Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Holy Hell

The 2016 CFL season ended with a huge bang (and I'm not talking about what most of the RedBlacks likely did after the game). What started as a so-so spectacle of an unstoppable force crumbling like a prairie highway, ended with one of the most dramatic, ridiculous finishes seen in many years. Miracle comeback, onside kick, a kneel down that featured more F-bombs than are normally uttered during a Rider loss, overtime, bobble catch. It was crazy! An outstanding way for the CFL to cap off the season!

I'll be the first to admit that seeing Burris choke would have been entertaining, but seeing Calgary choke is certainly a damn good consolation prize. Their stingy D looked lost for most of the first half. Jamar Wall uncharacteristically got worked over. Bo Levi Mitchell looked like he decided to come to the Grey Cup as Bad Hank. To their credit they managed to overcome all the odds and fight their way back. Hell if they knew how to get 2 yards they probably would have won (at least they didn't go full Seahawks and throw a pick).

As for Ottawa, I feel very happy for their fans. I feel mostly happy for the players and coaches and feel a mild bit of contempt for the doctors who managed to unlock Burris' knee and rob me of my perfect Harris as QB scenario after teasing me with the possibility. Give them full credit, they took it to the best team in the CFL and made them look very average. I'm sure both Burris and Sinopoli both appreciate the blacks squares they got to honour their achievements as Grey Cup MVP and Most Outstanding Canadian. Can't we envy pop for something with class leading technology and stuff?

Side note (and I know this makes me a terrible person) but for how much they harped on it, is anyone else even the tiniest bit skeptical that the whole Burris knee thing was fabricated? I don't think that would actually happen but it did seem to make for a very convenial narrative.

And thus ends the 2016 season, but be sure to stay with me throughout the offseason as I do my best to use my wit, humour and analysis to get you through the long offseason. Once the Grey Cup moratorium on news is lifted business will pick up and I will be right there to keep you up to date... or at least within 3-4 days (it's not like I was punctual or reliable at all times during the regular season).

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Prophet Picks the Playoffs: Grey Cup Edition

Six months, 9 teams, 81 games and 20,737,837 challenges for irrelevant pass interference all come down to this... 1 last game for the chance to have your name etched on a cup that may break during the etching process. Its the top team in the West vs. the top team in the East (which is a lot like saying the best figure skater in the Sahara) in front of literally dozens of fans, some of which are only there because of cheap pizza.

Don't let me intro fool you, I am very much looking forward to the Grey Cup. Love the game and what it's all about!

Grey Cup: Ottawa vs. Calgary
Who I want to win: Complicated answer... my ideal scenario has Henry Burris giving us a vintage Burris playoff performance (think ball flying by his head in 2013 or any one of the myriad of turnovers over the years) and Trevor Harris coming off the bench to lead an improbable comeback victory. I am conditioned to generally not cheer for the Stamps so I guess if that can't happen I would prefer Ottawa wins anyway... but the last time Burris won a Cup he openly wept well trying to explain the deep significance of "We Are the Champions" so that is certainly a drawback of that scenario.
Who I think will win: The Calgary Stompeders (spelling error is intentional for once as I think they will indeed Stomp the RedBlacks)
Why: Honestly don't see a weakness on the Stamps that RedBlacks can exploit. Defense is rock solid (and an under appreciated reason for their record), they have a powerful run game, they have great receivers, Mitchell looks unstoppable. Stamps would have to falter in multiple areas before they begin to show weakness and I don't see that happening. Anything can happen on Grey Cup Sunday and I actually expect a somewhat exciting game (at least early on) but if you are betting against the Stamps you either didn't watch a CFL game this season or are currently on a drunken Grey Cup bender (in which case, good on you).

Enjoy the great Canadian tradition that is the Grey Cup.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Belated Tuesday Edition

Apologies for the lateness of my sentimonies (I'm sure you all didn't know what to do with yourselves) but in the hierarchy of the demands on my life it may surprise you to find out that this free internet blog is not at the top of the list. But you didn't come here to see a list of excuses... if that's what you are in search of there are Eskimo and Lion fan forums that will better serve your needs.

In true Canadian fashion we were treated to a blizzard game. The most surprising thing is that the blizzard game featuring the #4 team in the West and a sub-500 East team was by far the better quality game than the good weather game featuring the top 2 teams in the league.

