2018 West Division Outlook
June 1, 2018
By Scott Rickenbach
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East Division Outlook
BC Lions – 6 wins projected (7-11 last season)
I know it had been about 20 years since the BC Lions missed the playoffs, but last season is, sadly for BC fans, a sign of things to come. Yes, they’ll be back in the near future (Wally Buono is finally hanging it up at the end of this campaign) and a new “growth cycle” can begin.
However, that means no playoffs again this season. Even though BC has done some things to fortify the trenches (their offensive line was major issue last season) the secondary lost key personnel. If you can’t defend the pass you are in trouble in the “pass-friendly” CFL.
Calgary Stampeders – 11 wins projected (13-4-1 last season)
Another disappointing ending to a promising season for Calgary as they lost to the Argonauts in the Grey Cup. This was the 2nd straight season the Stampeders lost the Grey Cup, and this is a motivator but also a challenge for Calgary. It can become a mental hurdle that is tough to overcome. That said, though another successful regular season is likely (particularly if Bo Levi Mitchell is fully healthy) I expect the Stampeders to again fall short of the ultimate prize.
They are loaded again on the offensive side of the ball and no team scored more points than they did last season. However, a lot of changes in the defensive secondary and there is much to prove there.
Edmonton Eskimos – 12 wins projected (12-6 last season)
Edmonton will be right up there again with Winnipeg and Calgary. In last year’s post-season they beat the Blue Bombers but then lost to the Stampeders. This season I expect them to outdo both in the regular season as well as in the post-season (should they meet). They have the top pivot in the league with QB Mike Reilly. Though there have been changes in terms of the wide receiver group he will be working with, there is still a ton of talent in the receiving corps and Reilly still has an excellent group to work with.
Though the defense is undergoing some transition and some veterans have departed, their strength wasn’t on that side of the ball last season. That said, there could be some improvement simply from a hungrier group spurred on by an influx of younger players. Well-coached and hungry from falling just short last season, I look for Edmonton to be the top team in the West this season.
Saskatchewan Roughriders – 9 wins projected (10-8 last season)
Big hopes of course start at the pivot position for Saskatchewan after their big trade with the Tiger-Cats to acquire Zach Collaros. The concern though comes with pass protection and the Roughriders have had some changes along the offensive line. Of course, a revamped offensive line could be unwelcome news for Collaros and Company. The Riders have upgraded in the secondary but playing in the same division with Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg continues to make gaining any headway in the West an uphill battle.
Saskatchewan is solid overall on defense but transitions taking place along the offensive line and in the backfield will take time. The Roughriders went just 4-6 in the division last season and that continues to be the issue this season as well.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers – 11 wins projected (12-6 last season)
Winnipeg’s Matt Nichols is coming off of the best season of his career. The Blue Bombers will again battle it out with Edmonton and Calgary for the top spot in the West. One interesting point though is that a surprise right before training camp opened was the retirement of Darian Durant. That means if Nichols gets hurt again, like he did late last season, the Blue Bombers no longer have a veteran like Durant to answer the call. Though the Winnipeg offense is prolific, they still need to improve on the other side of the ball.
No other team in CFL had more “overs” than they did on the O/U line as they can score like crazy but struggle to stop teams. Some changes have been made in the secondary but until the unit has a chance to jell, we could see early season struggles again with the Blue Bombers defense. They had a bit of a gambling mentality on defense in terms of creating takeaways, but it also resulted in giving up too many plays. I need to see more from this defense before I would tab them to take the top spot in the West.