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Inside the CFL: Fearless Predictions

Ted Michaels, CFL Editor

Toronto, ON (Sports Network) - With the CFL season starting this Thursday night (BC at Montreal) there's still many questions left to be answered.

Who will win?

Who won't?

What to watch for?

Glad you asked.

Eastern Division.

First: Montreal Alouettes.

For the last few years, the Als MO has been simple. Clinch first place, get a bye and host the Eastern Final in front of over 60,000 screaming fans at Olympic Stadium.

The Als have played in the last three Grey Cups, winning the title in 2009 and 2010.

Some have said the reason for the Als recent success, has been because the rest of the East hasn't been strong enough to challenge Montreal.

I'm one of those people.

This season, Montreal's offense will have a bit of a different look to it. Ben Cahoon, the CFL's all-time leading receiver, has retired. Running back Avon Cobourne is now with Hamilton.

But, they still have Jamel Richardson, SJ Green and some exciting newcomers, including former Pittsburgh Steeler Dallas Baker, to catch the ball from Anthony Calvillo.

Burning questions. Can Montreal stay hungry? Can Calvillo, who will turn 39 in August, fight the aging process? Will head coach Marc Trestman win his third straight Grey Cup, then go to the NFL?

Second: Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Two Eastern semifinal home playoffs losses mean a little more pressure this season in Steeltown. Last season's home loss to the arch-rival Argos was a real bitter pill to swallow. So, the Tiger-Cats have added Cobourne, kicker Justin Medlock and middle linebacker Rey Williams, among others.

They also have a new defensive coordinator in Corey Chamblin, who will bring a new more aggressive style of defense this season.

Burning questions: Do they have the personnel in the secondary to play man coverage, when Chamblin sends more pressure?

Since their last win in Montreal on October 20, 2002, the Cats are a miserable 0-13 at Molson Stadium. It's clear that the road to the Grey Cup goes through Montreal. Hamilton plays Montreal four times this season, twice at home and two times in Montreal. If the Tiger-Cats have any thoughts of finishing first, they have to win three of those four games, which means at least one victory at Molson Stadium. Can they do it?

If they can, they just might make a trip to Vancouver, for this year's Grey Cup. If not, they'll finish second, win the eastern semifinal at home, then get beaten at the big O.

Third: Toronto Argonauts.

Two numbers kept Argo players motivated in the offseason. Those numbers were 48 and 17.

That was the score of the Eastern Final, which the Argos lost in Montreal.

The Argos added to their roster with the acquisition of ex-Winnipeg quarterback Steven Jyles, who is likely to miss the first game this week in Calgary. Jyles, if healthy, may give the Argos what they didn't have last year, a legitimate back-up quarterback.

The Argos also have Cody Boyd back at running back and special teams players of the year, Chad Owens.

In 2010, Boyd carried the ball 226 times for 1,359 yards, while Owens had more than 1,000 kickoff yards and 1,000 punt return yards, just the fifth time in CFL history that a player has accomplished that.

Burning questions: Can they get the quarterbacking they need? And, who upset the schedule maker?

The CFL is a big-play league, and the Argos aerial attack left a lot to be desired last year. In 2010, the Argos were dead last in average passing yards per game. The Argos running game will be fine, but unless Lemon et al, can show that they can go deep and spread a defense out, it'll be more of the same. And, the schedule maker didn't do them any favors. Toronto starts the season with games in Calgary, then against two division opponents, Winnipeg and Montreal. Lose those games, and the Argos' 9-9 record of last year will be in jeopardy.

Fourth; Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Last year, the Bombers' brain trust, GM Joe Mack and head coach Paul LaPolice decided to go younger. Those growing pains resulted in a 4-14 record.

This year, LaPolice says the overall talent this year is better and the Bombers are faster than they were in 2010.

They still have running back Fred Reid, who led the CFL in rushing, and quarterback Buck Pierce, who showed he can guide the team, providing he can stay healthy.

Burning questions: What happens if the Buck gets stopped?