In the East final, Edmonton was done in by their defense. It was weak all year and did not have an answer for Ottawa until they had dug themselves a huge hole. By contrast Ottawa's D is finally showing signs of life again. It was great to see Tristan Jackson get a TD. I still love that guy. It was also great to see an actual East team win the East. The bonus is that Ottawa has a lively fan base that should hopefully breathe some life into the sputtering Grey Cup festivities in TO.

In the West, that was just a merciless ass kicking. It was fitting BC wore white because they might as well have just waved a white flag partway through the 1st quarter. I'd call Calgary cocky but it ain't cocky if you can back it up and right now the Stamps are just that good. As I said in my pregame write up, they are strong in virtually every aspect imaginable. Unless a number of key players are inadvertently run over by Quick 6 or intentionally Tanya Hardinged they will be tough to beat.

My favourite part of the West Final was Milt Stegall going on and on about how the game was over and then Climie chimes in (presumably after getting a frantic earful from the producers) reminder viewers anything can happen and its no over yet... but it was.

It's now Grey Cup week or as people in Manitoba refer it "that week in November where nothing noteworthy ever happens... ever". For those going, have fun. For those not going, take solace in the fact that you will know more about the Grey Cup party than most Torontonians.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Prophet Picks the Playoffs - Division Finals

Kinda sad to think that there are only 3 games left in the 2016 season. The positive of course from a Rider perspective is that each passing week brings us closer to 2017. Though my liver is about the only part of me that does not wish there were still meaningful Rider football going on.

East-Final: Edmonton vs. Ottawa
Who I Want To Win: Ottawa but only if Harris is QBing. If Burris is under centre then I want Edmonton. I know its petty but sports is about entertainment and I find Burris' post-season meltdowns entertaining.
Who I Think Will Win: Ottawa
Why: Logic would dictate Edmonton as the favourite... hell given the sad state of the East division if a new western franchise was formed tomorrow, it would be the favourite. That said, I'm going against logic here. I have seen many hyped crossover teams get whooped in the East Final... err check that, according to the interwebs, I have seen exactly 2 teams ('08 Esks and '09 Lions) come up short in the East Final. But my grossly exaggerated point remains, this game favours the home team... especially given the Ottawa crowd. Also, I think Ottawa is one of the few teams with the firepower to go toe to toe with the Esks in an offensive shootout. Add in questions around Reilly's health and you have the makings for an upset... unless Burris has other ideas.

West-Final: BC vs. Calgary
Who I Want To Win: Some kind of act of god whereby nobody wins
Who I Think Will Win: Calgary
Why: So few weaknesses on that Calgary team. As much hype as the offense gets, that defense was a huge strength of that team. Add in a rock solid O-line, a seemingly endless string of impact receivers, a power run game and Bo Levi Mitchell. I mean there's a chance one of these strength falters on Sunday but I doubt they all falter simultaneously. This should be a damn good game... which should in theory go without saying when discussion the division finals but in my mind this game is the defacto Grey Cup. Winner is the most likely team to win the cup... which brings me back to my initial wish for a scenario where they both lose. As someone who watched a ton of pro-wrestling growing up I can think of many viable scenarios that could lead to this.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Thoughts on Durant and the Semis

Despite the fact that the Riders weren't playing, the division semi-finals were actually very entertaining to watch... unless of course you were a Bomber or Ti-Cat fan. The good news is that much like Rider fans, years of disappointment and heartbreak have well prepared them for coping with Sunday's results. This morning I will touch a bit on my playoff thoughts and then I'll get into some thoughts on the negotiations with Durant. (This is the point of the article where most Rider fans will just start skimming until they see Durant mentioned again).

Both games were amazingly similar in that they started out looking like they were going to be absolute pummelings and actually turned into very exciting games to watch. Out East, I was actually very surprised at how close the Ti-Cats made it. I mean, their top receiver was a guy named Tyms (which it turns out is not just a clever marketing ploy by Tim Horton's field). A healthy Ti-Cat roster I think would have won but the Ti-Cat trainers got more work this season than the Riders' seamstress. They did manage to contain Bowman and Walker... though they mainly accomplished that by letting White have his way with them (bold strategy).

Durant... just kidding, continue skimming those of you just here for Rider news. Out West, all the talk will be about the 61 yard FG attempt (which was a terribly stupid call for the record) but I think the bigger talk should be about how the Bombers managed to piss away the 19 point lead they had and where their offense went in the second half (after a monstrous start). I'll be the first to admit that the Bombers and Matt Nichols in particular greatly exceeded my expectations for them. Kinda sad to see them lose since I want neither the Stamps nor Buono to win next week... but then I remember its the Bombers and screw them (As a Rider/Viking fan if I can't be happy... and I most certainly am not... no one can).

