streak.
The Calgary Stampeders lost the season series to Edmonton early in the season, but those games featured Henry Burris behind center. This weekend, Edmonton will prepare for a completely different quarterback in Drew Tate.
Drew Tate has been with Calgary since 2009 and has waited patiently for this opportunity that presented itself after Burris began to struggle down the stretch.
Since taking over in Week 16 for Burris, Drew Tate has gone 3-1 and has thrown for 1,054 yards and six touchdowns with just five interceptions. Although better ball-security would have been good, Tate managed each game down the stretch to earn the wins.
At a time when winning is crucial, Calgary has done everything they needed to accomplish heading into the playoffs, and currently hold the momentum going into Sunday’s game.
An area that Calgary will need to look at while facing Jerome Messam is their run defense. Before their Week 8 bye, Calgary allowed an average of 86 yards rushing defensively, but since then the team has allowed 109 a game.
Edmonton, meanwhile, has slipped on their run defense as well, changing from 102 yards allowed on the ground to 114 after their bye. The team has done well against the pass, though, giving up almost 40 yards less on average per game since their bye.
For Edmonton, Ricky Ray had a successful season by all stretches, which included a fast 5-0 start. However, due to injuries, the team slowed down quickly, losing three straight.
While Edmonton holds several quality receivers in Adarius Bowman, Jason Barnes and of course Fred Stamps, their run game was also incorporated this season behind Jerome Messam, becoming the first Canadian back since Sean Millington to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season.
One rough patch that I believe Edmonton will overcome this weekend is that although they have a good mix of quality receivers, at times only one gets hot while the rest fizzle. This weekend they will need to all be on the same page and make plays in order to take down Calgary.
Nik Lewis will be rejoined by his teammate Ken-Yon Rambo, who has been injured for the better part of the last month but will enjoy the company of Johnny Forzani and Landan Talley this weekend as they look to knock off Edmonton.
Romby Bryant, who was acquired last season from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, will also be in the lineup and has played a grand role as a receiver, recording 632 yards and five touchdowns.
All this will mix into what should be a great Western showdown that will be matched a week later when the winner will face a red-hot B.C. Lions.
If Ricky Ray can find a way to keep his receivers involved, they will undoubtedly win this game.
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