Nineteen weeks and 72 games of CFL football have come and gone and all that’s really been settled is that Winnipeg sucks (which we all knew anyway) and that Edmonton is in dire need of a complete overhaul (again pretty much anyone outside of Edmonton saw this coming years ago). Other than that the results of the previous 4+ months are as meaningless as the incentives in Casey Printers’ contract with the Lions as this point. There are 6 teams still in contention for Lord Grey’s Cup and 1 loss is all it will take for that dream to end.
Sunday the 10-8 Riders will play host to the 8-10 Lions with a plane ticket to Calgary for the West Final on the line. It’s amazing how quickly things have changed here on the prairies. Three years ago, a ticket to a Rider home playoff game was the most sought after thing on the open market. People happily were taking out second mortgages on their houses to pay the exorbitant scalper prices that were being charged and in a few cases I think trading their firstborn straight up for a ticket. The prairies were in a frenzy since playoffs in Saskatchewan were about as common as the National Yachting Championships being held here.
Fast forward to today, 4 straight home playoff games seem to have taken the lustre off the whole thing for many people. Kickoff is under 72 hours away and the game is not yet soldout. Playoffs on the prairies seem have become ho hum and expected, not cause for celebration as they should be. Just ask anyone who cheered for the Riders during the 80s and 90’s how lucky we are. Playoffs are a big deal. So put your green and white on, get yourself a ticket and let’s turn Mosaic Stadium into a madhouse! … unless of course you’d prefer to go back to the days when the only exciting thing going on at Taylor field was the locker-room sale.
After a pretty embarrassing start the Lions are heading into the playoffs with a ton of momentum having won 7 of their last 10 games including their last 3. This has got a lot of people talking about how the Lions are playing much better football. While that may be, its pretty easy to “improve” when you start off playing so bad that the TSN actually had to consider moving Lion games to the Comedy Network since the content was technically more comedy than actual sport. Also BC’s last 3 opponents all had nothing to play for so it’s hard to put a lot of stock into them.
The Lions “offense” is essentially 3 plays. 1) Big return by Yonus Davis. 2) Check down to Jamal Robertson. 3) Toss up a long pass and pray the receiver can track it down. That said I’m shocked at how well that plan has worked for them down the stretch. They have a fairly good defense. Their front 7 is very solid (though they are susceptible to the run). Their secondary is below average but it does have Ryan Phillips who seems to consistently have Durant’s number.
The X factor to consider with BC is their special teams. Yonus Davis is one of most dangerous returners in the league (he actually scares me more than Chad Owens) and is a threat to score any time he touches the ball. Also Paul McCallum is enjoying one of the finest seasons in his century long career. Not to mention the fact that he will no doubt have a chip on his should after getting snubbed for the West MOP nomination. Sure Henry Burris had a great year but McCallum made a lot of short FGs… come on, what’s more outstanding than that?
Keys to the game defensively are eliminate Robertson. Travis Lulay is not that great of a QB so in a high pressure game if we take away his safety valve he will start to unravel. The bulk of Robertson’s yards come on short dump offs that he turns up field for 1st downs. Our LBs will have to key on him. Also James Patrick will have to prove why he is the best safety in the league. Lulay is far from an accurate passer and he likes to throw up long balls and pray someone in orange comes down with them. Patrick should be able to just play centre field and break on those long balls. He should be all over those balls like Man in the Bush on a… never mind you probably are happier not hearing the end of that one.
Offensively I think the key is don’t turn the ball over. BC does not have an explosive or high scoring offense so if we can get up early and play smart, they will struggle to play catch-up. Durant needs to just do what he did last week, spread the ball around, use his legs and make smart decisions. A weak safety and ball hawking group of defenders (Phillips, Marsh, Banks) should be very vulnerable to double moves. If there was ever a game for Wes Cates to break out this would be the one. BC has extremely weak run D and will be expecting us to pass all night (as per our usual game plan). Cates turned in some spirited performances last postseason so hopefully he’s got couple more left in the tank.
Above all else, given the skill of Yonus Davis and the repeated incompetence of our special teams unit, the key to victory is adequate special teams. I’m not asking for outstanding, I’m not even asking for good, just please, please don’t do anything stupid. If Grease-Mullen secures the ball and we contain Davis going the other way we will win, plain and simple. I know its asking a lot but if there was ever a time for Jim Daley to do something useful… now is that time.
Pound for pound the Riders are a better team than the Lions but in the playoffs all bets are off. The Lions will point to the fact that they beat us the last time they played us in the West Semi. But I will point to the fact that without Michael Bishop literally handing BC the victory, it will be slightly more difficult to beat the Riders on their home turf. Okay that may be somewhat of an understatement since a team of war-amps and computer science majors could beat a Michael Bishop QBed team.
I expect a close fought game that puts tremendous stress on my heart but in the end you have to bet on the team with the better QB, the league’s best receiver and strong supporting cast with a raucous home crowd on their side.Riders by 10