Okay Durant talk for real now. I have been asked a lot this past week what I make of the apparent breakdown in negotiations. I maintain that its just both sides posturing for bargaining strength and that a deal is still likely but I've definitely downgraded by outlook from probable to mildly concerned... and the closer we get to February (still plenty of time) the greater that downgrade will be. Maybe I'm an eternal optimist but after committing to Durant, coming off major injury, in a clear rebuild year with zero expectations I can't imagine Jones is crazy enough to turn around and hand the reigns to an unproven QB in a year where winning is expected, Durant is mostly healthy and there are zero... I repeat zero other alternatives. If we choose to pass on Durant then the next most viable options are Burris and Glenn (why not just throw Nealon and Butler in there too?). Durant is currently our best option and that's why I think a deal will get done. By the way, in terms of who has the upper hand in bargaining, its clearly Durant. He has at least one viable alternative (likely Montreal... possibly Toronto), the Riders have many other options, none of which can be described as viable.

I'd also like to address the rampant discussion on Jonathan Franklin. First of all clearly we are interested (we just can't say so publicly because that's overt tampering and only idiots get caught doing that when round-a-bout tampering is so easy). That said, Edmonton is not just going to give him away for free... unless Ed Hervey succumbs to some kind of head injury in the near future. Many have brought up the speculated deal where Edmonton wanted Josiah St John and our first round pick for Franklin. For one, given St John's subpar (and like always 1-2 seconds delayed) play the price has likely gone up. Second, gutting your Cdn O-line depth is a terrible strategy. I don't care if you acquire Bo Levi 2.0 he won't make a lick of difference if he's always on his back because your line is utter garbage. A top tier OL and a mediocre QB will win you more games than a garbage OL and top tier QB. I'm not saying don't investigate the availability of Franklin, I'm just saying if the cost is our ability to build OL depth then I'd pass.

As I said, I still think a deal gets done with Durant. Just keep in mind that the decision makers tend not to put much weight in what I think.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Prophet Picks the Playoffs

Rider football may be over (some would say mercifully), its not like I have anything better to do, so I though I would opine on this weekend's playoff match-ups.

East-Semi: Edmonton vs. Hamilton
Who I Want To Win: Hamilton
Who I Think Will Win: Edmonton
Why: A healthy Hamilton would have a good shot... only problem is Hamilton is about as healthy as the Riders are playoff bound. Tasker, Fantuz, Owens, Murray, Stephen, the list goes on. I don't think Hamilton has the players on defense to contain Reilly/Bowman/Walker and without Fantuz and Tasker, they don't have the firepower on offense to win in a shootout. The again, the Ti-Cats played them extremely close in Week 19. I would really like to see Austin completely out-coach Maas and have Maas complain about how it was the live-mic's fault (by the way I'm completely aware of the hypocrisy of not liking Maas given that our coach is far more notorious for acts of douchebaggery but I'm fickle and I don't care).

West-Semi: Winnipeg vs. BC
Who I Want To Win: Nobody
Who I Think Will Win: BC
Why: Look I know I should probably be pulling for Winnipeg. Lord knows their fans deserve something after all this time. But as mentioned above, I'm fickle an misery loves company so if the Riders have to be miserable so do the Bombers. Aside from my personal biases, I also think BC has the edge. Had this game been in Winnipeg I think they maybe could have pulled it out but BC certainly has the edge offensively and while Winnipeg may have the stronger defense overall, I think BC's will do enough to get the win. That said, if say Winnipeg were to win because Paul McCallum misses a short FG in overtime I would also find that an acceptable outcome.

I will be back on Monday providing my Sentimonies on the Durant contract situation as well as likely explaining why my above playoff picks were wrong.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Merciful Ending

Riders 18 - BC... do you honestly care what the score was?

The 2016 Rider season came to an end about 2 hours before kickoff on Saturday and they went ahead and played 3 hours worth of football anyway. It was not for the faint of heart... or the sober. Kadron Boone but the "boo" in Boone. Our O-line put the "offensive" in offensive line. And the QBs... well I ran out of witty sayings but they were pretty brutal too. A senior citizen who hadn't touched a football since last year scored 14 points... which more than triple our production throughout all but the final few minutes.

