Football season is only a little more than a week away!
For those wondering what I am talking about, no I’m not referring to NFL or College Football. I am talking about the Canadian Football League. The 2017 CFL season kicks off on Thursday, June 22 and the 9 team league consistently offers great opportunities for savvy football bettors to pad their bankrolls before the NFL and College Football seasons approach in August.
The league features bigger fields (55 yards on each side), 3 downs as opposed to 4 and a shorter play clock leading to more snaps of the football over the course of a game. During the next two weeks here in my “Inside The Lines” column, I’ll be looking at each division in the CFL and point out some futures and win totals that may offer some betting value as we prepare for the start of the season.
This week, I will take a look at the East Division which consists of four teams: Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Toronto Argonauts, Montreal Alouettes and the defending CFL Grey Cup champion Ottawa Redblacks.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are hoping for starting QB Zach Collaros to finally stay healthy for an entire season something which did not happen in 2015 and 2016 which went a long way toward early playoff exits for the team coming off seasons in 2013 and 2014 in which they got to the Grey Cup title game in back-to-back seasons.
Hamilton was 7-11 last season but as long as Collaros stays on the field, the Ticats should be in a decent position to improve on that regular season record. Hamilton has a few new faces at receiver and some transition taking place on defense specifically in the secondary but the Ticats boast a lot of quality depth to withstand injuries which is why they’ve still been a playoff entry in every year during the Kent Austin head coaching era.
The Toronto Argonauts may have some short term pain but they could be in for long-term gain with the dynamic duo of GM Jim Popp and head coach Marc Trestman taking over those respective roles.
Popp and Trestman were together for many fantastic years with the Montreal Alouettes steering them toward being a Grey Cup contender each and every season. Now Argos fans will be hoping they can rebuild their franchise back toward respectability and contending for titles once again following a dismal 5-13 season which had the Argos tied for worst record in the CFL last year with Saskatchewan.
Toronto’s roster is thin right now and it will be up to the management team led by Popp to build depth and quality talent on this roster. This is a very makeshift roster on both sides of the football with a boatload of new faces playing at different positions.
They still have veteran QB Ricky Ray at the helm but he has battled injuries for years and isn’t going to get any better as he is in the twilight of his career. Toronto will need the likes of backup QB’s Drew Willy, Jeff Mathews and Cody Fajardo to prove they can step up and perform if Ray predictably is unable to stay on the field for an entire regular season late.
The Montreal Alouettes also have plenty of question marks this season but at least they finally have stability at the QB position with Darian Durant the veteran from Saskatchewan coming to the team.
Durant though has had significant health problems in each of the last two seasons so his ability to stay upright will be vital for Montreal’s offense. They also have a new head coach with Jacques Chapdelaine taking over the reins while keeping his OC duties intact. Kavis Reed is the new GM which is a surprise to me because he never impressed me that much from a coaching perspective but will now be trusted upon to make the right personnel decisions for this team.
The defending Grey Cup champions are the Ottawa Redblacks who enjoyed a storybook season one year ago finishing with a below .500 record of 8-9-1 in the regular season which was still good enough to win the watered down and mediocre East Division in 2016.
They got hot at the right time in the playoffs registering B2B wins against upper echelon teams from the West Division taking down Edmonton and Calgary en route to the 2016 Grey Cup title. However, they did all of that with veteran QB Henry Burris at the helm and he announced his retirement following the Grey Cup victory.
That leaves the keys to the QB car in the hands of Trevor Harris who will finally get his long awaited opportunity to be the #1 guy after backing up Henry Burris last season and Ricky Ray in Toronto prior to that.
Ottawa did lose some key players like Ernest Jackson and Chris Williams in what was a vaunted WR corps last season and they also lost some pieces along the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary all a product of the CFL’s free agency period which always makes it tough on teams that just won a championship to keep all their personnel intact. Regression could be on the way for Ottawa which went from 2-16 in their first season as a CFL franchise in 2014 to appearing in B2B Grey Cup games in 2015 and 2016 and that is a feat that will be difficult to repeat.
In terms of looking at the CFL Grey Cup futures board (Grey Cup futures are available at 5Dimes in the offshore world and a slew of Las Vegas sportsbooks in town), there isn’t a whole lot that stands out to me. Hamilton and Montreal at +800 to win the Grey Cup or at +225 to win the East Division are reasonable options assuming both of their starting QB’s are able to avoid any major injuries this season. Toronto has the GM and coach duo to be good immediately but the roster is still preciously thin for the Argos right now and I will need to see signs of competitiveness on the field before investing in them. Ottawa is probably still the most talented team on paper in the East and the Henry Burris to Trevor Harris transition at QB should be seamless.
Harris has proven he can play at a high level when he stepped in and played terrific football when Burris was injured early last season. He knows their offense inside and out which could lead to the calls of the Ottawa Redblacks dropping back this season to being a bit premature.
Next week, I’ll be back to look at the West Division for the upcoming CFL season!