Analysis and a Best Bet for Week 1 of the CFL

By Ian Cameron  () 

The 2019 Canadian Football League season kicks off on Thursday, giving avid football fans and bettors the chance to watch and bet some football in the summer months before the NFL and College Football season. The Calgary Stampeders will look to repeat as Grey Cup champions after defeating the Ottawa Redblacks in last year’s title game. In this week’s edition of PSW, I’ll take a look at the four matchups to kick off the season in Week 1 action.

Saskatchewan Roughriders @ Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Spread: Hamilton -3, Total: 48

The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Hamilton TigerCats will do battle in the season opener on Thursday night. Both these teams have new head coaches. Saskatchewan’s strength is unquestionably its defense, which on paper could be the best defense in the CFL this season. The offense is a giant question mark with not as much depth in the skill position group and uncertainty about whether or not QB Zach Collaros can return to his old form and stay healthy for an entire season. Hamilton should have one of the better offenses in the CFL this season with Jeremiah Masoli returning at QB. He led the CFL with 405.6 yards per game through the air last season. The offensive line should be strong especially after the Ticats spent two draft picks on offensive linemen in this year’s CFL Draft. The receiving corps is led by Brandon Banks and Luke Tasker but Mike Jones and Bralon Addison are great complimentary targets as well. Cameron Marshall and Sean Thomas-Erlington lead a veteran RB corps. On the defensive side of the football, the defensive line is improved big time after the acquisition of Ja’Gared Davis from Calgary to add to Adrian Tracy and Ted Laurent and now a team that lacked getting pressure at the QB consistently last season should be much better in that area this year. The LB corps with veteran Simoni Lawrence, Justin Tuggle and the returning Rico Murray should be strong and the secondary, if Delvin Breaux can finally stay healthy for an entire season, could provide the Ticats with their best pass defense in many years. I think the Under is worth a look in this game as the Riders defense looks formidable while the Ticats defense should be much improved and the weather forecast is calling for rain and wind on Thursday night. Saskatchewan has dominated this series and is 5-0 SU and ATS in the last 5 meetings between these teams, which is enough to keep me off backing the home side even though I lean a little bit to Hamilton--the team I expect to represent the East in the Grey Cup in November.

Montreal Alouettes @ Edmonton Eskimos

Spread: Edmonton -10, Total: 51

It was another terrible year for the Montreal Alouettes going 5-13 SU and the turmoil has carried over to the start of this season as the Alouettes in mind-boggling fashion decided to fire head coach Mike Sherman just a week prior to the regular season. This team has been a mess off the field for a while and it may struggle out of the gate with offensive coordinator Khari Jones unexpectedly and suddenly thrust into becoming the head coach of this team on the fly entering Week 1 as they take on the Edmonton Eskimos. Antonio Pipkin has been named the starting QB and it’s the right call as he has the most upside of any of the Montreal QB’s. Jones plans to attack vertically and push the football down the field in an attempt to make this a more explosive, big-play passing offense. They have some solid skill position talent with the likes of RB William Stanback along with WR’s Eugene Lewis, B.J. Cunningham plus a solid signing in DeVier Posey. Unfortunately, the offensive line was “offensive” in the bad sense of the word last season. It was young and not very talented as the Alouettes surrendered the most sacks in the CFL last season and that unit is still a major work in progress. They should be better but they are going from a team that had one of the worst offensive lines in ages in the CFL so there is nowhere to go but up. The defense was horrible last season with only last-place Toronto giving up more points. They have a new defensive coordinator in Bob Slowik who was hired by the recently dismissed Sherman after Slowik had a stint in the NFL providing a very awkward and troubling dynamic within the coaching ranks of this very flawed organization. I don’t expect this defense to be very good at all. The Edmonton Eskimos are the only team from the West Division last year to miss the playoffs. They made plenty of moves to ensure they avoid a repeat performance in 2019 and it started with the signing of former Ottawa Redblacks QB Trevor Harris after Mike Reilly left for the BC Lions. Harris is a good addition to the Eskimos as their new starting QB. He had his ups and downs last season but he still led Ottawa to a Grey Cup game where they lost to the mighty Calgary Stampeders and that is nothing to be ashamed about. The Eskimos offense has reloaded with WR Greg Ellingson brought in and he formed an incredible QB and WR tandem for the last couple of seasons in Ottawa with the Redblacks along with former Calgary WR DaVaris Daniels. The Eskimos did suffer a massive blow with the likely season ending injury suffered in training camp by projected starting left tackle Sir’Vincent Rogers who was also signed from Ottawa in free agency. However, the offense should be able to be relatively solid with Harris at QB controlling things. On the defensive side of the football, Edmonton struggled last season and hopes that a totally revamped stop unit with new players all across the defense and a new defensive coordinator in Phillip Lolley will lead to better things. It may take time for that unit to gel. Ten points is a lot to lay in Week 1 but I would still lay it here with Edmonton. The ridiculous coaching dynamic for Montreal firing its previous head coach a week before the season is a bizarre and awkward one that could negatively impact preparation for this game. Edmonton has repeatedly whipped Montreal to the tune of 10-0 SU, 8-2 ATS in the last 10 meetings with 8 of those Eskimos wins coming by double digits. I also think we’ll see some points and a higher-scoring contest in this one.

