Here’s how I rank the Canadian Football League teams heading into Week 20:
1. Edmonton Eskimos (up from 2)
- Record: 11-6
- Streak: Won 4
- Next: At Saskatchewan
Green and Gold are in a unique position in if they can win this week (and Winnipeg loses) they’ll finish second, hosting a playoff game. Lose, however, and they’ll go east as the crossover team. No one wants to go east (West teams are 0-10 trying to make the championship that way), so the visit to Regina has big repercussions. Fortunately, this is the best team in the league right now, becoming healthier by the week and finding itself after that horrid six-game losing string. An impressive win over Calgary featured 392 yards net offence off 130 on the ground. Mike Reilly’s attack produced 11.2 yards per second-down play, a great number against anyone, but astounding against the Stampeder defence. So much rides on this last game and these guys look ready to face it.
2. Calgary Stampeders (down from 1)
- Record: 13-3-1
- Streak: Lost 2
- Next: Winnipeg
Missing group report. Family name: Calgary. Given name: Stampeders. Nicknames: White Stallions, Stamps. Age: 22-33 years. Height: 5-feet-10 to 6-feet-7. Weight: 180 to 330 pounds. Distinguishing marks: Red faces from having lost back to back for the first time in 103 games. Last seen playing well against B.C. on Sept. 16. John Hufnagel and Dave Dickenson are worried. Especially after losing to Edmonton this week and giving up almost 400 net yards.
3. Saskatchewan Roughriders (up from 4)
- Record: 10-7
- Streak: Won 2
- Next: Edmonton
When Chris Jones ran Toronto’s championship defence in 2012, one of his skills was identifying players near the end of their careers — or those who might have more to give than previously shown — and putting them in key spots. Robert McCune, Jordan Younger, Ahmad Carroll, would be examples. These skills were on display during this week’s game vs. Montreal as RB Trent Richardson, brought in from the NFL after two years without action, had 127 yards on 20 carries, and slot back Chad Owens had nine catches for 114 yards in just his second game of the season at the end of what’s been a brilliant career. They were needed as the attack struggled to finish, going 3-for-8 in the red zone. Usual WR Duron Carter played mostly defence, coming up with one catch and one defensive tackle.
4. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (down from 3)
- Record: 11-6
- Streak: Lost 2
- Next: At Calgary
Confirmed this week and suspected all season, is that the Big Blue have no chance without QB Matt Nichols. Depth at pivot should be dealt with in the off-season, but for now coach Mike O’Shea must keep his leader upright. Nichols went down with a non-contact calf problem in the second quarter vs. B.C., an injury he was apparently battling for a while, and his replacements were either not very good (Dom Davis, 7-for-12, 82 yards) or terrible (Dan LeFevour, 5-for-12, 42 yards and a 0.0 efficiency rating). Injuries are piling up, though if they can get receiver Darvin Adams back for the playoff game that would go a long way. And Justin Medlock went 7-for-7 in field goals, so he seems to be back. A win means second place and a week off for everyone to get healthy.
5. Ottawa Redblacks (unchanged)
- Record: 8-9-1
- Streak: Won 3
- Next: Bye
They did the job, won the game and it might not be the best thing that could have happened. Ottawa vaulted back into first place and kept alive a chance to host the East final. If Toronto loses this week, the Redblacks will have to wait more than three weeks for a one-game match to make the Grey Cup they are hosting. That’s too much. They opened poorly against Hamilton because of two weeks off, and by game’s end had five turnovers, most at crucial times. Then again, if Diontae Spencer can go off in the post-season the way he did vs. the Cats, it won’t matter. Spencer had 496 total yards (133 receiving, 363 returns), the best combined mark in CFL history, removing Albert Johnson’s 474 for Winnipeg 17 years ago.
6. Toronto Argonauts (unchanged, bye)
- Record: 8-9
- Streak: Won 1
- Next: At B.C.
Last year’s ship sank under the weight of a 1-10 finish. This year’s could sail to first in the East and be just one win away from the Grey Cup game. A big turnaround indeed. There’s still a lot of work to do, however, if the Argos want 2017 to be memorable. First would be a win at B.C. on Saturday in the league’s final regular-season game. That requires two things: make sure the defence plays a full 60 minutes, and not 55; continue to put RB James Wilder Jr. in positions to pile up the yards from scrimmage, run or pass. Pull together, in other words. The offensive line has shown having a talented back behind it makes everyone better. You don’t have to pass block all day — exhausting in both mind and execution, as it leads to penalties. And they have this guy Ricky Ray at quarterback.
7. B.C. Lions (up from 8)
- Record: 7-10
- Streak: Won 1
- Next: Toronto
We’ve been saying all year: the only thing Jonathon Jennings needs is some help around him. This week against a wobbly Winnipeg defence, the Leo QB moved the offence along for 489 net yards, including 408 in the air. Five of those receptions were for 30 yards or more. B.C.’s stars were just that this week, including Chris Rainey, with 16 carries for 106 on the ground and another 89 by air, Bryan Burnham’s 152 catching and Manny Arceneaux with 101, were other keys. The Orange and Black kept the ball for 38:23, a total also credited to the defence. They saw Peg starter Matt Nichols leave, realized his backups were weak, and put the pressure on. Strange stat: Wally’s boys committed their first turnover in five games. You’d expect much worse from a seven-win club.
8. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (down from 7)
- Record: 5-12
- Streak: Lost 1
- Next: Montreal
It matters not how well your offence plays, or how many turnovers you can cause (five against Ottawa), if your special teams are awful and you take too many penalties, there’s no chance. The Kitties allowed 375 yards in returns, wrecking solid outings by everyone else. The defence caused five giveaways, including three interceptions. It also allowed 471 net yards, most of it in scoring position because of the poor kick coverage. QB Jeremiah Masoli was right on his game, throwing for 438 yards and four TDs, while Brandon Banks had 13 snares for 193. Now, do you run Masoli out for the whole game next week, or do you split it with the former starter, and now backup, Zach Collaros? Do you do everything to win in order to take a good feeling into the off-season? Let’s see.
9. Montreal Alouettes (unchanged)
- Record: 3-14
- Streak: Lost 10
- Next: At Hamilton
If you cast around for anything positive to say about this year’s Skylarks, the eye falls on running back Tyrell Sutton, who has been nothing but reliable on the field. He carries, he catches, he blocks and he works hard. Montreal was awful again this week, but Sutton was able to move his totals to 1,155 rushing and catching over 2017. QB Darian Durant made his awaited return to Regina, where he played for 10 seasons and took the club to a Grey Cup in 2013. It would have been so much nicer if he had brought a team that could help. Durant was 9-for-20, 126 yards before leaving for backup Matt Shiltz, who wasn’t near as good as the week before, compiling just 47 yards on five completions. The Als also took 15 penalties, including nine on special teams. Awful.