CFL playoffs back with a bang

Tiger-Cats favoured in East semi-final, home-field advantage for Roughriders in West

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/11/2021 (256 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Peter Power / The Canadian Press files
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will be counting on QB Jeremiah Masoli in their CFL East Conference semifinal against the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday.

After more than two years, the Canadian Football League playoffs are finally back. And what a 2021 campaign it’s been.

Delayed by a month and reduced to a 14-game regular season owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were times where it felt like three-down post-season football would never come. But here we are, with the next few weeks sure to be the most exciting of the year — beginning with Sunday’s double-header, with the East semifinal (noon) followed by the West semifinal (3:30 p.m.).

The winner of the East will head to Toronto to play the Argonauts at BMO Field, while the West winner will travel to IG Field to take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, with both divisional finals being played on Dec. 5.

But before we look too far ahead, let’s get ready for this weekend with a preview of Sunday’s semifinal games.

Montreal Alouettes at Hamilton Tiger-Cats


2021 Regular-season record

Hamilton: 8-6 (2nd in East)

Montreal: 7-7 (3rd in East)

Season Series (Tie, 1-1)

Week 4 (Aug. 27): Hamilton 27 at Montreal 10

Week 9: (Oct. 2): Montreal 23 at Hamilton 20 OT

The Skinny:

With starting QB Jeremiah Masoli on the shelf with a rib injury, the Dane Evans-led Tiger-Cats marched into Montreal in Week 4 and upset the Alouettes in what was their first game at Molson Stadium in 656 days. Evans finished with 183 passing yards and two touchdowns and running back Sean Thomas-Erlington added another score as the Tiger-Cats took an early lead and then shutout the Alouettes 14-0 in the second half to seal the win.

The Alouettes answered back in Week 9, returning the favour with a narrow road win that was settled in extra time by a 36-yard field goal from David Cote. Trailing 17-3 in the fourth quarter, the Alouettes, led by QB Vernon Adams Jr., scored 17 unanswered points to take a brief lead, before finishing the comeback in overtime.

3 Storylines:

1) There’s been a brewing debate for weeks as to who should start at quarterback for the Tiger-Cats, but it’s clear the answer is Masoli will get the ball, at least to start. There’s a lot riding on Masoli in this game, and how he performs this post-season could very well determine his future in Hamilton. With Evans at the ready, it will be interesting to see how long a leash Masoli has, and what he can do against an Alouettes defence that led the CFL in sacks (49) and has averaged the second-fewest offensive yards against (293.2), but is middle-of-the-pack in most other statistical categories.

2) Adams suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in early October, forcing the Alouettes to trade for QB Trevor Harris from the Edmonton Elks. Harris has started just three games for the Alouettes, with his only victory coming in Week 15 against a watered-down Bombers team absent several starters. He even lost to the lowly Ottawa Redblacks in the regular-season finale, a game that would have kept Montreal’s chances of hosting a home playoff game alive. It’s been a messy season for Harris, and Sunday will be an opportunity to flip the script for the 35-year-old.

3) If the Alouettes are to win this game, they’ll be just the second East road team in the last five playoffs to punch their ticket to the Division final. Hamilton was 4-2 at Tim Hortons Field this season but were a perfect 10-0 in 2019. It’s not an easy place to play, and the Tiger-Cats appear to be back on track, winning their last three games on home turf by a combined score of 82-24.

X-Factor:

Hamilton: LB Simoni Lawrence

Lawrence is the East Division nominee for the league’s most outstanding defensive player and the heartbeat of a Tiger-Cats defence that many believe is second best only to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Few can impact a game like Lawrence, whether creating turnovers or disrupting the line of scrimmage. When Lawrence is rolling, that usually means good things for Hamilton.

Montreal: RB William Stanback

Stanback has established himself as the CFL’s best running back, finishing the 2021 regular season with a league-high 1,176 rushing yards, along with three touchdowns. A powerful specimen, the 27-year-old uses every inch of his 6-foot, 233-pound frame to punish opposing defences and he is guaranteed to get a heavy dose of the ball against Hamilton. He’ll need to be better than the combined 99 rushing yards in two games against the Tiger-Cats if the Alouettes have any chance of winning.

Quotable:

“We have the right people and now it is about execution and going out and doing it on game day. There has been a lot of moving parts, a lot of injuries, just like every football team faces, that we had to overcome. We’re going to have this opportunity this Sunday, so I’m excited.”

