With only a month remaining in a COVID-19-shortened 2021 Canadian Football League regular season, the next four weeks are bound to be interesting times as we creep towards the playoffs.
Some business has already been taken care of, including the Winnipeg Blue Bombers clinching the West Division following a 45-0 dismantling of the B.C. Lions (4-6) on Saturday. It will be first time the Bombers, who improved to 10-1 with the victory, will host the West final since 1972 and the first time they've finished first in a division race since winning the East in 2011.
Speaking of the East, the Montreal Alouettes (6-4) moved into first place following a 37-16 home win over the Toronto Argonauts. The Argonauts are also 6-4, but the Alouettes currently own the tiebreaker, leading in combined points, 64-46 with the season series being 1-1.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats took a bit of time to find their groove against the Ottawa Redblacks Friday, but a second-half surge led to a convincing 32-3 win. The Saskatchewan Roughriders (6-4) snapped a two-game losing streak and created some breathing room at second place in the West with a nail-biting 20-17 victory over the Calgary Stampeders (5-6).
The lowly Edmonton Elks (2-7) were the lone idle club this week.
As always, there is plenty to chat about this week, both on and off the field. So, let's get to it in the Week 12 edition of CFL Rundown – a weekly column that provides insight and analysis, news and notes from the week that was in the three-down game:
1) Some big pickups this week. The Stampeders added to their solid secondary by bringing back defensive back Tre Roberson for their playoff run. Roberson starred for the Stampeders before spending the last couple seasons in the NFL with the Chicago Bears;
2) The Bombers were also busy behind the scenes, inking DB Winston Rose, who had a CFL-leading nine interceptions in 2019, and kicker Sergio Castillo. Both were league all-stars two years ago and Castillo, who converted 91 per cent of his field-goal attempts in 2019, fills a major hole in Winnipeg's kicking game;
3) The CFL issued its latest COVID-19 update, reporting that eight of nine teams have reached the 85 per cent fully-vaccinated threshold. It was also noted that of the 14,200 COVID-19 tests administered between weeks six and 11, four tests came back positive. It also predicted by Oct. 31 that 93 per cent of players will be fully vaccinated;
4) Winnipeg leads the way with a nearly 99 per cent vaccination rate. Yes, that means one guy;
5) The CFL also confirmed that players who are unable to meet the requirements of the federal vaccine travel mandate, which kicks in officially on Nov. 30, will not be eligible to play. That means players will not be able to do individual road travel either, owing to legitimate safety concerns regarding driving in the winter. Those who don't qualify will be suspended and forfeit their pay;
6) The CFLPA issued a memo to its membership last week saying it's having its legal counsel look over the validity of the league's decision to ban unvaccinated players come December. It boggles my mind that despite 93 per cent of players projected to be fully vaccinated by Halloween, the CFLPA continues to fight for both sides. I'm told by numerous people it's been an awkward exercise;
7) Elks running back James Wilder Jr. went on an infuriatingly misinformed and confusing Twitter rant this week where he openly admitted to being an anti-vaxxer. Wilder, who went on about leaving his wife and kids behind this year to pursue his CFL career and win a Grey Cup for Edmonton, said he will not give in to the CFL's pressure to get vaccinated. Only one problem: the Elks are a tire fire and don't have a sniff at the playoffs, meaning Wilder won't have any problems meeting the requirements;
8) With Wilder sharing his feelings so openly, it's really no surprise to hear the Elks are the one team that has yet to hit the 85 per cent vaccine threshold;
9) TSN's Farhan Lalji reported this week that there are still five to six players that are unvaccinated on the Stampeders. I'm hearing some notable names, too. Not at the point yet to say publicly but go check out some of the player's Twitter accounts and you'll have a better idea;
10) I said on a couple different radio shows last week that it would be difficult to trade for QB Trevor Harris so long as he remained unvaccinated. Well, in his first press conference following being acquired by the Alouettes, Harris revealed he had recently received the jab and would be ready to go for Montreal's playoff run;
11) Turns out, Harris went to the U.S. over the weekend and received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one shot. The CFL is permitting players to cross the border in order to receive the J & J vaccine, which makes you fully vaccinated in just two weeks. That means there is plenty of time for those still on the fence;
12) Andrew Harris was added to the six-game injured list after suffering a knee injury in a Week 11 win over the Elks. The Bombers star running back won't miss that much time and will be ready come playoffs. I wonder if this isn't a hint by Winnipeg that they're planning to rest Harris down the stretch;
13) It was another impressive game for Alouettes cover man Monshadrik "Money" Hunter. Hunter showed off his soft hands, finishing with two interceptions against the Argonauts. That shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise; after all, he is the son of MLB all-star outfielder, Torii Hunter.
14) Matthew Shiltz earned another win as the Als' starting QB, but with how William Stanback played — the bruising tailback registered 203 rushing yards — it didn't really matter who was under centre;
15) Receiver Eugene Lewis entered the weekend with 13 career touchdowns over four seasons in Montreal, none of which took place at home. He scored two on Saturday;
16) With the Redblacks dropping another stinker, the hammer finally dropped on GM Marcel Desjardins, who was fired on Monday. Desjardins was long rumoured to be on the hot seat but some believed, because he's more the numbers guy than talent evaluator, he might be safe. Guess not;
17) Word is Ottawa is looking for a new GM that will want to keep head coach/OC Paul LaPolice. Makes sense, as LaPo has only had one season to prove his worth. But with the way the Redblacks are playing uninspired football, he's going to have to prove to be a better motivator, regardless of who's the new GM;
18) QB Jeremiah Masoli looked like his old self again, eclipsing the 300-yard passing mark for a second straight game. He now has 681 passing yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions over his last two starts. The Ticats were in desperate need of finding some consistency at the game's most important position and they're starting to get it;
19) What more can you say about this Bombers defence? How about this: it was the first time the Lions have been shutout in 51 years. It makes little sense to discuss the overall statistics because the season isn't over, but you get the feeling we're going to be referencing this defence for years to come;
20) QB Michael Reilly agreed with the suggestion that the Lions have hit rock bottom, adding that only "time will tell" if things can get worse. Yikes;
21) The Lions seemed to be hitting their stride before dropping their last four games, all of which have been against West opponents. With a mostly new regime there, including a new owner that understands the importance of winning, you must wonder what, if any, moves will be made if they continue to free fall. While coaching in Ottawa, Rick Campbell had the luxury of being in a much weaker East Division. You likely don't have to remind him of that; since joining the Lions, he's 1-6 against the West;
22) A week after Bo Levi Mitchell gleefully stated "I didn't throw a pick. Let's fu----- go!" when asked about his performance in a Week 11 win over the Roughriders, the Stampeders QB was picked off three times in a three-point loss to Saskatchewan this week. Fans are calling for Mitchell's head, or at least screaming for No. 2 Jake Maier to take over. But given what Mitchell has done for the Stampeders during his years there, I'm not sure there's a longer leash afforded to another CFL QB;
23) In all likelihood, it looks like Saskatchewan will be hosting Calgary in the West semifinal and if the three games between the two clubs this season is any indication, it's going to be another good one. In three games in 2021, they've battled to a combined score of 62-56, in favour of the Stampeders.
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.