Playoff football has been upgraded from "something we vaguely recall used to be a thing" to "actual reality" as the Riders are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2014. They are headed to Ottawa for a showdown with the RedBlacks. The Riders are trying to become the first West team to make the Grey Cup via the cross-over. The last time we crossed over in 2005 it didn't go so well. We have the whole "Not starting Nealon Greene" thing going for us this time and based on that fact alone our chances of victory are significantly improved.
We split the season series with each team scoring a road victory. The Riders employing the majestic rouge to secure victory and the RedBlacks employing the "hope your opponents stop playing defense" strategy. Needless to say these 2 teams are very evenly matched and a close hard fought playoff game is expected. I personally could go for a vintage mid-2000 semi final Rider game where our running back just single handedly wins the game but short of McAdoo's secret alter ego who loves running more than anything appearing, I'm not betting on that.
Offensively we should be coming at Ottawa with all our weapons. Roosevelt and Marshall will play and Carter should be primarily used on O. Some super tough decisions coming as at least one of Holley or Owens has to sit and I don't know if we can somehow squeeze Thigpen on there. Dennis checks in for Labatte which is fine talent-wsie but forces a ratio change (either LaFrance, Stanford or a second Cdn DT will need to start). But the important thing is we have weapons and we need to use them. We play our best offensively when we get the run game going so let's lean heavy on Marshall (or Thigpen or LaFrance or whoever is carrying the ball). That said, while Ottawa was #2 against the run, they were #7 against the pass. Use the run to set up shots to Roosevelt and Carter mixing in Grant when those 2 are keyed on. Let's not overthink this. Roosevelt and Carter are our best offensive weapons so we better use them and use them a lot. Glenn will start that's not a question. The question is will he get more than a token series before being yanked. I'm torn between being more fearful of Glenn's perennial playoff failures (and recent sucktitude) or Bridge's playoff inexperience and brazen disregard for caution. We can't be afraid to push the ball down field but we also can't turn the ball over. I guess we go with the patented "roll with Glenn until he sucks" plan we've been employing. Its not a great plan for the most important position in a do or die game but we've gone with worse in the past (i.e. the aforementioned Nealon Greene plan).
Defensively, Jones has been non-committal to date but I expect Eguavoen and Johnson to play meaning we should essentially have our starting D (James and Foster being to only 2 big pieces missing). Ottawa's offense runs through 2 people and if we can contain them our odds of victory sky rocket. #1 we gotta stop Powell and the run. #2 We need to contain Ellingson. Harris was tied for the league lead in passing TDs despite playing only 15 games and Ellingson handled the bulk of those. They certainly have other weapons but with Sinopoli out and Ellingson contained the RedBlacks are a whole lot less potent. Easier said than done but that's the goal. As always we need to be aggressive up front to limit the run and force quicker throws. Ottawa had the most turnovers amongst playoff teams and I think we will need a minimum of one of those to win.
The last consideration is of course special teams where there are dangerous play makers on both sides. We know what Christion Jones can do (I always want to shorten his name to Chris Jones because I'm lazy but then people think I'm talking about the coach, so I'd have to say "the black Chris Jones", and then further clarify that by black I meant skin, so Christion it is... how's that for a meandering segue?). Be nice to see Jones go off. On the flip side, Diontae Spencer can spring a big return at any time. Cover teams need to have another lock down game.
On paper the home field would tend to favour the RedBlacks but they were only 3-5-1 at home this season and we were above 500 on the road. If we exclude QB I would be feeling extremely confident about our chances but the problem is that QB is a somewhat important position. I don't buy the whole "this is Harris' first playoff start" narrative. He's a damn good QB. I think this game will be extremely close and come down to who makes the least mistakes. In that regard the Riders were +12 in the turnover ratio while Ottawa was -12 so I expect a turnover or 2 to decide this and we are more likely to be on the right side of those.
Riders by a Duron TD (I just pray his TD celebration doesn't somehow feature Rick Campbell).
Get pumped! There's no better feeling than the playoffs and we've been too long without that feeling.