As part of “Ian Cameron Capping” here at Sportsmemo, I will be providing Canadian Football League service for the remainder of the 2012 season. The CFL offers an under-the-radar betting opportunity that can be beaten with regularity by anyone willing to put in the work and the time to do so. I have a documented personal betting record of 15-10 for +9.52 units of profit so far this season using the same Sportsmemo 1, 1.5 and 2 unit betting scale. That includes a perfect 4-0 record on 2-unit best bets which are better known as 20* plays here at Sportsmemo.
With six weeks of the regular season already in the books, I felt I would take the opportunity to have my debut blog here at Sportsmemo be about what has taken place so far in the CFL season from a team by team perspective. I’ll include each team’s SU and ATS records as well as their Over/Under results. We’ll start with the teams in the East Division and then shift our focus to the West.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats (3-2 SU, 4-1 ATS, 5-0 O/U)
We will start with the team that is currently leading the East Division with a 3-2 record. Hamilton entered the season as strong Grey Cup contenders right next to the defending champion BC Lions. The Tiger-Cats were being showered with praise for the dynamic and explosive offense that GM Bob O’Billovich handcrafted for this 2012 season. They have the strongest and deepest group of wide receivers in the CFL this season and the emergence of speedy RB Chevon Walker has made the Tiger-Cats a nearly impossible team to shut down on offense for a full 60 minute game. Veteran QB Henry Burris came to Hamilton in a trade with the Calgary Stampeders to improve the team at the QB position while sending former starting QB Kevin Glenn the other way. Burris was traded by Calgary because the team had plans to move in a new direction at QB as they decided to hand over the reigns late in the 2011 season to Drew Tate (Iowa alum) who impressed in limited playing time last year. Burris had no intention on staying with Calgary as a backup to Tate and thus, the trade came to fruition. Being told “you aren’t good enough to be our starter anymore” seems to be the motivation that Burris needed because he has been nothing short of stellar. After an 0-2 start, Burris has led Hamilton to three straight spread covering wins while throwing for 897 yards, 11 TDs and just 1 INT. That high level of efficiency for any QB in the CFL will win football games. The CFL is predominantly a passing league and strong QB play is essential. Burris has provided it for the Ticats. Hamilton has been forced to deal with some injuries on the defensive side of the football as well as players shuffling with players playing different positions they aren’t used to. The defense has given up 30+ points in three of their five games this season although I would expect them to gradually improve now that key CB Ryan Hinds and DE Greg Peach are back in their lineup. Hamilton’s defense doesn’t have to be world beaters. They just need to do enough to slow down the opposition because their offense is more than capable of winning games for them on their own. Look no further than last week in Saskatchewan where Hamilton rallied from a 33-14 deficit in the 4th Quarter to win the game. Hamilton did it with offense and I suspect the offense will continue leading the way for them if they are to continue winning games.
Toronto Argonauts (3-3 SU, 2-4 ATS, 2-4 O/U)
The 3-3 record is a perfect indicator of where the Argos are at this stage of the season. Offensively they’ve been good…at times. Defensively they’ve been good…at times. Special teams have been good…at times. None of their three units have put it all together consistently and for 60 minutes in any of their first six games. A lot of that is due to the large amount of change this team went through in the offseason. They have a new head coach in Scott Milanovich. They have a new starting QB in Ricky Ray, who Toronto traded for with Edmonton in the offseason. He has come in and provided a much needed boost to the woeful Toronto passing game which suffered mightily from inept QB play in 2011 by the likes of Cleo Lemon, Dalton Bell and Stephen Jyles. Ray has connected on nearly 70% of his passes and despite an anemic 8-7 TD-INT ratio, he still provides a stronger presence at QB for this team than anyone on the 2011 roster. If anything, the majority of the problems that Ray has had have been due to a Toronto offensive line that quite simply needs to play better. The revamped OL has struggled at times to keep opposing pass rushes from getting to the QB and they’ve done an below average job at best in blowing holes open for the running game as the Argos are averaging only 88 yards per game on the ground so far this season. The defense has been better than I expected. Almost the entire Toronto defense – DL, LBs and secondary all got torn down and rebuilt in the offseason and they’ve held their own. They rank 2nd in the CFL in total yards allowed and passing yards allowed which is pretty good considering all the new faces on that side of the ball. Consistency will be the key moving forward for the Argos. If they can gain that consistency in all three phases of the game, they will be a factor in the East.
