Canadian Football League Power Rankings: Alouettes stand tall at kickoff

TORONTO — Welcome back, CFL fans! Postseason wins aside, there may be no more joyous time in the schedule than opening week.

A big part of that stems from the fact that in this fleeting moment, all things are even. There are no wins or losses yet, just pure, unbridled optimism. We’ve said it more than once through this long off-season: the beauty of the CFL is its unpredictability.

Very, very few people thought a year ago at this time that the Montreal Alouettes would finish the season atop the CFL mountain. There is almost certainly a surprise team in the midst of these incomplete standings right now, just like there could also be a team that could be on the verge of taking a step back. In a league where mass player turnover can create a bleak outlook all winter, only for those once-strangers to gel into a beautiful, competitive beast, you have to start each season with a clean slate, judging what you see honestly on a week-to-week basis.

That’s where we’re trying to stand as things get set to kickoff in Winnipeg on Thursday night. We may have feelings about some teams, but when it comes down to it, we really don’t know what’s in front of us. That’s the fun in it.

Let’s get into the first edition of the 2024 Power Rankings presented by AMSOIL.

1. Montreal Alouettes (0-0)

Off-season ranking: 1
Next game: At Winnipeg, Thurs. June 6

Worth noting: What will 2024 hold for the Als? The team obviously hit its stride over the final eight games of the 2023 season, all the way to the 110th Grey Cup. As the standings reset to zeroes across the board, the Als’ greatest strength out of the gate might be continuity. The vast majority of the key pieces from the championship run are back, from Cody Fajardo to Darnell SankeyMarc-Antoine Dequoy and head coach Jason Maas, who built what feels like a gargantuan culture in a short amount of time — against incredible odds, remember — last year. The champs are not to be taken lightly this year.

2. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (0-0)

Off-season ranking: 2
Next game: Vs. Montreal, Thurs. June 6

Worth noting: A quick pre-kickoff reality check on the Blue and Gold: after their most difficult off-season in their four-year run of dominance, they’re still going to be really good. Jermarcus Hardrick will be missed, as will Janarion Grant and Demerio Houston. This is still a team with two-time Most Outstanding Player Zach Collaros, the league’s top running back in Brady Oliveira and one of the league’s top receivers in Dalton Schoan. Willie Jefferson is still on the defensive line, with arms long enough to knock your phone out of your hand as you read this, wherever you are. We’re not anticipating a drop-off in Winnipeg.

3. BC Lions (0-0)

Off-season ranking: 3
Next game: At Toronto, Sun. June 9

Worth noting: The expectations are high in BC, where the Lions have made consecutive trips to the Western Final, only to be held at bay by the Bombers. Hosting the 111th Grey Cup in just over five months’ time, the Lions have a picture perfect setting to take that next step, emerge from the West and to take a shot at ending their 11-season Grey Cup drought. Of course, that’s all far off in the distance right now. The first task at hand is an Argos team that humbled the Lions in their lone trip to BMO Field last year. We think Vernon Adams Jr. and Co will be ready for Game 1 of 18 on Saturday.

4. Saskatchewan Roughriders (0-0)

Off-season ranking: 4
Next game: At Edmonton, Fri. June 8

Worth noting: A new, highly anticipated era officially gets underway on Friday, when the Riders travel to Edmonton to face the Elks. The vibes have been sunshiny bright around head coach Corey Mace’s squad. Can that carry into the regular season? How far can a healthy Trevor Harris take this team? What will AJ Ouellette inject into the offence? What does Jameer Thurman do for the defence? Can this team get back in the playoffs this year? That last question might be a tall order, but we’re excited to see what’s in front of the Riders.

5. Toronto Argonauts (0-0)

Off-season ranking: 5
Next game: Vs. BC, Sun. June 9

Worth noting: When the Argos retreated to their locker room at BMO Field, shoulders sunken and sprits broken after a crushing Eastern Final loss last season, very few could have expected the team that will emerge from that same room on Sunday to take the field against the BC Lions. Change has run rampant through the Argos, from Corey Mace graduating from defensive coordinator to the head coach of the Riders, to a slew of star players (AJ OuelletteAdarius Pickett and Jamal Peters, to name a talented few) departing in free agency. Of course, the team stands to be without QB Chad Kelly for the first nine games of the season due to suspension. Where will these Argos go in the coming weeks? Like you, we wait to see.

6. Edmonton Elks (0-0)

Off-season ranking: 6
Next game: Vs. Saskatchewan, Sat. June 8

Worth noting: McLeod Bethel-Thompson will lead the Elks into a new season, chock full of new hope for a club that hasn’t seen the playoffs since 2019. We’ve said it earlier in the long off-season, but it feels like a strange reversal to see a Chris Jones team that’s teeming with offensive potential and has some wait-and-see spots in the defence. A player to watch this week: return specialist Javon Leake, who was a godsend for the Argos last year, not only in terms of trips to the end zone but in general field position. He’s the difference maker on returns that the team has been searching for for almost a decade.

7. Ottawa REDBLACKS (0-0)

Off-season ranking: 7
Next game: Vs. Winnipeg, June 13

Worth noting: The REDBLACKS come out of another productive off-season and will hope that they can translate that to better results on the field this time. Quarterbacking responsibilities rest on the shoulders of Dru Brown, who couldn’t have had a better learn-by-osmosis environment the last three years in Winnipeg, backing up Zach Collaros. QB productivity will be a must, but the REDBLACKS’ defence is intriguing with Adarius Pickett in the mix and 2022 Most Outstanding Defensive Player Lorenzo Mauldin IV leading a strong defensive line. Brandin Dandridge, who hurt teams on returns and as a pick-six threat defensive back, is healthy and ready to get back to work. First, the REDBLACKS will wait a week to see action, as they draw the first bye on the schedule.

8. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-0)

Off-season ranking: 8
Next game: At Calgary, Fri. June 7

Worth noting: Bo Levi Mitchell gave an encouraging performance in his preseason showing two weeks ago against the REDBLACKS. Will he carry that into the 2024 regular season? Week 1 stands to be all about the star veteran pivot, as he sets to make his first trip back to McMahon Stadium since he built a hall-of-fame-worthy career there from 2013-2022. The new-look Ticats, led by head coach Scott Milanovich and featuring free agent additions Jamal PetersDewayne Hendrix and Brandon Barlow on the defensive side of the ball, could make noise in a somewhat open East Division, if Mitchell can stay healthy through the grind of the coming 18 games.

9. Calgary Stampeders (0-0)

Off-season ranking: 9
Next game: Vs. Hamilton, Fri. June 7

Worth noting: Jake Maier and the Stamps’ offence will be the biggest, or most frequently asked question this season; the questions might pick up in the wake of Malik Henry’s season-ending training camp injury, too. But the Stamps’ defence isn’t something to overlook. We can’t wait to see Micah Awe and Cameron Judge get back to it. They’ll have their hands full this week against the Ticats, looking to limit James Butler as he comes off of back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. The acquisition of Demerio Houston is a big one and bolsters a backfield that already featured Tre Roberson, Kobe Williams and Nick Statz. The Stamps’ d-line is led by Mike Rose, former East Division All-Star Julian Howsare and James Vaughters. If it comes together on offence for the Stamps, this will be a team to watch closely.

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