It’s been nearly two years since the Canadian Football League has played a game. The last time we saw a CFL game was when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers literally ran over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Calgary. There were two prevailing narratives going into 2021 after the 2020 season was canceled (thanks a lot, #CoronaSZN). The first was whether we would have a season at all. The second was if the CFL would merge with the XFL. While the CFL briefly played footsie with the XFL and that relationship came to a halt, the season would go forward. What will happen this season is anyone’s guess, but we might as well preview it anyway.
The New Schedule
Several things will be different in 2021 than in previous seasons. Because both the league and its players decided so late to agree to a season, we now have a 14-game season for the first time in nearly five decades. The last time a 14-game season was played in the West Division was 1951 and the East Division was 1973. Because of the shorter schedule, there is a bigger emphasis on intra-divisional games. The oddest part of the schedule is that Winnipeg and Ottawa will not face each other AT ALL. Speaking of Winnipeg, the Blue Bombers and the Saskatchewan Roughriders will play 11 intra-divisional games while the other teams in the West (BC, Edmonton, and Calgary) will play 12. Teams in the East, meanwhile, will play 10 intra-divisional games each. These schedules were purposely made to reduce travel due to… well, you know.
A Flurry of Storylines
The Canadian Football League hasn’t played in nearly two years, but the flurry of stories hasn’t stopped. A third of the league’s teams – Edmonton, Ottawa, and Toronto – will have new head coaches. There was so much coach and player roster turnover in Toronto that it feels like they signed half of the league. Two quarterbacks – Nick Arbuckle and Matt Nichols – swapped provincial addresses before they even played a game for their teams. There was a new team name in Edmonton with the Eskimos becoming the Elks. Several high-profile players – including Brad Sinopoli, Delvin Breaux, and CJ Gable – announced their retirements. Reigning Grey Cup Most Outstanding Player Andrew Harris left training camp after the second day and has been limited since. Nine players have had their seasons prematurely ended because of injury in training camp. We haven’t even started the season, but the stories have come like a flood.
The Biggest Questions for Each Team
Each team has a big question going into this season. Let’s start in the East Division.
Hamilton: Will the Tiger-Cats use their 2019 loss as motivation to win this year’s Grey Cup at home?
Montreal: Will Alouettes quarterback Vernon Adams repeat his breakout 2019 season?
Ottawa: Can new head coach Paul LaPolice energize a dormant RedBlacks offense?
Toronto: Will all of the big-name signings by the Argonauts revitalize interest in the TO?
Now for the West Division.
BC: Have the Lions done enough to keep star quarterback Michael Reilly upright?
Calgary: Will the Stampeders have enough support on offense to help star quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell?
Edmonton: The Elks’ offense is potent, but will the defense do enough to keep points off the board?
Saskatchewan: With so much roster turnover, can quarterback Cody Fajardo keep hope alive in Canada’s Sweatpants Capital?
Winnipeg: Depending on how injured Andrew Harris is, do the Blue Bombers have what it takes to repeat?
Season Record Predictions
Saskatchewan: 7-7 (*playoff crossover)
East Division Semifinal
Montreal defeats Saskatchewan
West Division Semifinal
Winnipeg defeats Edmonton
East Division Final
Hamilton defeats Montreal
West Division Final
Calgary defeats Winnipeg
Grey Cup Final
Hamilton defeats Calgary and wins their first Grey Cup since 1997
The Canadian Football League finally returns on Thursday night. I can’t wait.