Pierce missed a lot of time last year with knee and elbow injuries. He came to camp in great shape and by all accounts has looked great so far. Last season he completed 66 percent of his passes. But if he goes down, Joey Elliott steps in. Wonder how that makes Winnipeg fans feel?

They should be a lot better than 4-14, and will challenge the Argos for third.

Western Division.

First: Calgary Stampeders

The 2010 season just about had it all for the Stampeders.

They led the West with a 13-5 record. Their quarterback, Henry Burris, was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player. On both sides of the ball, they either led or were second in numerous categories.

Yet, the season came to a bitter end, when they lost the Western Final to the Roughriders, the second year in a row that happened.

Burning questions: Michael Bishop? Really?

Burris hasn't been on the injured list since he suffered a dislocated shoulder against Hamilton in 2007. Ironically, Burris' back-up, Drew Tate is suffering from the same injury. So, right now, the back-up is Bishop, who hasn't played since 2009.

And we all know what Bishop can do...throw the ball the length of the field, but also make a dumb decision that will result in turnovers. Stamp fans better hope Burris remains upright and retaining fluids.

Also, will the secondary get singed? The Stamps have lost cornerbacks Dwight Anderson and Brandon Browner, as well as safety Wes Lysack. Is that too much to recover from? I suspect the Stamps will still finish first, but they won't be 13-5.

Second: BC Lions.

This is my sleeper pick of the 2011 season. Last year, their horrible 1-7 start cost them a home playoff game.

This year, head coach Wally Buono has let it be known he won't hesitate to make changes if they get off to another brutal start. Travis Lulay, the Montana State product is now the clear No. 1 quarterback in BC. I've gone on record already. I like this kid and I think he's the next bona fide star in the CFL.

Burning questions: Can they break the Grey Cup jinx? Only three teams that have hosted the Grey Cup have won the Grey Cup: Hamilton in 1972, Montreal in 1977 and BC in 1994. That year, the Lions finished third, won two playoff games on the road, and captured the championship, beating Baltimore. With a newly renovated BC Place Stadium ready to host the game, will the Lions be there? Let's not forget the Lions will move back to BC Place for the second half of the year. Playing at Empire Field wasn't a home field advantage, playing at BC Place is. A good start, and the Lions can make things very interesting.

Third: Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Here it comes. The Rider nation will rise and send me e-mails saying that I hate the Riders, and don't give them any respect.

On the contrary.

I covered the 2003 Grey Cup in Regina, and was blown away by the friendly people and how football is a religion to them. Think of Green Bay and you get the idea.

However, they have some huge holes to fill, including the losses of receivers Andy Fantuz and Rob Bagg. And, they still haven't replaced defensive ends John Chick and Stevie Baggs.

Burning questions: Who's going to kick? Luca Congi, last year's kicker, is still recovering from a knee injury. Matter of fact, he's on the nine-game injured list.

So, the kicking will be handled by Eddie Johnson or Chris Milo.

After the final preseason game, GM Brendan Taman was asked if he was happy about the kicking game. His answer was succinct. "Would you be?"

And, when he was asked about defensive end, he said he "was not comfortable" with what he had.

Pretty well sums it up.

A slight decline for the Riders this year.

I await the venom.

Fourth: Edmonton Eskimos.

When you compare the start of the 2010 season versus the start of this year, just 27 players have returned.

GM Eric Tillman and new head coach Kavis Reed have dismantled the line-up. Their 7-11 record last year was clearly a reason why.

Quarterback Ricky Ray is back, with another new offensive coordinator, Marcus Crandell. Unbelievably, this will be Ray's fifth offensive coordinator in six years. As Tillman said, it'll take time for the offensive line to gain some cohesiveness. A lot of injuries won't help.

Burning questions: Will the Eskimos be like the fall leaves...fallen?

The Eskimos have missed the playoffs four of the last five seasons. Tillman says he expects the team to play its best football in October and November. Will it be enough to make a run at the playoffs? Or, will trying to have a virtually new football team attempting to mesh be tougher than expected?

Grey Cup: Calgary over Montreal.

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter, on AM 900 CHML.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? ted@900chml.com.

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter, on AM 900 CHML.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Ted Michaels at ted@900chml.com.

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