Toronto Argonauts at Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Thursday, 7:30 p.m. TV: TSN
Toronto Line: The 11 regular-season wins the Argos recorded in 2013 was their highest total since 1997 and 34 members of that team -- including future Hall of Fame QB Ricky Ray -- return this year. Even so, the Argos are a young team that's still maturing, with a league-high 35 players in either their first or second year in the CFL.
Winnipeg Line: The Bombers will be virtually unrecognizable to fans who haven't seen them since last year, with 26 new players on the active roster this week compared to the final week of the 2013 regular season. The Bombers have gotten older and more experienced with all the changes, going from the youngest team in the league the last two years to the fourth youngest this year.
Bottom Line: The Bombers are missing three defensive starters to injury this week and are going up against a QB in Ricky Ray the online gambling site bodog.ca has listed as the 13-4 favourite this season to win the Most Outstanding Player award.
Montreal Alouettes at Calgary Stampeders
Saturday, 2 p.m. TV: TSN
Alouettes Line: For the first time since 1999, the Als will head into a regular season with someone other than Anthony Calvillo as their No. 1 quarterback. With Calvillo retiring over the winter after a 20-year CFL career, the mantle passes to Troy Smith, the former Heisman Trophy winner who showed promise in relief of an injured Calvillo last season.
Stampeders Line: Calgary GM and head coach John Hufnagel snuffed out a budding quarterback controversy this week by naming Bo Levi Mitchell his starter. Mitchell won the job -- at least to start the season -- over Drew Tate, the former Calgary starter who has missed many games because of injuries. It will be interesting to see how long Mitchell keeps the starter's job if Calgary struggles early.
Bottom Line: Between the signing of former NFL receiver Chad Johnson and the firing of their offensive co-ordinator just a week into training camp, the Als organization -- once a model of stability and good management -- looks like a bit of a circus this year.
Edmonton Eskimos at B.C. Lions
Saturday, 5 p.m. TV: TSN
Eskimos Line: There were few quarterbacks more prolific in the fourth quarter last season than Edmonton starter Mike Reilly. The problem was Reilly's club was usually down 30 points by the time the pivot got rolling. The Esks believe Reilly's notoriously slow starts last season are behind him, and gave him a contract extension this week to back up their faith.
B.C. Line: The Lions will start the season without veteran starting QB Travis Lulay, who continues to recuperate from a shoulder injury sustained last year. That would be a devastating blow for most teams, but the Lions traded their first-round draft pick last month in exchange for everyone's favourite backup, Kevin Glenn, for precisely this reason. Like a boy scout, Lions GM Wally Buono is always prepared.
Bottom Line: As goes their season opener, so go the Eskimos -- at least over the last five years. Edmonton won their season opener in 2009, 2011 and 2012 and went on to make the playoffs; they lost their opener in 2010 and 2013 and missed the playoffs both times.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Saskatchewan Roughriders
Sunday, 6 p.m. TV: TSN
Ticats Line: The Ticats lost in the Grey Cup game last season but that didn't stop GM and head coach Kent Austin from completely rebuilding the squad from the ground up over the winter, including at starting quarterback, where Henry Burris is out and Zach Collaros is in. Put all the changes together and the average Ticats player has just 1.9 years of CFL experience heading into 2014, a CFL low.
Riders Line: When last we saw the Riders, they were stomping Hamilton at home to win the 2013 Grey Cup game. Much has changed since then, including the departures of slotback Weston Dressler and running back Kory Sheets for the NFL. The Riders will have their work cut out in 2014, and not just because quarterback Darian Durant has new faces to give the ball to. Just two teams since 1982 -- Monteal in 2009-10, Toronto in 1996-97 -- have repeated as Grey Cup champions.
Bottom Line: The Ticats have lost their season opener the last nine seasons, which is just weird.
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, Calgary, B.C., Saskatchewan
Lyons: Winnipeg, Calgary, B.C., Saskatchewan
Lawless: Toronto, Calgary, B.C., Saskatchewan
Brown: Toronto, Calgary, B.C., Saskatchewan
Tait: Toronto, Calgary, B.C., Saskatchewan
Wiecek: Toronto, Calgary, B.C., Saskatchewan
Last year's standings