Friday, September 3, 2010

CFL Labour Day Weekend preview

August sucks.

August really sucks as a sports month, and it sucks as a month in general. Temperatures are abnormally hot and the sports world is abnormally cool. Compare it to October, say, where we have hockey, three football leagues, basketball training camps and baseball playoffs, as well as collegiate sports across the country. In August, we have a few baseball games, 3rd quarters in the NFL preseason and the WNBA.

BUT! August is over. This is perhaps why I love Labour Day weekend so much. My team, the Lions, don't even have a rivalry and I love it. I love how the Battle of Ontario actually means something this year. I love the name 'Banjo Bowl'. This is the end of summer. That long, hot, egregiously annoying summer is over. Bring on winter. This is Canada.

BC Lions (1-7) @ Montreal Alouettes (6-2) (-10) O/U 50
Tonight at 7:35
Gameday weather: Sunny, high of 31, low of 16.

Montreal beat British Columbia back at Empire Stadium back in Week 3 without scoring a touchdown, so at least they're ready for the Chris Leak era, however short it may be. How bad are the Lions? So bad that the Alouettes are playing their backup quarterback, who has as much sway in a football game as the long snapper's rottweiler, and are still favoured by 10 points.

Basic numbers through eight weeks:

Montreal, 269 points. BC, 135. Montreal, 322 passing yards per game. BC, 244. Montreal, 18 passing touchdowns. BC, 5, spread across just two different games.

If Anthony Calvillo were playing, this game would be such a mismatch that the United Nations would get involved. Luckily, he isn't, and BC may have a chance to win this game if they effectively blitz and get that mobile secondary creating Interceptions. Yonus Davis, the CFL's Special Teams player of August, is also where the Lions hold a slight advantage, which is big in a league where one or two big returns can change the course of the game. BC has yet to allow a return touchdown, but that could also mean the team hasn't kicked the ball off enough to allow the other team the chance.

I'm going to say BC covers and the teams play to the under.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2-6) @ Saskatchewan Roughriders (5-3) (-10.5) O/U 57
Sunday at 4:05
Gameday weather: Thundershowers, high of 21, low of 7

The other good thing about August coming to an end is all the thunderstorm threats that pop up around Mosaic Field on any given week. For the longest time before the Roughriders started winning playoff games, this was the most important day on the football calendar, and it has a very anti-climatic feel to it.

Saskatchewan still has a shot at landing the first place bye in the West Division despite being two games back after that ridiculous loss to Edmonton last week. Darian Durant, though, is lucky that the Bombers don't have any ballhawks in the secondary, because he's been throwing picks at an impressive rate lately. In a league of eight starting quarterbacks, Durant has the seventh best passer rating.

Ten and a half looks like a lot to cover, but the Riders offense is good enough, and have blown out opponents by more than that in three of their five wins. I may as well take the over as well and look for a 40-20 or so score, in honour of college football returning.

Toronto Argonauts (5-3) @ Hamilton Tiger-Cats (4-4) (-4.5) O/U 51
Monday at 2:35
Gameday weather: Partly cloudy, high of 24, low of 15

This game is, for once, important, and not just in a "fighting for pride" sort of way that it has been in God knows how many years past. But it would mean so much more if the CFL had four playoff teams rather than six.

Digressing, this game is so even its ridiculous. Did you know that Toronto actually give up more yards and first downs than any other team? Most of that goes through the air. As the league's worst passing defense, Toronto allow 68.8 per cent of passes to be completed, and give up 324.5 passing yards a game.

Meanwhile, Hamilton is the league's second best passing game, but are third worst in rushing defense, where Toronto continues to shine despite their drop off in defensive play from the start of the year. Cory Boyd continues to lead the league in rushing and total yards from scrimmage. His receiver/return-man counterpart Chad Owens leads the league in total yards, over 200 more than the great rookie Marcus Thigpen on the Hamilton sideline.

We have yet to have a game in the CFL this year where both teams' strengths match up well against the other team's weaknesses like this. Keep in mind the two teams are numbers one and two in the Excitement Rankings this blog maintains. Get up early and set your PVRs, because this one may yet be worth keeping.

I'm going to give the edge to Hamilton. Ivor Wynne is sold out, and four and a half points is a very reasonable number. Take the over, as well.

Edmonton Eskimos (2-6) @ Calgary Stampeders (7-1) (-12.5) O/U 54
Monday at 6:00
Gameday weather: Partly cloudy, high of 11, low of 4

So Edmonton eked out a win against Saskatchewan last week by grinding out a game during which the football gods were drunk and simply wanted to toy with both teams and their offenses.

In case you haven't noticed, Henry Burris actually does lead the league in interceptions, and Edmonton actually are tied for the lead league in interception returns. It's about there that Edmonton's advantages end, because Calgary has the tightest, most efficient defense in the league, which leads the following categories:

-First downs
-Rushing first downs
-Passing first downs
-Yards allowed
-Net yards rushing
-Average gain per rush
-Passes allowed
-Lowest completion percentage
-Points per game
-Quarterback sacks
-Passing TDs
-TDs allowed
-Fewest points

While Toronto has the league's best running back, Calgary has the league's best rushing team. Joffrey Reynolds, Jon Cornish and Henry Burris have each more than 200 yards on the ground. Reynolds has yet to fumble the football, in 101 attempts. Conversely, the Eskimos have the league's worst rushing defense.

This is such a mismatch on paper that I'm willing to completely forget last week's upset, and determine that this is going to be a total blowout and such a catastrophic end to the summer from which we will not recover.

Give Calgary the 12.5 points, plus a little extra, but take the under, because I don't think Calgary will score more than 50 points.

Now that I have sufficiently jinxed the Stampeders, we have a chance to watch a good football game. Have a good weekend. The 'Eh' factor will return on Tuesday after the long weekend, unless something big happens.

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