SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (3-2) at WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS (5-1)
Tonight, 7:30 p.m. TV: TSN
Bombers line: Nobody saw this turnaround coming this quickly. The Bombers' five wins have included two dramatic last-drive thrillers on the road in Montreal and Hamilton, home decisions over Toronto and Ottawa and a dominant performance in Vancouver. The doubters still remain. A win over the Grey Cup champs would be a big step on the road to legitimacy.
Roughriders line: The bye week served the Riders well as, since disappearing for a spell after a 1-2 start, they have returned to kick the snot out of Toronto and Ottawa by a combined score of 75-23. They've been on the road since knocking off the Redblacks in Ottawa on Saturday and have the Taj Smith suspension sideshow to deal with heading into Winnipeg.
Bottom line: The CFL's best matchup of the week will offer answers as to whether the Bombers are for real or the Riders have found their stride again.
EDMONTON ESKIMOS (4-1) at MONTREAL ALOUETTES (1-4)
Friday, 6 p.m. TV: TSN
Eskimos line: Head coach Chris Jones has been hammering away at his troops this week, stressing a single message: Don't get comfy at 4-1, coming off a bye week and lining up against the CFL's newest gong show in the Als. The Esks, like the Bombers, have been one of the early-season surprises and they've mirrored what's unfolding here in cruising to a 4-1 start. They are getting excellent QB play from Mike Reilly and have already rallied for three come-from-behind wins.
Alouettes line: The Als parachuted in Jeff Garcia this week to help with their coaching staff and their quarterbacks. This immediately led to speculation the four-time CFL all-star and NFL Pro Bowl selection -- even at 44 -- might be their best QB option right now. Montreal has been just horrid in the last two weeks, losing 41-5 in B.C. two weeks ago before a bye and then a 31-5 spanking by Toronto last Friday. Don Matthews has also been brought in as a consultant. Is Marv Levy next?
Bottom line: The Als really can't be this bad... can they?
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (1-4) at B.C. LIONS (3-3)
Friday, 9 p.m. TV: TSN
Ticats line: Hamilton desperately misses QB Zach Collaros, who was supposed to be their answer after kicking Henry Burris to the curb this winter. The Ticats aren't that far off, with three of their losses -- 28-24 in Edmonton, 10-7 in Calgary and last week's 27-26 setback against the Bombers -- coming by a combined margin of eight points. But they've started three different pivots this year -- Collaros, Jeremiah Masoli and Dan LeFevour -- and the inconsistency behind centre has been a killer.
Lions line: They've been all over the place in the first third of the season, but last week's victory in Calgary offered a glimpse as to the Lions' overall skill. Travis Lulay is back taking turns at practice again after his shoulder surgery, but Kevin Glenn will remain at the controls again until their No. 1 gun is 100 per cent.
Bottom line: The Ticats don't traditionally roll over on the left coast as so many East Division teams have in the past, winning three times in Vancouver since 2009. If Bombers-Riders is the CFL's marquee matchup of the week, this one might be the most intriguing.
OTTAWA REDBLACKS (1-4) at CALGARY STAMPEDERS (4-1)
Saturday, 6:30 p.m. TV: TSN
Redblacks line: There have been flashes in their first few weeks when the Redblacks have looked legit. And then there are games such as last week's 38-14 loss to the Riders were they look exactly like an expansion team. But life in the East Division this year means 1-4 is just two points out of first and the Redblacks, should Henry Burris provide better production at the QB spot, have a real chance to play host to a playoff game.
Stampeders line: The Stamps' 4-0 start masked some inefficiencies on offence that, save for a late defensive breakdown in last week's loss to B.C., might have been overlooked again if this crew was rolling along at 5-0. The defence remains dominant, but the offence ranks just middle of the pack in most statistical categories. With running backs Jon Cornish and Matt Walter still injured, expect Martel Mallett (116 yards rushing, 59 receiving) to be busy again.
Bottom line: Nice deal for the Redblacks as they head into Cowtown to face a Stamps' side surly after their first loss.
The Free Press has assembled a panel to offer their predictions every week in 2014. Joining us once again this year are CJOB's Bob Irving, and from the Free Press, sports editor Steve Lyons, columnists Gary Lawless and Doug Brown and football writers Paul Wiecek and Ed Tait:
Irving: Winnipeg, Montreal, B.C., Calgary
Lyons: Winnipeg, Edmonton, B.C., Calgary
Lawless: Saskatchewan, Edmonton, B.C., Calgary
Brown: Winnipeg, Edmonton, B.C., Calgary.
Tait: Saskatchewan, Edmonton, B.C., Calgary
Wiecek: Winnipeg, Edmonton, B.C., Calgary