If you only watched the first 10 minutes life was pretty good. You saw lots of defensive pressure, 3 turnovers, a close game and Joe McKnight lay one of the most devastating blocks I've seen all season on Gaitor. If you watched beyond that you are either a glutton for punishment like me, or misplaced your remote and were too lazy to get up and look for it. This wasn't unexpected. We were in full evaluation mode (a few people I didn't even know who the hell they were) playing a team that cared a great deal. What was unexpected was our offense being based on spinning a wheel to randomly decide which QB to send in and having that QB throw consistently high and wide forcing our receivers to try and make dangerous highlight reel catches for 2 yard gains.

Here are a few random observations on what I gleaned from the game:
- Jefferson and Muamba are impact players. Those 2 signings will give our 2017 a huge boost.
- Greg Morris is an unheralded addition that boost our Canadian content 
- Nic Demski is like the new Getzlaf. Drops way more than he should but capable of making some damn good plays.
- Not sure how much to read into it given that BC had given up all effort by that point of the game but Brandon Bridge looked the least awful of any QB.Guess the bar was set pretty low.
- Rob Bagg never quits. True professional that guy.

That's about it. It was an ugly end to an ugly season and we are all eager to move on to bigger and better things.

I'll end today by commenting on THE story in Saskatchewan following the game... negotiations with Durant. Seems relatively positive negotiations went south over the weekend and now there's doubt about the future of the franchise QB. A couple things here:

1 - 90% of negotiations is posturing so don't overreact to anything said at this point.
2 - Can you blame Durant for not wanting to concede anymore? The utter crap performance of the remaining Rider QBs has to skyrocket his bargaining power. Anytime Jones offered something too low I would just respond with "Gale, Kinne, Bridge, Moniz, Lee, Coleman, Smith, Waters... you still think you can do better than me?"
3 - I sincerely hope this is all just both sides jockeying for negotiating leverage in a deal that will eventually get done. At this point there is currently no viable alternative to Durant so unless he's hiding a clone of Doug Flutie somewhere in New Mosaic, Jones better find a way to get a deal done.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Riders vs BC: Does Anyone Care?

Saturday the Riders close out the 2016 season with a game that may challenge civic elections in terms of people who are interested enough to care. Look I'll watch the game (lord knows I've watched worse football) but this won't be a very good game. Given how well our team showed up in front of an emotional and engaged home crowd, how much worse do you think it will be on a road game where we are starting a guy named GJ at quarterback... what kind of name is GJ? Add some letters and at least make it GI-Joe, now that I could get excited about.

I won't bother breaking this game down to much as essentially it boils down to this. BC is the home team and a win clinches them a home playoff game. We are on the road and will likely be in full "evaluate the new guys" mode. Short of all 46 BC players breaking their femurs in pre-game warm-up, I don't see this leading to anything but an ass kicking.

But if you're reading this, you are likely a glutton for punishment like me and will be watching, so here are some things we can collectively watch for. It sounds like the Durant extension is an eventuality but we don't yet have a bona fide back up or heir apparent. Jake Waters may have been the guy (though I doubt it) but he broke his collar bone. That leaves the aforementioned GJ Kinne as the guy to watch. I'm expecting next to nothing from him (other than getting killed behind our NO-line) so anything positive he does is gravy. I would expect Brandon Bridge to get a chance to throw but then I don't think very much of him either. I'm a real ray of sunshine today I know. Maybe one of them will surprise me but in all likelihood neither are part of the QB competition in camp next year.

With the huge news that Roosevelt has extended through 2018 (sweeeeeeeet!) the pressure now on the other import receivers. With guys like Collins, Holley, Craig, Fuller and Edwards possibly competing for 2-3 roster spots the time is now for the new guys Bates, Boone, etc... to start getting notice.... though them catching a pass is contingent on our QB having enough time to get a pass off before being sacked so its not an ideal spot for them.

Given that its likely the D is on the field a lot, it will be a good chance for some of those guys to make an impression. Guys like Hunter and Adams in the secondary or some of the potential Canadian safeties like Lue or Webster could all make a case for why they should be brought back next year. Even my new favourite player Milhouse could take a step forward and earn the name Thrillhouse (I have t-shirts printed just in case).

Either way I recommend rock bottom expectations and some alcohol as a precursor to enduring this game. Then we can all say good riddance to 2016... which was somehow almost twice as good as 2015. Next will be good right? Right?