It seems like only a few weeks ago we watched in shock at how the end of the 2014 Canadian Football League (CFL) season came to a close. The Calgary Stampeders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats battled it out in BC Place on November 30 in a game Calgary entered as the heavy favorite. With less than a minute remaining with a narrow 20-16 Calgary lead, Taylor Reed's name became a Jeopardy answer in Canadian sports history. With Hamilton's Brandon Banks returning a Calgary punt for the potential game winning touchdown for the underdog Tiger-Cats, Reed was called for an illegal block negating the run back. Hamilton would fail to advance the ball and Calgary escaped with the 102nd Grey Cup. What a way to end the season! How can 2015 follow that?
Here are a few story lines worth watching as the 2015 season gets underway in Montreal with the host Als entertaining the "no we aren't an expansion team anymore...seriously" Ottawa Redblacks:
- 1st Down: West Is Best - The running story of 2014 was the complete domination within the Western conference. The combined total wins of all 4 teams out East (28) was 1 more than the total wins from the 2 Alberta teams (27) alone. Even look at the last place team in the West, Winnipeg. The Bombers finished a mediocre 7-11, 8 games out of first place. Had Winnipeg still been in the East, they would have been only 2 games out of first. The East did not even have a team finish above .500 last year with Hamilton and Montreal tying for the top of the division with 9-9 records. Expect a similar result this season. Should the parity between the two divisions even out a bit more, sure. Will the West still dominate, of course. Out West, a 10 win season may barely get you a playoff spot (ignoring the cross-over of course). Out East, a 10 win season probably wins you the division. With defending champion Calgary being the favorites for a repeat, provincial rivals Edmonton looking like a serious threat and Saskatchewan and B.C. both looking like a dark horse candidates (heck even Winnipeg has improved), I would not bet against another West team taking home the Grey Cup in Winnipeg in November.
- 2nd Down: Red black...and Blue? - 2014 was a tough welcome back party for Ottawa fans. In fact, most of the season must have felt like the nerdy kid who showed up to the cool kids high school party not fully understanding his invite was a joke against him. Averaging an embarrassing 15 points per game in 18 games can only mean this team has one way to go, up! Expansion seasons are always difficult for any team, regardless of the league and the sport. While Ottawa was banged and beaten all season, and not just from injuries, I don't expect a similar result this season. With Toronto and Montreal lacking quarterback leaders to start the season (Ricky Ray inured in Toronto and Montreal not having a proven winner), the time is now for the Redblacks to be opportunistic. Hamilton should be the class of the field out East and, similar to last year, the West will probably nab the 3rd playoff spot with the cross-over. However, Ottawa has a very realistic shot at fighting for the second spot and a home playoff game. I also think the league needs to see this incarnation of football in Ottawa become a success. After numerous failed attempts in the past, another dropped ball here would really damage the sport and the league. As a fan of CFL success, I want to see Ottawa contend for the playoff spot all season.
- 3rd Down: History Repeating? - Did you know the Calgary Stampeders have won the Grey Cup 7 times but have never been able to repeat? In fact, the follow-up season to the two most recent Grey Cup wins for the Stamps (2008, 2001) saw the same team (Montreal) win the cup (2009, 2002). Should this mean we might want to start lining up the parade route in Montreal this year? Not so fast. Last year, Calgary did also successfully end a recent 3-year championship run for the host city of the Grey Cup. BC (2011), Toronto (2012) and Saskatchewan (2013) won the Grey Cup in their home cities in front of their own fans (of which #TwineTime attended each of these games). Last year, BC failed to advance to the Grey Cup and a new champion, a non-home town champion, was crowned. Can Winnipeg get this recent trend back on track this year? Can Calgary finally win back-to-back Grey Cups? Will Montreal continue the ominous follow-up Stampeders Grey Cup celebration win? Or how about this: the last time Calgary beat Hamilton in the Grey Cup (1998, Winnipeg), the following year saw Hamilton get revenge and beat Calgary for the championship (1999, BC). Even more creepy, look at those two host cities. The same cities listed as last year's and this year's host, order switched. Could a sports almanac alone be able to predict the outcome of this season?
How will the 2015 CFL season shake down? #TwineTime offers up predictions....
Projected Final Regular Season Standings
*1. Calgary Stampeders
*2. Edmonton Eskimos
*3. B.C. Lions
*4. Saskatchewan Roughriders
5. Winnipeg Blue Bombers
*1. Hamilton Tiger-Cats
*2. Ottawa Redblacks
3. Toronto Argonauts
4. Montreal Alouettes
West: Edmonton over B.C.
East: Saskatchewan (from the cross-over) over Ottawa
West: Calgary over Edmonton
East: Hamilton over Saskatchewan
103rd GREY CUP CHAMPIONSHIP: Calgary Stampeders over Hamilton Tiger-Cats - Calgary brings back the top two players in the league, Bo Levi Mitchell and Jon Cornish, and should be a force all season (barring no unexpected injuries of course). Calgary will be challenged out West mainly from provincial rivals Edmonton. If the Stamps can continue the Alberta domination (Stamps won the season series last year 4-0), they should have home field advantage for the playoffs. Hamilton should run away with the Eastern title but could see a surprise challenge in the East final from an unlikely source out West, Saskatchewan. I am almost tempted to pick a crazy Calgary vs Saskatchewan championship game but, at the end of the day, I still feel like Hamilton will be the better team. Plus playing the division final at home will be a huge advantage for them (see last season). After the way last year's championship game ended, let's be honest sports fans, we want to see this rematch. These two teams will kick off their season against one another in Calgary on Friday night, why not see them end the season again as well in Winnipeg on a cold November evening. But once again, the better team on paper and on the field should...SHOULD...be the defending champs. The ponies ride off into the sunset with their first ever successful repeat championship!
So get out your watermelon caps, cow bells, horns and face paint.....time to get loud across the country and further prove why our balls are bigger! I fully plan to attend as many games as possible this season and, maybe just maybe, we will see #TwineTime make a return appearance to the Grey Cup festivities. The CFL season is under way.....