CFL: What are the odds? A breakdown of every team’s chances to win the Grey Cup.

By Matthew Cauz, CFL.ca

With the Manziel-Season . . . I mean the pre-season mercifully over it’s time to look ahead to 2018 in the most optimistic and pessimistic way possible by explaining why your favourite team is a stone cold lock to win the Grey Cup, and also why you have no shot so you may as well start looking constructing your own personal 2019 CFL Mock Draft.

I have included the Bodog odds for each team winning it all if you care to take all your savings and bet it on such a thing occurring based on my advice (Warning: Don’t).

BC Lions

Odds: 11/1

Why they will win the Grey Cup

You really think Wally Buono is going to end his illustrious career without winning one more Grey Cup??? This will be Buono’s 25th year as a CFL head coach and what better motivation for the organization could there be than helping this legend retire in style? All right, so maybe you don’t go for the easy Hollywood style narratives. Well then the Lions will win it all because the return of six-time all-star Jovan Olafioye will help keep Jonathon Jennings healthy and more importantly comfortable in the pocket, which will lead to the return of the 2016 version of Jennings who lit up this league.

THE LIONS WILL GO AS FAR AS JONATHON JENNINGS TAKES THEM IN 2018 (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Last season the Lions allowed the most sacks (49) and only the Hamilton Tiger-Cats allowed more quarterback pressures. This team is stacked at the skill positions and a rejuvenated Jennings could win the MOP award that some dummy (me) predicted he would capture last year. Speaking of getting to the quarterback, the addition of Odell Willis and Gabriel Knapton will be a big boost to a defence that managed only 28 sacks in 2017.

Finally, don’t forget about the return of Ed Hervey as the new general manager for the Lions. You know he’s gonna be pumped to stick it to Edmonton. Sorry, couldn’t resist going back to easy narratives like revenge and redemption.

Why they won’t win

Did you see how poorly the Lions finished off last year going 1-6 with Jennings back in place of an injured Travis Lulay? If not for how poorly Montreal played down the stretch, the Lions’ collapse would have gotten more attention. What if 2016 was the high water mark for Jennings? The only thing he led the Lions to in 2017 was most interceptions by a quarterback as he was dead last in passer efficiency rating among all starting QBs. As mentioned earlier, the pass protection was a mess in 2017, and you’re asking a lot out of a 30-year-old lineman who missed six games last year due to a back injury to be the magical cure. Speaking of age, at 33, I have to wonder, how much does Willis have left in the tank?

Calgary Stampeders

Odds: 11/5

Why they will win the Grey Cup

The obvious reason is that no team over the past decade has won more games than the Calgary Stampeders. You find me an organization that can turn over talent more effectively than Calgary, who continually drafts and/or develops unknown players into all-stars. That’s why I don’t worry about the departure of Charleston HughesTommie Campbell or Jerome Messam. Look for second-year DL James Vaughters (six sacks in 10 games) to fill in for Hughes, Cordarro Law is back and healthy and look out for sophomore running back Terry Williams to fill in the big shoes of Messam running behind an offensive line that haDerek Dennis back in the fold.

JAMES VAUGHTERS IS LOOKING TO BECOME A PREMIERE PASS-RUSHER IN HIS SOPHOMORE SEASON (LARRY MACDOUGAL/CFL.CA)

Yes, Marquay McDaniel is gone, but keep an eye on Reggie Begelton to become one of those breakout Fantasy stars that your obnoxious friend will brag that he knew would be a big star way before anyone else did. No way Calgary wins fewer than 12 games as this team continues to embody the ‘Next Man Up’ mentality better than anyone else.

Why they won’t win the Grey Cup

Because the football gods hate Calgary and they love making gasbags like me look foolish after we write our annual “There is no way Calgary is losing the Grey Cup” articles. To be honest, I can’t wait to see just how tragically the Stampeders blow this coming Grey Cup. My best guess including multiple missed field goal return touchdowns by the opposition and a swarm of bees.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Odds: 11/2

Why they will win the Grey Cup

No team went over quite a transformation between the first half of the season and the second quite like Hamilton. From Week 1 to Week 9 Hamilton’s defence was a disaster, giving up nearly 40 points a game, while the offence was ineffective as Zach Collaros was either getting beat up or was serving up turnovers. The 6-4 turnaround was marked by June Jones taking over for Kent Austin and Jeremiah Masoli replacing Collaros.

Management clearly believes in this group as the team made no major splashes during free agency. Instead they re-signed all their key free agents including Masoli, Brandon BanksLarry Dean and Ted Laurent. Banks in particular benefited from the mid-season changes, going nuts with five 100-plus receiving yard games down the stretch, highlighting an offence that also features Luke TaskerJalen Saunders and a now healthy Terrence Toliver. Finally, the return of Orlondo Steinauer to the coaching staff can only provide dividends to a rather interesting mix of coaches on staff.

