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CFL Previews - Week 5 - July 24-26
From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -

CALGARY STAMPEDERS (3-0) AT EDMONTON ESKIMOS (4-0)

DATE & TIME: Thursday, July 24, 9 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: The last of the unbeatens get together in Edmonton Thursday as the Eskimos host the Calgary Stampeders at Commonwealth Stadium in the first installment of the Battle of Alberta.

Edmonton has taken the field every week thus far in 2014 and has come out on top in all four outings, already equaling their entire win total from last year when they finished a miserable 4-14, picking up that fourth victory in the final week of the regular season.

Last week the Eskimos routed Winnipeg on the road, 26-3, marking the strongest defensive effort by Edmonton since the squad stifled Saskatchewan in Week 15 of the 2011 campaign, 17-1.

Odell Willis scored the first points of the meeting when he returned an interception 17 yards for a major in the opening quarter for the Esks, setting the tone for a dominating effort by the Edmonton defense as it held the hosts to just 241 yards of total offense.

Willis, who added a sack in order to move to four on the season in that department, was named the CFL Defensive Player of the Week following his dominating performance.

Quarterback Mike Reilly hit on 18 of his 31 pass attempts, leading to 192 yards and a score, while being intercepted once and sacked four times. Any other time the sack total may have been a concern, but when you consider Reilly was the top rusher for either side with 96 yards on 10 carries, it is understandable.

Also giving the visitors a lift was kicker Grant Shaw who knocked through all four of his field-goal attempts and finished with 14 points, helping to offset the fact that Edmonton was flagged for 14 penalties and sent back 125 yards, more than twice the amount of the Blue Bombers (eight penalties for 56 yards).

While Edmonton was shooting down the Bombers, Calgary was pitted against Hamilton in a tight Week 4 battle that eventually ended with the Stamps squeezing out a 10-7 victory, thanks to a 39-yard field goal by Rene Paredes in the fourth quarter, representing the only points tallied in the period by either club.

Calgary, which was also stymied by penalties (12 for 120 yards), survived as Bo Levi Mitchell hit on 20-of-35 for 201 yards. The lone major for the hosts came courtesy of Brad Sinopoli who galloped 26 yards into the end zone in the second quarter on his only rushing attempt of the meeting. For Sinopoli, a converted quarterback who had the option to pass on the play, it was the first TD of his CFL career.

In a league where scoring generally dominates the headlines, Friday's outcome marked the lowest point total in a Calgary win since the team defeated Saskatchewan by a score of 6-5 way back on Aug. 22, 1979.

Through three games, Calgary has surrendered a mere 30 points, including just a single touchdown, in getting off to the best start since 2000. The 30 points permitted is the lowest total after three games for the Stamps since the 1971 campaign.

Making the start by the Stamps all the more impressive is the fact that they are getting it done with a new starting quarterback, while missing their most valuable weapon in running back Jon Cornish. Unfortunately, while Calgary was hoping to get Cornish back on the depth chart for this week, the latest news indicates that he has taken a step back in his recovery from a concussion suffered a few weeks ago and will again be watching from the sidelines.

With Cornish still not at 100 percent, the burden again lies on Mitchell who is now 6-0 as a starter. Should Mitchell come out on top yet again, he will tie former Stamp signal caller Jeff Garcia's CFL record for consecutive victories to begin a career.

Edmonton owns a 123-89-3 mark in the all-time series, taking into consideration only regular-season bouts stretching back to 1949. However, Calgary has captured the eight most recent meetings in the Battle of Alberta, the team posting seven straight victories in Edmonton.

This is the deepest into a campaign that these two squads have met with unblemished records, the previous occasion being 35 years ago when both teams were perfect after two games.

Willis can certainly give the Stamps a jolt on the defensive side of the ball, but without Cornish the task will be that much tougher this week on the road.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Edmonton 26, Calgary 23

WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (3-1) AT BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (2-2)

DATE & TIME: Friday, July 25, 10 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: Seeking to surpass their entire win total from 2013, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers give it another go on Friday night when they clash with the British Columbia Lions at BC Place.

Last year, the Blue Bombers were the weakest team in the CFL, logging just three wins in 18 opportunities. This time around, Winnipeg matched that win total in the first three games, thanks to victories over Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. The squad had a chance to register its fourth win of the season during Week 4 action, but ended up on the wrong side of a devastating 26-3 decision versus Edmonton at home.

Now sitting in third place in the West Division standings behind the Eskimos and Calgary, the last two undefeated clubs in the CFL, the Bombers were brought back to reality when they were limited to just 11 first downs and 241 yards of total offense. If not for kicker Lirim Hajrullahu and his 22-yard field goal in the second quarter, the outing would have been even more devastating.

Controlling the action for less than 22 minutes, Winnipeg quarterback Drew Willy was roughed up quite a bit by the Eskimos as he converted just 14-of-27 passes for 180 yards and an interception, not to mention being sacked five times and having that lone pick returned for a touchdown for the first points of the match in the opening frame.

Defensively, Johnny Sears Jr. led all tacklers with eight stops, and rookie defensive back Bruce Johnson made the first interception of his career.