Ottawa Redblacks @ Calgary Stampeders

Spread: Calgary -8, Total: 51.5

This is a rematch of last year’s Grey Cup title game won by the Calgary Stampeders who have dominated the West Division for years. The Ottawa Redblacks will have to navigate their way through plenty of personnel changes and turnover in the offseason if they hope to repeat as East Division champions and return to the Grey Cup game. Ottawa lost QB Trevor Harris, WR’s Greg Ellingson and Diontae Spencer, RB William Powell and starting left tackle Sir’Vincent Rogers in free agency. Their former offensive coordinator Jamie Elizondo left the team two months prior to the start of training camp. The Redblacks will have an open competition for the starting QB spot in training camp between Jonathon Jennings and Dominique Davis. The offensive line will need to find a new starting left tackle, which is pivotal, but the rest of that unit seems to be fine. On defense, the Redblacks allowed the 3rd fewest points last season and could be just as strong if not better on that side of the football this season as their defense should be fairly good. The Calgary Stampeders will have a tough road to navigate in their attempt to repeat as Grey Cup champions. It’s not because they aren’t still extremely talented. They are. However, for the first time in years, there has been more personnel departures in the offseason for the Stampeders. The defense is without star LB Alex Singleton and pass rushing dynamo Ja’Gared Davis as the headliners from a group of defensive players that made up two thirds of the starting defense last season that have departed the team. Last year’s defensive coordinator DeVone Claybrooks, who architected one of the best defenses in the CFL the last few years, left to take the BC Lions head coaching position. Brett Monson will take over the DC role and there could be some serious growing pains early in the season with tons of new starters in all of Calgary’s defensive starting units to go along with a new DC, which comes with new systems and schemes being implemented. On offense, Calgary tied with Saskatchewan for least amount of sacks allowed and I expect the offensive line to still be one of the best in the league and Calgary is still led by the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player of 2018 at QB Bo Levi Mitchell. I don’t expect much dropoff at all from the Stamps offense. It’s a fascinating strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness matchup. Calgary’s offense looks strong but so does Ottawa’s defense. On the other side, Calgary’s defense and Ottawa’s offense look to be the areas of concern for these teams entering the season. Calgary was 3-0 SU and ATS against Ottawa last season. I thought Calgary at -7 or better was worth a wager but the line quickly got bet up so I’m sitting this one out.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers @ BC Lions

Spread: BC -2, Total: 53

Two teams with aspirations of challenging the mighty Calgary Stampeders for West Division supremacy will face off in this key West battle between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and BC Lions. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have progressively improved under head coach Mike O’Shea and got to the West Division Final last season. Now the Blue Bombers hope to take that final step and win the West and get to their first Grey Cup game since 2011. I believe that the Bombers are the team that has the best chance to possibly unseat Calgary with a very solid offense led by QB Matt Nichols, RB Andrew Harris, a solid receiving corps and one of the top offensive lines in the league. The defense is very good up front and at LB. The secondary will have to shuffle some bodies after some personnel departures but this is a very experienced and talented group that is highly motivated to finally get to the Grey Cup game. The BC Lions were the busiest team in the CFL during the offseason. The roster has been transformed and, on paper, certainly appears to be much better and stronger heading into the 2019 season. The big splash was the signing of former Edmonton Eskimos QB and 2015 Grey Cup champion Mike Reilly, although there is cause for concern. Reilly is 34 years old and is coming off a dismal second half of the season with Edmonton and he wound up with a career-high 18 INTs. For BC, he’s certainly an upgrade from Jonathon Jennings, but there is still some questions about whether Reilly can regain his MVP status at the QB position. BC has the weapons on offense to thrive if Reilly can play well. The Lions brought in Lemar Durant and Duron Carter at WR and the two, along with veteran Lions WR Bryan Burnham, form a nice trio at the position. The offensive line appears to be serviceable, especially with the addition of Sukh Chungh. On defense, there are plenty of questions as the Lions’ stop unit is littered with new starters (maybe as many as seven), but new head coach DeVone Claybrooks orchestrated an elite Calgary defense as the defensive coordinator there for years before taking this job. I have confidence in him to mold this BC defense into a quality group as the season moves along. It just may take a little bit of time for that to happen. A team with as many offseason changes as BC made may not be good right away in Week 1. I think the road dog is worth a look here in what could be a game featuring plenty of points in bunches if recent history is any indication. The Over is 7-2 in the last 9 meetings between the Blue Bombers and Lions.

CFL Week 1 Best Bet: (684) Edmonton -10 -110

CFL Best Bet Record YTD: 0-0

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