BRANDON BANKS BROKE OUT AS A RECEIVER RATHER THAN A RETURNER LATE LAST SEASON (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

…. Fine I’ll mention him. Yes the addition of Johnny Manziel can only help as his presence will no doubt push/motivate Masoli and the coaching staff will find some packages to utilize his God given skills.

Why they won’t win the Grey Cup

Oh boy, I hate to be a Debbie Downer about the final 10 games of the Tiger-Cats’ season but that 6-4 finish is a bit suspicious. The first win against Toronto came with the assistance of a last second short field goal miss by Lirim Hajrullahu. Win number two was aided by Trevor Harris leaving the game in the third quarter of a 26-22 victory over Ottawa. Throw in a ‘W’ against a slumping BC Lions team and two wins over the then-hapless Montreal Alouettes and suddenly that 6-4 record has lost a considerable amount of shine.

Edmonton Eskimos

Odds: 13/2

Why they will win the Grey Cup

Under Mike Reilly over the past four seasons the Edmonton Eskimos have averaged just over 12 wins and totaled five post-season victories. Everything starts and finishes with the 2017 MOP who led the CFL in passing yards, tied for the league lead in touchdown passes and only Matt Nichols had a better efficiency rating and that was by the slightest of margins (103.8 vs. 103.6). Don’t worry about the loss of Brandon Zylstra as this team is loaded with Derel WalkerVidal Hazelton and youngsters like D’haquille Williams and Bryant Mitchell. Edmonton had the best offence in 2017, especially after the acquisition of C.J. Gable, and there is no reason for that not to continue this year.

Why they won’t win the Grey Cup

Because the Football Gods won’t forget coach Jason Maas saying he has no regrets calling for that 20-yard field goal with his team down by seven with under two minutes to go in their 32-28 Western Final loss against Calgary. Listen Jason, you’re a damn good coach but you gotta admit that was an odd call when you consider that three plays earlier your MOP quarterback had converted a third-and-10.

On top of that super logical explanation I don’t care how much talent you have waiting in the wings — Brandon Zylstra was the best receiver in the game and will be hard to replace, as will Reilly’s safety blanket Adarius Bowman. Finally there is not a lot of proven depth at running back behind Gable who is 30 years old with a history of injuries.

Montreal Alouettes

Odds: 14/1

Why the will win the Grey Cup

You know that the Vegas Golden Knights were 500-1 at one point to win the Stanley Cup?

Why they won’t win the Grey Cup

Listen, I hate to pile on the Montreal Alouettes, but there is a reason for all the pessimism. They lost their final 11 games by an average margin of 24 points. That is just such a depressing number. There are so many questions at quarterback and at coach where new head coach Mike Sherman is a neophyte to this game. I’m not saying that Sherman won’t succeed, just look at what June Jones did last year, but the deck is stacked against him. I love the signings of Henoc MuambaJamaal WestermanChris Williams and Tommie Campbell but 2018 will represent nothing more than a building year.

DREW WILLY IS LOOKING TO ANSWER THE BIG QUESTION UNDER CENTRE IN MONTREAL (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ottawa REDBLACKS

Odds: 11/1

Why they will win the Grey Cup

No team screams bounce back year quite like the REDBLACKS, who went 8-9-1. Yes, Ottawa got off to a lousy 1-6-1 start, but those six losses were by a combined 20 points and none were by more than a touchdown. A couple breaks here and there and Ottawa easily could have had a winning record in the first half of 2017.

Next was their turnover luck. Of course great players force mistakes from their opponents that lead to turnovers, but luck also is a factor on who scoops up that fumble or who snags that batted ball. Last season only BC and Montreal had more turnovers and no team generated fewer turnovers (22) than the REDBLACKS. What if that simply normalizes? I’m not talking about defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe (A damn good coach) transforming his squad into the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but what if they are say fourth or fifth in the league in turnover margin? Suddenly this 8-9-1 team is winning the East and garnering a first round bye. The additions of Josh Johnson, A.C. Leonard and Loucheiz Purifoy will go a long way into making that a reality.

After escaping injury in the pre-season Trevor Harris certainly has all the tools to elevate his team into a Grey Cup.

Why they won’t win the Grey Cup

I mean, I know everyone is saying the right thing about that lower body injury that Harris suffered, but this sentence from Tim Baines in the Ottawa Sun recently, “During Sunday’s practice/scrimmage in Gatineau, Harris had a brace on his left knee. But as it turns out, it could be both his knee and ankle bothering him,” does not exactly engender me with that much confidence. If Harris is out, everything changes for Ottawa. Yes, there were some nice defensive additions, but Ottawa also lost two key contributors in Zack Evans and Taylor Reed.