As for the Lions, they've begun to bounce back after starting off with consecutive defeats against Edmonton and Montreal. The squad stepped up with a 26-13 victory at Saskatchewan a couple weeks back, and then enacted some revenge against the Alouettes last weekend with a resounding 41-5 thrashing at home, a far cry from the 24-9 loss to the Als on the road in Week 2.

Montreal didn't stand a chance as the BC defense limited the visitors to a mere seven first downs and a paltry 153 yards of total offense. Outside of the 14 penalties for a loss of 130 yards, almost everything went right for the Lions as they generated a hefty 526 yards of offense.

Kevin Glenn converted all but eight of his 31 pass attempts for 301 yards and two touchdowns, before giving way to John Beck who delivered another 72 yards and two majors on just four completions. Emmanuel Arceneaux was the target of choice down the field for Glenn and Beck, as he turned eight receptions into 145 yards and three scores.

For his efforts, Arceneaux was named the CFL's Offensive Player of the Week.

Also making a significant impact for BC last week was Andrew Harris, who not only caught a 13-yard TD pass from Beck in the fourth quarter, he also ran the ball 12 times for 72 yards, second only to Stefan Logan who pitched in with a game-high 74 yards on nine attempts.

Giving the Lions a tremendous one-two punch on offense in the early going are Logan and Harris who are first and second, respectively, in combined yards with 671 and 585 yards. Harris is tops in the league in yards from scrimmage with 518, usually a spot reserved for Toronto's Chad Owens, but even Winnipeg has a player ahead of Owens in that department in Nic Grigsby who has 410 yards entering play this week.

Settling in under center, Willy is one of two quarterbacks currently with at least 1,000 yards passing, trailing only Ricky Ray of Toronto. With five passing scores to this point, Willy and the Bombers are far ahead of the pace they set last year in that category when the squad was a distant eighth in the league with a mere 13 aerial scores.

After tossing a staggering 27 interceptions in 2013, Winnipeg had to deal with a disappointing 65.1 efficiency rating, so again the Bombers are ahead of the curve in that area as well.

As far as the all-time series is concerned, one that takes into account regular-season meetings dating back to 1954, it stands at 83-75-2 in favor of the Blue Bombers. BC has won four straight and six of the last nine matchups, the most recent of those being a 53-17 thrashing last September.

The teams are slated to battle here in British Columbia again on Sept. 13 before heading to Winnipeg for a late October encounter.

Winnipeg's start has been rather startling, but at some point the team will have to come back to reality and that should happen this week on the road.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: British Columbia 31, Winnipeg 22

OTTAWA REDBLACKS (1-2) AT HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (0-3)

DATE & TIME: Saturday, July 26, 7 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: Thanks to their very first win in 2014, the Ottawa RedBlacks find themselves atop the East Division standings, as they enter Week 5 action against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at McMaster University's Ron Joyce Stadium on Saturday night.

After losing the first two games on the schedule to Winnipeg and Edmonton, the newest members to the CFL took the field at home versus Toronto last week and squeezed out an 18-17 victory. While that may not sound all that significant, with a mark of 1-2 right now the RedBlacks actually find themselves leading the pack in the division, mostly due to the fact that every other squad in the East (Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton) already has three defeats.

Much of the credit for the Ottawa win goes to kicker Brett Maher who knocked through a clutch 27-yard field goal in the final minute to give the team the victory in its home debut. Not only did Maher connect on the most crucial of kicks in the meeting with Toronto, he actually accounted for all 18 points for Ottawa with successful field goals from 48, 32, 30, 26 and 22 yards out. Needless to say, Maher was an easy choice for the CFL Special Teams Player of the Week.

Maher, who now has nine field goals on the campaign, picked up the slack for an Ottawa offense that struggled to find a rhythm. Quarterback Henry Burris managed to convert 17-of-30 passes for 216 yards, but was sacked five times.

The top target for Burris was Kierrie Johnson who registered six receptions and 91 yards, both of which were game highs. Running back Chevon Walker tried to give the group a boost on the ground, but managed just 60 yards on 12 carries.

Walker, who played with Hamilton the last two seasons, has already eclipsed his entire rushing total from a year ago when he posted 193 yards in limited action.

Defensively, the RedBlacks limited Toronto to a respectable 371 yards, but it also didn't hurt that the Argos crippled themselves time and time again with 12 penalties that amounted to 132 yards of lost field position.

The RedBlacks are now in the middle of the pack when it comes to points allowed, permitting 26.7 ppg, while Hamilton is just in front of them at 23.0 ppg.

As for the Tiger-Cats, losers of the 2013 Grey Cup versus Saskatchewan (45-23), they are still waiting to work their way into the win column here in 2014. The campaign began with another loss to the Roughriders, 31-10, followed by a 28-24 setback to Edmonton and a narrow 10-7 defeat at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders last week on the road.

Last in the league in scoring at just 13.7 ppg, Hamilton is also all alone at the bottom of the division standings, although even a single game could turn the tide for the 'Cats at this early juncture.

