The CFL season kicks off in less than a week and the East is shaping up to be one heck of a dogfight this year. We preview each of the four combatants with CFL odds to win the Grey Cup and Season Win Total futures
At +350, the Bombers are a dark horse to win the East but with a new-look offense they will continue cashing tickets in the 2012 season
In an off-season that saw several marquee players swapping teams we can expect nothing less than an action packed season where every game will matter come playoff time. Some teams will rely on veteran leadership to bring them to the next level while others have brought in new talent that they hope will bring them to the promise land. Here is our take on what lies ahead for the East.
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
2011 Record: 11-9 SU, 12-7-1 ATS and 8-12 O/U
Grey Cup Odds: +550 (Open) and +734 (Current)
Season Win Total: 8.5 Over -115
The Bombers flew out of the gate last year (7-0 SU), surprising many with a team that made few changes from the previous season. GM Joe Mack preached patience and relied heavily on his ability to find new talent from the south and build his club’s Canadian content through the draft. It worked. The Bombers found themselves with an Eastern Conference Championship ring and playing for the Grey Cup only to fall short in the big game to the BC Lions.
Mack’s slow and steady approach was the mantra once again as the club did very little in free agency, instead relying on scouting to bolster their 2012 roster. Some key losses for the Bombers include the defection of O-lineman Brendon Labatte to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the retiring of veteran DL Doug Brown. Only time will tell if the inexperienced lineman waiting in the wings can step up to the challenge. However, the Bombers did keep the majority of the stifling league-leading defense intact along with DC Tim Burke.
In addition, HC Paul La Police passed off the offensive play calling duties to new OC Gary Crowton which should help ignite an anemic Bomber offense. With the late season emergence of RB Chris Garrett and a new look offense; look for the Bombers to challenge for first place in the east once again.
2011 Record: 9-11 SU, 10-10 ATS and 9-11 O/U
Grey Cup Odds: +350 (Open) and +456 (Current)
Season Win Total: 10.5 Over -130
After a disappointing playoff performance in a blowout loss the Bombers it was obvious that changes were needed in Hamilton. The Ti-Cats made wholesale changes at key positions starting with their Head Coach and QB. Out were HC Marcel Bellefeuille and incumbent QB Kevin Glenn, who once again failed to get his team to the big dance. In is HC George Cortez and veteran QB Henry Burris, who had worn out his welcome in Calgary.
At 37, Burris brings a wealth of experience and skill to a Hamilton offense that has potential to make noise in the East once again
With all aging veterans, doubt remains as to whether or not Burris has anything left in the tank. Coupled with a season-ending injury to starting RB Martell Mallett, the Tiger-Cats will be relying heavily on rookie WR sensation Chris Williams and free agent Andy Fantuz to carry the load. They also re-signed RB Avon Cobourne, who was released last year.
Burris has looked like a man on a mission so far in the preseason and should improve the consistency of a Hamilton offense that was Jekyll and Hyde last year. That being said, some question marks remain on the defensive side of the ball with some key off-season losses.
Hamilton has made many improvements this year but until they find a way to finally live up to their expectations we will lump them in to the category of ‘underachiever’ once again. Expect the Cats to be competitive but to once again come up short of the big dance. A 2nd place finish for the Tabbies is on tap.
2011 Record: 10-9 SU, 6-13 ATS and 11-8 O/U
Grey Cup Odds: +600 (Open) and +575 (Current)
Season Win Total: 10.5 Over -115
The Eastern domination by the Als came to an end last year and question marks surfaced surrounding the ability of perennial MVP QB Anthony Calvillo. The 40-year-old QB was beginning to look worn out last season and it showed in his team’s inability to make it past the first round of the playoffs. The departure of OC Scott Milanovich might make things difficult for AC if there are drastic changes made to the offensive gameplan.
The once-dominate Als have made several changes to the defensive side of the ball with the release of veteran LB Diamond Ferri, DT Eric Wilson and cornerstone DL Anwar Stewart, whose three Grey Cup rings might leave a leadership void both on and off the field.
Although the Als showed vulnerability down the stretch last year we cannot overlook the skill and experience of HC Mark Trestman. Montreal may have lost their title of “Beast of the East” but they will still be competitive and could challenge both the Bombers and Tiger-Cats for the Eastern crown. In a talented Eastern conference we suspect the Als will slip to third, but not by much.
2011 Record: 6-12 SU, 9-9 ATS and 9-9 O/U
Grey Cup Odds: +650 (Open) and +658 (Current)
Season Win Total: 8.5 Over -115
Toronto’s lack of a bona fide starting quarterback was a glaring weakness in the Boatmen’s offense and the major reason the Argos failed to find success in 2011. Insert veteran QB Ricky Ray, who was brought over in a trade from the Edmonton Eskimos during the offseason. Ray gives instant credibility to a stagnant offense that has so far failed to take the Argos back to the post season.
The biggest question surrounding the Argos now is Ray’s supporting cast. The Argos have suffered some injuries to the receiver corps in training camp and as a result, Ray has looked mediocre at best. The always dangerous Chad Owens is increasingly becoming more of a threat at the receiver position and the addition of Jason Barnes from Edmonton should offer Ray some familiarity in the pass catching department but the loss of all-pro centre Dominic Picard will hurt.
The Double-Blue lost several other components of their O-line this off-season as well with the retirement of LT Rob Murphy and RG Taylor Robertson. Newly appointed HC Scott Milanovich will have his work cut out for him but he should be able to depend on Ray and his two Grey Cup rings to bring some stability to the Argos. With the overhaul that Toronto went through over the winter we think that chemistry will be an issue for them and expect them to struggle to find their identity. Look for the Argos to finish in the basement once again.
Our CFL Picks were 17-8 ATS (68-percent) in 2011 and we’ll be posting regular Best Bets from Week 1 right through to the Grey Cup. Follow EveryEdge on Twitter for all the action!