Posted at 11:00am
1 – Calgary Stampeders
Over the years, it was realized that training Stampeders on paper didn’t count for much. The Stamps, the league’s premier organization in the 2010s, have made it to the playoffs for the past 16 years. Yes, there are only nine teams (eight before Ottawa returned), but the Stampeders would normally have missed the playoffs four or five times based on the average.
Dave Dickenson is entering his sixth season as head coach and stands at 61-23-2. His team finished strong last season after a poor start and is expected to battle for the top spot in the West with the Blue Bombers, who took the Canadian football crown from them by winning the last two Gray Cups.
Will Bo Levi Mitchell at age 32 be able to become the best quarterback he was in his first six or seven seasons? Plagued by injuries, he threw 10 touchdowns to 13 interceptions in 2021 and some feel the Stampeders should replace him with Jake Maier, who impressed in his rookie season.
Reggie Begelton and Kamar Jorden are the lead receivers, veteran Derek Dennis is the best-known player on the offensive line and Ka’Deem Carey is the running back. After nearly touring the CFL, Shawn Lemon relaunched his career by returning to Calgary. In 11 games with the Stampeders, he had a team-high 8 sacks.
2 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers
It would have been easy to predict the West title to the Bombers, who will try to become the first to win the Gray Cup three years in a row since the Edmonton Eskimos, who won it five times from 1978 to 1982. Especially since head coach Mike O’Shea and general manager Kyle Walters remain at the helm of the club.
But it’s especially hard to win it all three years in a row at a time when equality in professional sports has never been greater, and a few key players have left Winnipeg, including Kenny Lawler, who led the CFL with 1,014 yards. per passes in 2021, and Andrew Harris running back.
The Bombers hired Greg Ellingson to replace Lawler and still have a roster of star players on a par with any other: Zach Collaros, Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat, Adam Bighill, Stanley Bryant, Nic Demski and Ellingson.
3 – Saskatchewan Roughriders
The Roughriders defense finished fourth in points in 2021 and the unit has one of the best quarterback stalkers in AC Leonard, leading the league with 11 sacks. By contrast, Leonard was the team’s top player with 41 tackles, earning him just 37 . yieldede rank in the competition.
Jonathan Woodard, who finished second in the CFL by 10 sacks, is no longer with the team and the Riders have rehired good old Charleston Hughes to try and replace his production. Craig Dickenson’s team also lost the services of two other key players, namely Ed Gainey and William Powell.
Will Cody Fajardo be able to take his level of play up one notch? If he can’t, it’s hard to see how the Roughriders can compete with Winnipeg and Calgary this season.
4 – Edmonton Elks
Chris Jones is back in the CFL after a two-year stint with the Cleveland Browns. New head coach and GM of the Elks, Jones doesn’t have an ugly team on hand.
Ed Gainey, Adam Grymes and Duron Carter (yes, the same Duron Carter…) will be part of a secondary that will be one of the most intriguing units in the league. A former Alouettes receiver, Carter returned to the CFL as a cornerback.
There are good players on offense with receivers Kenny Lawler and Derel Walker turning back James Wilder and tackling Tony Washington in particular. However, Nick Arbuckle will have to prove that he can be a good starting quarterback, which he still hasn’t succeeded.
5 – Lions BC.
The Lions defense should be good with the likes of Loucheiz Purifoy, Bo Lokombo, Delvin Breaux, TJ Lee, Micah Awe and David Menard, but what to expect from the attack?
After Mike Reilly’s astonishing retirement, Canadian Nathan Rourke gets a chance to prove he can be the solution as a quarterback. The problem is that he doesn’t seem particularly well surrounded. With the exception of Bryan Burnham and Lucky Whitehead, it looks very skinny. Rick Campbell is a good head coach, but the attack can be problematic.