Kicker Justin Medlock accounted for all seven of his team's points versus the Stamps, thanks to a pair of field goals and a 91-yard single, but even with a standout performance by the Hamilton defense, it still wasn't enough to get the visitors into the win column for the first time this season.

With starting quarterback Zach Collaros on the sidelines due to injury, it was up to the tandem of Jeremiah Masoli and Dan LeFevour to make something happen and it just wasn't meant to be. Masoli converted nine of his 20 pass attempts for 107 yards and an interception, while LeFevour missed on only two of his 11 throws as he recorded 76 yards and was sacked twice.

Hamilton struggled to produce 254 yards of offense and didn't do itself any favors with 12 penalties for a loss of 90 yards, but Calgary was just as sloppy while being flagged a dozen times as well for 120 yards.

The quarterback play for the Ticats has been dismal through the first three games, even worse than that of Ottawa which is tied for last in the league in passing scores with just two on 89 pass attempts. Hamilton has by far the lowest efficiency rating at the position (57.8 percent), due to the fact that it too has just two aerial majors, coupled with five interceptions on 54.5 percent completions.

Also working against Hamilton in the early going is an excessive number of turnovers, 12 to be exact. Compare that to the six takeaways the program has through three games and the Ticats are easily last in the league in turnover margin at minus-six.

Because they reside in the same division, these two squads will meet up two more times during the regular season, although it will be close to three months before Hamilton again hosts the RedBlacks in Week 17. Two weeks after that Ottawa will serve as the home team.

As difficult as it is for a team to break into a league these days, at least the RedBlacks have been competitive for nearly every minute they have been on the field, which is more than can be said for Hamilton right now. With the rotating door at quarterback it would not be surprising to see the 'Cats come out on the losing end yet again this weekend.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ottawa 27, Hamilton 21

TORONTO ARGONAUTS (1-3) AT SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (1-2)

DATE & TIME: Saturday, July 26, 10 p.m. (ET).

GAME NOTES: The 2013 Grey Cup Champions find themselves all alone in last place in the West Division standings this week, not exactly the position the Saskatchewan Roughriders expected when they began their title defense.

This Saturday, the Roughriders try to rebound from a two-game slide as they host the Toronto Argonauts at Mosaic Stadium.

Saskatchewan began the 2014 campaign in the correct manner with a 31-10 rout of Hamilton in the rematch of the most recent championship meeting, but after that things went sour. Versus Toronto and British Columbia, the squad was outscored by a combined 74-28 margin, and is now trying to get back on track. Last season the team, which had a bye last week, opened with five straight wins and was 8-1 after nine games.

If the Roughriders thought they were going through a rough time of it in the early going, they need to look no further than Toronto in order to feel a little better about themselves. The Argonauts have just one win to their credit in four chances, becoming the first team to fall to the expansion Ottawa RedBlacks last week, 18-17, in the first game played at the renovated TD Place.

Toronto, which is lucky to be tied for second place in the East Division standings with Montreal at 1-3, scored a mere seven points in the first half against the RedBlacks and struggled late when they were unable to put distance between themselves and Ottawa, and eventually fell behind.

Playing without Chad Owens, one of the most electrifying performers the CFL, quarterback Ricky Ray was left to lean on a host of unproven receivers and the outcome was far from optimal. Ray converted 21-of-37 passes for 298 yards and a score, but was also picked off twice while placing second on the team in rushing with 23 yards on four attempts, just one yard behind Curtis Steele who did his damage on four carries as well.

Since running for 59 yards and a pair of scores versus Saskatchewan in the first meeting of the season back on July 5, Steele has a mere 28 yards on five attempts in two outings.

Saskatchewan, which caught a break in the schedule last week after being doubled-up by British Columbia on July 12 (26-13), is currently in the bottom half of the CFL in scoring with just 19.7 ppg, a considerable difference from last season when the squad was second in the league at 28.8 ppg.

When you combine the slumping offense of the Riders with a pass defense that is second-to-last as it allows opponents to complete 65.3 percent of its attempts, it is easy to see why the first month of the campaign has been so troubling.

Darian Durant, who finished first in 2013 with 31 passing touchdowns and was third in passing yardage (4,154), is currently carrying a pass efficiency rating of only 78.7 through three games, having tossed almost as many interceptions (four) as majors (five).

In the first meeting of the season between the squads back in Week 2 at Rogers Centre, Toronto rolled up 568 yards of total offense, thanks mostly to Ray who converted 29-of-37 passes for 407 yards and three scores during the 48-15 onslaught. Owens was responsible for 11 receptions for 159 yards and a TD, adding another 89 yards on punt returns as well.

Durant managed to post 295 passing yards and two scores, but he was sacked four times and saw one of his two interceptions thrown to Antwaun Molden returned a staggering 108 yards for a major in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

With the win earlier this month, Toronto has now taken three of the last four encounters, although the Riders still lead the all-time series, one that reflects only regular-season matchups dating back to 1961, by a count of 46-38-1.

Expect the Roughriders to exact some revenge for the loss a few weeks ago, and squeak out a hard-fought home win this time around.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 28, Toronto 23

2014 Sports Network Predictions: 10-6. Last Week's Results: 3-1.

07/23 16:11:58 ET

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