Here’s how I rank the Canadian Football League teams heading into Week 15:
1. Calgary Stampeders (unchanged)
- Record: 11-1-1
- Streak: Won 8
- Next: Montreal
This contest in Saskatchewan was played at a shivering intensity, with hard hits, often hard feelings, and finally exhausted players doing the man-hug with opponents. It was afterwards they went at each other on Twitter. The Stamps’ defence held the Riders to just 210 yards of net offence, a week after giving up just 207 to B.C. They sacked Green and White QBs five times, allowing just two points in the first half. And again, the offence did enough to win, finding 355 yards but never pushing one over for a touchdown. Rene Paredes saved the day with five field goals in five tries for all 15 points. We’ll keep an eye on this — is the attack a tad tired, or is it running into some trouble? Running back Jerome Messam had 127 yards on the ground. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was 24-for-32, 222 yards as Saskatchewan took away the deep stuff.
2. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (unchanged)
- Record: 9-3
- Streak: Won 2
- Next: At Edmonton
That rain on the edge of the plain fell mainly on the visitors this week as Big Blue ran over the Redblacks to put a four-point hold on second place in the West and a chance to host a playoff game. In that division, hosting means a lot. Watch the highlights and note how often QB Matt Nichols sees man-to-man coverage on his good receiving corps, simply because RB Andrew Harris is such a double-threat. This week he had 83 ground yards on 11 carries, and 49 passing on six catches. Defensive coordinators must leave people around to take care of the runner. Impressive stat: 321 yards on first down, leading to 27 times the chain crew kept moving down the sidelines. Peg’s defence was strongly improved, and it will have to be if this club is to make a run at the Grey Cup.
3. Saskatchewan Roughriders (unchanged)
- Record: 6-6
- Streak: Lost 1
- Next: At Ottawa
This week’s 15-9 loss to excellent Calgary was disappointing, but hardly dispiriting. Riders sit two points back of Edmonton for third, won the first between the two and play again in Week 20. At the same time, there might be something of a quarterback controversy brewing, as Kevin Glenn (12-for-19, 127 yards, no scores, one pick) was replaced in the fourth by Canadian Brandon Bridge (6-for-7, 91 yards, one score). The starter might have done better if he hadn’t been sacked five times, but he couldn’t get the offence within field goal range for three quarters. Overall, they had the ball for just under 24 minutes and if they meet Stamps in the playoffs, that won’t be nearly good enough. Ball control needs better than 28 yards from the running game.
4. B.C. Lions (unchanged)
- Record: 6-7
- Streak: Lost 2
- Next: Bye
B.C.’s season average attendance has swayed back and forth for three decades now, from a high of 34,000 or so to lows in the high teens. So it’s not news the Leos have lost about 10,000 from the paid house since 2011. Still, it can’t be a happy sign that this week’s loss to Hamilton in a good football game was played in front of just 18,091. A new owner may be a help (whenever that happens). From a competitive standpoint an ability to finish drives now becomes imperative as not doing so is becoming a habit. Lions took 39 plays to travel 220 yards, using 20:18 of clock to score just 15 points on five field goals. They were 1-for-4 in the red zone, so just the one major. Great for kicker Ty Long, but when you’re in a tight game, QB Jonathon Jennings must finish these thrusts.
5. Toronto Argonauts (up from 7)
- Record: 6-7
- Streak: Won 2
- Next: At Hamilton
Each season reveals new stars, and one of this year’s late arrivals may be James Wilder Jr. The son of a legendary runner with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to Canada with the hope of restarting an NFL career going nowhere. Mostly a backup this year, he came in after an injury to Brandon Whitaker and has run wild the last two weeks. After 190 on the ground vs. Edmonton, he piled on another 141 vs. Montreal for 341 yards total that is the best two-game mark by an Argo runner as far back as records go. His 475 yards from scrimmage have energized the offensive line, which is suddenly having a great time drive blocking. If Wilder, who has learned to hang onto the ball this year and focus his efforts, keeps this going, Toronto is a Grey Cup contender.
6. Edmonton Eskimos (unchanged, bye)
- Record: 7-5
- Streak: Lost 5
- Next: Winnipeg
Eskies come out of the bye needing a big win over Winnipeg to stay in the hunt for a home playoff game, and also to stave off charging Saskatchewan. It seems now despite optimistic talk about kicker Sean Whyte (and his 92.9 per cent field-goal mark) coming back this week from a long injury had been premature. Now it may be 50-50 he makes it this year. Next kicker up is Swayze Waters, the league veteran with NFL experience, who signed Monday and immediately made the roster. DB Aaron Grymes is back from down south, and the three-year Eskimo (2013-2015) will be welcome. Offence is fine, but the defence is confused. They give up far too many points while not many yards. They can sack the QB, but not pressure him. They’re good against the pass, but can’t stop the run.
7. Ottawa Redblacks (down from 5)
- Record: 5-8-1
- Streak: Lost 1
- Next: Saskatchewan
Our defending Grey Cup champions have five wins in 14 games. They feature a third-string quarterback without the experience to run a CFL offence yet. And the defence was worn down in the rain at Winnipeg by a much better team. Ryan Lindley started for Ottawa, and the former NFL starter wasn’t up to snuff, going 16-for-36, 151 yards, no scores and a pick. This despite an offensive line that played well, allowing zero sacks and only two pressures. This all produced 10 punts, two fumbles and a missed field goal in the first 13 of 15 possessions. There was nothing doing. Ottawa took 10 penalties, killing momentum when it reared it’s rarely seen head. Only four games left (two byes in the final three weeks — completely ridiculous). Defence put up a fight.
8. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (unchanged)
- Record: 3-9
- Streak: Won 1
- Next: Toronto
That’s three wins in four games for Hamilton since June Jones took over the sidelines in August. All by QB Jeremiah Masoli, who seems now permanently the starter in front of Zach Collaros. Cats found themselves in a one-pointer, where a single mistake changes a win into a loss, so they kept the errors to a minimum. No giveaways. Just four penalties. Went 2-for-3 in the red zone. On the other hand, Sergio Castillo missed two of five field goals, and the line gave up one more sack than the Leos. Masoli was down two points with 2:00 on the clock when he set out on a 42 yard drive that put Castillo in range for the winning kick. Nice road effort. Kitties are five points back of Ottawa with six to play and a game in hand. And they play one more time. In the CFL, weird stuff happens all the time.
9. Montreal Alouettes (unchanged)
- Record: 3-10
- Streak: Lost 6
- Next: At Calgary
You can present an argument that two plays sank the Montreal Alouettes in Toronto this week. QB Darian Durant threw one of his three picks to Alden Darby, who ran it back 75 yards for a touchdown. On the other, James Wilder took a handoff and ran through the Larks’ defence for an 85 yard TD. That’s the 14 point difference. These are the type of explanations losing teams are saddled with when a season has gone south and there’s nothing, short of a five game winning streak, that can save the current version. They were down 26-0 before coming to life, and that comes after a week that saw them control the ball for only 19 minutes. Yet, the defence battled against Toronto, holding Ricky Ray to just 182 in the air.