NOEL THORPE IS LOOKING TO BRING A MORE AGGRESSIVE DEFENCE TO THE NATION’S CAPITAL (CHRIS HOFLEY/OTTAWA REDBLACKS)

Saskatchewan Roughriders

Odds: 7/1

Why they will win the Grey Cup

Just imagine how much better Saskatchewan’s offence is going to get now with Zach Collaros at quarterback. This is nothing against Brandon Bridge, who is an ideal backup, but if Collaros can get close to his 2015 version then look out. As it was, the Roughriders were fifth in offensive points and sixth in net offence with a revolving door at quarterback. Now they have a guy who can compete for an MOP award. Collaros was a mess in Hamilton and needed a change of scenery. What better place than with Chris Jones and with receivers like Duron CarterNaaman Roosevelt and Bakari Grant to work with!

Defensively the team took huge strides from 2016 to 2017 and then in the off-season added Charleston Hughes to play with Willie Jefferson. Saskatchewan won five more game in 2017 than they did in 2016. Seems to me 2018 could be even better.

Why they won’t win the Grey Cup

I’m going to be up front with you all; I may be blinded by what I saw up close from Zach Collaros back in 2015. That is nearly three years ago and there is no guarantee he will ever recapture his previous form. What if Terran Vaughn can’t handle the left tackle position from the departed Derek Denis? The Green and White were third-last in sacks allowed. If Collaros gets banged around he could have flashbacks to the last two years at Tim Hortons Field and all of Jones’ grandiose plans may go up in smoke.

Toronto Argonauts

Odds: 7/1

Why they will win the Grey Cup

They have a fantastic situation at the most important position, quarterback. They brought back Ricky Ray who had his best season since 2014, plus they signed James Franklin from Edmonton who has done nothing but produce whenever given an opportunity. Having those two work with Marc Trestman is the ideal solution for sustained success in a league that is all about the passing game. But when they do need to hand the ball off, they have the most explosive running back in the game in James Wilder Jr., back and happier than ever after receiving a much deserved new contract.

JAMES FRANKLIN IS ONE OF A COUPLE OF OPTIONS THE ARGOS HAVE BEHIND RICKY RAY (KEVIN SOUSA/CFL.CA)

Yes the Argonauts won the Grey Cup last year, but they finished the regular season at just 9-9. With a full season of Wilder Jr. and the addition of Taylor Reed and T.J. Heath (Let’s never talk about his trade to Winnipeg again!) Toronto should easily hit double digits in wins this season.

Why they won’t win the Grey Cup

Because if we do believe in the Football Gods then the Argonauts are in big trouble because they clearly sold their souls to win last year’s Grey Cup. How else do you explain that 109-yard fumble return touchdown by Cassius Vaughn or Ricky Ray connecting with DeVier Posey for that 100-yard touchdown against possibly the best corner in the game in Tommie Campbell? S.J. Green was a freakin’ revelation in 2017 with his 104 receptions and 1,462 yards but it is hard to expect a repeat performance of that sort of production a year later. Finally, well, it’s hard to repeat as Grey Cup Champions, with Montreal being the only team to do it in the past 20 seasons.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Odds: 15/2

Why they will win the Grey Cup

(Note: I wrote this before the Matt Nichols injury. Everything below still applies if, and this is a BIG IF, Nichols is back to his normal self by Week 10 or so).

This team just gets better each and every year, upping their win totals from five to 11 to 12 last year. Matt Nichols also just keeps improving with each season, last year leading the CFL in passing efficiency. Maybe most importantly, the team signed Andrew Harris to a two-year extension, meaning the entire foundation of the Bombers’ offence is back. They may not have been the flashiest offence in 2017 but they were second to Edmonton in offensive points scored.

The biggest issue for the Bombers was their trick-or-treat defence that generates a boatload of big plays and turnovers but as a unit ranked second-last in both yards given up and yards per play. That should turn around with the big splash that came in the form of landing Adam Bighill, the 2015 Most Outstanding Defensive Player from the New Orleans Saints. Also the addition of Chandler Fenner from Winnipeg will help to tighten up that porous secondary.

Why they won’t win the Grey Cup

Winnipeg is sort of the anti-REDBLACKS. What if they aren’t second in turnover margin as they were in 2017? Do they have enough talent to win multiple games if the turnover margin is even? Opposing quarterbacks loved facing a Bombers secondary that gave up a whopping 33 passing touchdowns and 322 yards per game. Also I’m a wee bit concerned about the health of Andrew Harris, which may seem crazy given how durable/dependable he is. But over the past three seasons he has rushed the ball 606 times while catching 225 passes. That’s 831 touches over 51 regular season games for a running back who turned 31 this past off-season. Harris is the most important non-quarterback in this league and if he were to miss time that would be a devastating blow to this offence.

Oh, and did you see that Nichols is going to be out for four to six weeks?! What if this injury lingers? What if he doesn’t bounce back and it’s a lost year? Run for the hills!! (sorry).

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