Montreal Alouettes (3-3 SU, 2-4 ATS, 4-2 O/U)
become accustomed to seeing the Montreal Alouettes running roughshod over every team in the leagLongtime CFL fans have ue. They’ve posted a dominant 12-6 or better record in the regular season and multiple Grey Cup titles in the 15 years they have been led by all-time CFL (and pro football) passing leader QB Anthony Calvillo. Well, these aren’t your older brother’s Alouettes in 2012! The Montreal Alouettes who I often say are the New England Patriots of the CFL look hardly like that same “dynasty” type of team so far in 2012. They have had trouble getting stops on the defensive side of the football and their offense has been plagued by inconsistency and a declining OL that has struggled to protect the aging Calvillo. Their top RB Brandon Whitaker has struggled to remain healthy early in the season going in and out of games with injuries. His presence in that offense is vital to keep the Montreal offense balanced and avoid allowing opposing defenses to tee off on Calvillo who is being protected by an offensive line that has struggled at times. Despite all those issues, Montreal has survived with a 3-3 record and Calvillo still has good stats in all the key QB categories: 62.5% completions, 13 TDs to just 4 INTs and a 104.5 QB rating. If Calvillo can stay healthy and the defense can play like they did last week against Winnipeg, the Alouettes have a chance to regain their perennial spot atop the CFL’s East Division but there is much work to be done for them in order to return to their lofty perch.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers (1-5 SU, 2-4 ATS, 3-2-1 O/U)
The Blue Bombers stand alone as the worst team in the CFL. Part of that is due to a cruel schedule which saw them play four consecutive road games to open the season due to a ridiculous debacle involving the construction of their new stadium which was supposed to be ready for Week 5 of this season but has been delayed and pushed back to 2013. That set the franchise back for the season right there and Winnipeg went 0-4 to start the season. They finally played their first home game last week against Edmonton and squeaked out a 23-22 win but reality set in once again last week as Winnipeg fell 36-26 to Montreal in a largely flat performance by the Bombers. The majority of why they sit last in the league though is because their defense is riddled with injuries and poor play and their offense simply hasn’t been able to fire on all cylinders under current starter Alex Brink (Washington State) since their starting QB Buck Pierce got injured early in the season. Brink showed signs of progression in the lone win against Edmonton but took a step back in a losing effort last week. The defense remains the greater concern for Winnipeg. No pass rush, poor coverage in the secondary and failure to stop the run have all come back to haunt this team. There are just eight teams in the CFL and Winnipeg ranks either 7th or 8th in all major defensive categories: total yards, passing yards, rushing yards and points allowed. Injuries in the secondary are devastating in a pass happy league like the CFL and for Winnipeg to be without two of their best DBs in Alex Suber and Brandon Stewart for many weeks, has taken its toll on this team’s ability to keep points off the board. For Winnipeg to have any chance of getting back into the hunt in the East, they need stronger QB play out of Brink and most importantly, they need much better play from their defense part of which should come from getting healthy on that side of the football.
BC Lions (4-2 SU, 3-3 ATS, 1-5 O/U)
There was a period of time earlier in the season where the defending champions looked like they were suffering from a Grey Cup hangover. However, BC has righted the ship in their last two games while regaining sole possession of 1st in the West Division and they once again look very much like a possible Grey Cup champion in 2012. The Lions have one of the rising stars in the CFL as their starting QB in Travis Lulay who in just his 3rd full year with BC already has a Grey Cup championship and Grey Cup MVP title to his name. It’s no surprise to see Lulay atop many of the league’s passing stats this season. BC is ranked 1st in total yards with a deadly average of 411 yards per game. They have veteran leadership at WR with Geroy Simon who is the CFL’s all-time receiving yards leader. Arland Bruce, Shawn Gore and Akeem Foster compliment that receiving corps. They’ve found a breakout RB in Andrew Harris who has racked up over 400 rushing yards already this season and also leads the team in TD’s. The defense doesn’t get anywhere close to the same amount of attention as Lulay and the offense but they should! The Lions have given up a league best 293 yards per game on defense so far. BC is ranked 1st against the run yielding a paltry average of 70 rushing yards per game and 2nd in points allowed averaging just 19.8 ppg allowed. That is why it comes as no surprise that we’ve seen BC rack up a 5-1 to the Under mark in their first six games. BC is as close to being a complete team as there is in the CFL. They do just about everything well. If you can find one flaw with BC this season, it would be red zone offense. They have settled for FGs instead of TDs a few too many times this season. It hasn’t cost them in a big way yet but come playoff time, red zone efficiency will be paramount for this team’s chances of repeating as Grey Cup champions…because other than that, they’ve got the complete package everywhere else.
