CFL Previews - Week 21 - Playoffs - Nov. 17
From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (10-8) AT TORONTO ARGONAUTS (11-7)
DATE & TIME: Sunday, November 17, 1 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: The Toronto Argonauts take the field at Rogers Centre this weekend in an effort to get back to the Grey Cup Championship, as they clash with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Division Final.
Last season, Toronto was lucky to be in a position to just make the playoffs, but the Argos are a perfect example of what can happen once the new season begins, as they went from defeating Edmonton in the semi-finals (42-26), to taking down Montreal in the division finals (27-20) in order to earn a berth in the 100th Grey Cup. From there Toronto rolled over Calgary in a 35-22 final in order to earn its 16th crown.
This time around the Argonauts made it a little easier on themselves by winning the division title and earning a bye into this round of the playoffs. Although, it should be noted that the division wasn't all that great in 2013, as Winnipeg posted a mere three victories in 18 chances and Montreal had difficulty keeping the same quarterback under center.
Speaking of the Alouettes, they were the ones who took on Hamilton in the division semi-final last weekend at Alumni Stadium in Guelph under less than perfect weather conditions. The Als led at halftime by a score of just 2-0, leaving plenty of opportunity for the 'Cats to come out on top.
Hamilton produced just 291 yards of offense in the meeting, but somehow that was enough to get the group to overtime where Dan LeFevour scored on a two- yard TD run to give the visitors the 19-16 win. LeFevour, who stepped in for Henry Burris during the most crucial part of the game, ended up being the leading rusher for Hamilton with 61 yards on 18 carries. LeFevour also converted three of his six pass attempts for 36 yards.
Meanwhile, Burris was rather ordinary in extraordinary conditions as he connected on 23-of-36 passes for 204 yards and a score, as well as one interception. The scoring strike went to C.J. Gable who caught four passes for 38 yards, while becoming less of a factor in the running game with only two carries for minus-six yards.
Gable turned out to be the best option in the running game this season, despite his lackluster performance last weekend, as he produced 782 yards and scored seven times on 130 carries. The fourth-best ball-carrier in the regular season, Gable was just as valuable if not more so as a receiver as he caught another 55 balls for 600 yards and two TDs as well.
Even with his struggles in the first playoff game of the season, Burris was still the most productive passer in the league in terms of yards (4,927) during the regular season, and while his 65.8 percent accuracy ranked among the best, his 19 interceptions was more than anyone else. Then again, could you blame Burris for the latter after letting fly a CFL-high 568 pass attempts?
While Hamilton is coming off a rigorous and challenging playoff bout with the Alouettes, Toronto has had the luxury of sitting back and watching the action while awaiting its next opponent. However, with that said, not all is perfect in Argo country right now.
Toronto was dealt a huge blow earlier this week when it was announced that running back Chad Kackert underwent surgery to repair a broken ankle and is now done for the year. Kackert, the 2012 Grey Cup MVP, suffered the injury in practice last week, just another hit during an injury-filled campaign that saw the running back miss game time due to a knee injury, shoulder problems and a concussion.
With Kackert out of the mix, the Argos will turn to Jerious Norwood and Curtis Steele to pick up the slack.
But no matter who is filling the void, the main man on the field will still be Ricky Ray who himself missed considerable time this season with an injury. Despite the time off the field, when he was in the huddle and in the pocket there was no one who had as much control as Ray as he completed a staggering 77.2 percent of his passes and tossed a mere two interceptions on 303 attempts.
As an offense, Toronto ranked third in the league this season in scoring with 28.2 ppg, tallying a league-best 36 touchdowns, but the unit will also need the defense to stand up and perform just as it has all season long in permitting just 25.4 ppg.
These two teams should be familiar with each other after playing a total of three times during the regular season, with the Tiger-Cats winning the last two of those encounters. Hamilton bowed in the first clash in Week 1 by a score of 39-34 in late June, but then bounced back with a 33-19 victory the first week of October, followed 10 days later by a 24-18 triumph.
In the most recent battle, Hamilton controlled the clock for more than 37 minutes as Burris threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns and Gable carried the ball 17 times for a game-high 118 yards and a major. Over on the other side, Ray was back in the saddle for the Argos by then and connected on 26- of-34 passes for 303 yards and two scores, but while Toronto was generating a mere 349 yards of total offense, Hamilton was coming up with a whopping 545 yards on 21 more snaps.
The winner of this meeting will be back in action next weekend with the opportunity to take home the 101st Grey Cup, matching up with the survivor of the Saskatchewan/Calgary bout at Mosaic Stadium.
Hamilton's recent history in the Grey Cup Playoffs hasn't been all that great. In fact, the team has not been to the title tilt since 1999 when it defeated Calgary (32-21) for its eighth championship, and given that Toronto knows the road quite well and earned some much-needed time off, expect to see the Argos moving on to defend their title from last season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Toronto 28, Hamilton 24.
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (11-7) AT CALGARY STAMPEDERS (14-4)
DATE & TIME: Sunday, November 17, 4:30 p.m. (ET).