— Hamilton HC Orlondo Steinauer

“We coming out to play physical, fast and disciplined. If we do all of those things — I’ve been saying it and I’ll keep saying it — we’re a team that can’t be beat. The only way we can be beat is if we beat ourselves.”

— Montreal LB Patrick Levels

Calgary Stampeders at Saskatchewan Roughriders

2021 Regular-season record

Saskatchewan: 9-5 (2nd in West)

Calgary: 8-6 (3rd in West)

Season Series (Calgary, 2-1)

Week 9 (Oct. 2): Saskatchewan 17 at Calgary 23

Week 10 (Oct. 9): Calgary 22 at Saskatchewan 19

Week 12 (Oct. 23) Saskatchewan 20 at Calgary 17

The Skinny:

The Stampeders and Roughriders met three times over the span of four weeks, with each game decided by a single score. Calgary resurrected its season by winning in back-to-back weeks, before the Roughriders earned a win in enemy territory in the final contest.

In all three games, the losing team had a chance to win late in the fourth quarter, but either couldn’t orchestrate a game-winning drive or couldn’t stop a walk-off field goal, as was the case with Saskatchewan in the second meeting. Sunday is about as close as you get to a “pick ’em” game, with Saskatchewan favoured by 2.5 points at home.

3 Storylines:

Jason Franson / The Canadian Press files
A strong outing from QB Bo Levi Mitchell could see the Calgary Stampeders upset the slightly favoured Saskatchewan Roughriders.

1) It’s one of the coolest matchups in the CFL, as the head coaches are brothers. Calgary’s Dave Dickenson has been the head coach of the Stampeders since 2016, while Craig Dickenson took over the controls for the Roughriders ahead of the 2019 campaign. Dave has had the upper hand, winning four of the five matchups between the two. But this is the first time they’ll meet in the playoffs, and that trumps any success in the regular season.

2) The Roughriders have a good enough defence to win the game, but there are serious question marks around the effectiveness of quarterback Cody Fajardo and the team’s offence. Fajardo has looked nothing like the 2019 West Division nominee for the CFL’s most outstanding player, with his numbers dipping dramatically from two years ago. Saskatchewan needs its best player to be its best player, meaning Fajardo will likely have to beat a formidable Stampeders defence with his arm and his feet.

3) The Stampeders have been juggernauts in the CFL for more than a decade, but 2021 saw a much different version in Calgary. The Stampeders lost four of their first five games but managed to rally back late in the season. They enter the playoffs having won six of their final seven games. If they can keep what will surely be a raucous crowd at Mosaic Stadium in check, they’ll have a good chance of meeting Winnipeg in the West final Dec. 5.

X-Factor:

Saskatchewan: Receiver Duke Williams

Williams joined the Roughriders in early October after spending much of 2019 and 2020 with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. He’s the definition of a bully receiver; at 6-3, 225 pounds, Williams has the size and strength that demands double coverage and when he’s at his best there are few players more dangerous. It took him a bit of time to adjust, but Williams caught fire in his last game, reeling in eight catches for 146 yards and a touchdown in a Week-19 win over Edmonton. There were concerns around his health, but Williams said he’s ready to go.

Calgary: QB Bo Levi Mitchell

It’s been an extremely weird season for Mitchell, who has had to deal with a string of injuries to his throwing shoulder and leg. That’s led to some inconsistent play, including a dismal touchdown-interception ratio of 10:13. But count him out at your own peril, as Mitchell often saves his best when the lights are brightest. He’ll be in tough against a team with the top two sack leaders in AC Leonard (11) and Jonathan Woodard (10). But if he can lean on running back Ka’Deem Carey and make smart throws, it could just be enough.

Quotable:

“They think they just going to come in here and run over us, they might as well put that in the trash can. They’re going to have to come in here and take it from us. They don’t like us, we don’t like them, that’s what it’s going to be.”

— Saskatchewan Receiver Duke Williams

“We’re workers. We’re grinders. We’re nothing special and if anyone on our football team thinks that they’re wrong. The reason we win games isn’t because of one guy. I’m anxious to get out there, I’m pissed off. We’re just ready to go, we’re ready to fight.”

— Calgary QB Bo Levi Mitchell

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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