GAME NOTES: It is the matchup that everyone expected to see when the 2013 season kicked off in the Great White North and now it is here. On Sunday afternoon at McMahon Stadium, the West Division Final will take center stage as the Calgary Stampeders play host to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Early on, Saskatchewan was the team to beat in not only the West Division but the entire CFL, as the squad opened the campaign with five straight wins and victories in eight of its first nine outings. But then there was a major shift in Saskatchewan, and the club dropped four in a row and ended up bowing in two straight to close out the regular season, which meant they were destined to play in the semifinals against British Columbia last week.
In that matchup, the defense stood up for the Roughriders at just the right times, holding BC scoreless in both the first and third quarters. Granted, the second period did appear a bit shaky as the Lions posted 17 points, but when it came down to it, kicker Chris Milo took care of the interests of the Riders with a field goal and a single to close out the 29-25 win at home.
Milo was responsible for a total of 17 points for Saskatchewan, hitting on all but one of his six field goal attempts as he carried his team to the next level. To no one's surprise, Milo was named the CFL Special Teams Player of the Week.
Quarterback Darian Durant, the CFL Offensive Player of the Week, managed to hit on 19-of-23 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns, both going to the reliable Weston Dressler, but at the same time the signal caller was sacked four times.
Then again, for as many times as he was taken down behind the line of scrimmage, Durant did not shy away from taking additional hits down the field as he was credited with six rushing attempts that led to an impressive 97 yards. Durant's efforts on the ground far outweighed those of running back Kory Sheets who finished with just 68 yards on 17 carries.
For as much as Sheets has been bragging about his superior running this season, particularly of late, his last few games have not been all that special. Granted, Sheets finished the regular season as the second-leading rusher in the CFL with 1,598 yards, leading to 12 touchdowns on 287 carries, but in the last two games he has produced a total of only 110 yards and been kept out of the end zone.
Sheets set the bar rather high for himself during the first half of 2013 as he gained at least 100 yards in the first six games and seven times in the opening eight, so you can see why his latest performances have been less than stellar by his own standards.
If it is not Sheets carving up defenses for the Roughriders this season, it has been Durant who was first in the CFL with 31 passing scores and third in passing yards (4,154), although his 61.2 percent accuracy was on the low end for accomplished starting quarterbacks.
As for the Stampeders, they ended up being the model of consistency in the West this season, at no point losing even back-to-back games. Kevin Glenn may be the quarterback of record most of the time for Calgary, but his numbers were not all that great as he threw for just 2,710 yards and 18 touchdowns. On a more positive note, the signal caller was picked off just three times and that was a big part of why the Stamps were tied with Saskatchewan for the best turnover margin (plus-19) in the league.
However, as important as Glenn may be, the player that most look to on offense has to be Jon Cornish who led the league in rushing with a staggering 1,813 yards on 258 carries. Cornish, who is clearly one of the best, if not the most elite Canadian in the league again this season, was also first in yards from scrimmage (2,157) and second in combined yards (2,298) behind only Toronto's Chad Owens, who has been a huge producer for the last several years.
Cornish was also first in the league in touchdowns with 14, scoring 12 times on the ground and adding two on receptions for a Calgary squad that finished first in the CFL with 30.5 ppg and was also second in points allowed (22.9 ppg).
In terms of their interaction during the regular season, these teams met a total of three times, with Calgary taking two of those matchups. The most recent of those clashes took place just a few weeks ago here in Calgary, as the Stamps captured a 29-25 victory. In that contest, the hosts started out slow, scoring just three points in the first quarter, but their production improved in every quarter as they eventually pulled out the win, thanks to a three-yard touchdown run by Cornish.
Cornish finished the outing with 109 yards on 20 carries, easily besting Sheets (42 yards), who was using the matchup as a measuring stick for himself and the Riders.
Part of the reason why Saskatchewan came out on the short end of the contest was because Durant was under constant pressure and was sacked seven times, while tossing an interception and just a single major. The combination of Tate and Glenn countered for the Stampeders as they converted 22-of-33 passes for 301 yards and a score.
The winner of this matchup will be back in action next weekend for a chance to take home the big prize, the 101st Grey Cup. One of these teams will be matched up against the survivor of the Hamilton/Toronto battle over in the East Division Final for the right to be called CFL Champion for 2013.
Calgary, which has won the cup a total of six times, but hasn't come out on top since 2008, lost to Toronto in the championship a year ago by a score of 35-22 at Rogers Centre. Saskatchewan's title drought has been slightly longer, with the team bringing home the trophy for a third time in 2007. The Roughriders made it to the final game in both 2009 and 2010, but each time bowed to Montreal.
Not only is Calgary a rested team, it is also the host squad for this critical contest and as such, should be considered the favorite ever so slightly.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Calgary 30, Saskatchewan 25.
2013 Sports Network Predictions: 44-30; Last Week's Predictions: 2-0.
11/13 14:13:10 ET