Saskatchewan Roughriders (3-2 SU, 4-1 ATS, 3-2 O/U)
On the surface, it looks like Saskatchewan should feel pretty good about themselves starting the season 3-2 and in a tie for 2nd in the division, right? Maybe not. The Roughriders could easily be 5-0 and undefeated to this point in the season had it not been for two catastrophic 4th Quarter collapses in back-to-back weeks. Saskatchewan managed to cough up leads of 35-18 to Calgary and 33-14 to Hamilton all in the 4th Qtr and lose both games. It is a mystery for rookie first year head coach Cory Chamblin as to why those meltdowns took place but the bottom line is they did and the Roughriders are now forced to pick up the pieces following consecutive debilitating losses. Take away the 4th Quarter of their last two games and this team has looked phenomenal. QB Darian Durant (North Carolina) has looked much more comfortable in the pocket this season. An upgraded OL has given him more pass protection this season and have also gotten the job done in the running game allowing rookie back Kory Sheets (Purdue) to have a strong first season in the CFL as he leads the team in TDs. The defense has improved immensely after being the worst defense in the CFL last year. They had no pass rush on opposing QB’s last year but have been able to get pressure from their defensive front on QBs in 2012. Their secondary which was torched all season a year ago has also played solid this year buoyed by stronger coverage in the secondary and I’ve noticed all their DBs seem to be doing much better at tracking the football in flight which is a key component to success as a defensive back. The Roughriders are playing with great energy for their new head coach overall but back-to-back terrible 4th quarters which have cost them wins now may have this team second guessing themselves. It really is a question of their mental state. If they are strong mentally, they will realize they’ve played 18 great quarters of football this season out of 20 and will be able to bounce back from their last two losses. If they aren’t strong mentally, the Roughriders might be on the verge of an ongoing slide coming out of their bye week. They have played good enough football for me to believe the talent is better on this year’s Saskatchewan team than last year but now they need to block out those 4th Qtr collapses and get back to playing good football for the full 60 minutes. To say how they play and how they finish in their next game on Friday against Edmonton is important would be an understatement.
Edmonton Eskimos (3-2 SU, 3-2 ATS, 1-3 O/U)
Fans of the other 2nd place team in the West, the Edmonton Eskimos, are lamenting to themselves: We are 3-2 to start the season now if only we had a decent QB. QB play has been beyond bad so far in 2012 for the Eskimos and their 3-2 record needs to be directly attributed to the CFL’s most stingy defense. The defense has been the rock of this football team all season. They are giving up just 15.8 points per game on average this season. Let that number soak in. 15.8 points!!! It is extremely difficult to hold any CFL team to that # of points in any game given the nature of the league being pass oriented and with three downs instead of four but somehow, the Eskimos have managed to shut down opposing offenses and are still the only team this season to really shut down the vaunted BC Lions offense when they defeated BC back in Week 4. Edmonton’s defense has been at their best in the red zone as they have routinely cut teams off from reaching the end zone. The offense needs work…lots of work and it starts with the inadequate production from the QB position. Stephen Jyles has struggled all season with accuracy, consistently overthrowing his receivers and has still yet to develop any sort of chemistry with any of his receivers most notably their top WR Fred Stamps. They have been off the mark all season. I need more than two hands to count the number of plays already this season where Jyles either misses Stamps on an easy throw or they have miscommunication in terms of route running which causes an incomplete pass. They’ve played five games this season and they haven’t figured things out offensively. This week would be a good time for Edmonton to break out of their offensive woes against a Saskatchewan team that might doubt themselves following a pair of crushing losses. Eventually, the offense simply MUST improve if this team is to be anything more than an average football team. The defense is great but they can’t always carry this team on its back.
Calgary Stampeders (2-3 SU, 2-3 ATS, 3-2 O/U)
Things started out so promising for Calgary this season. The Stamps enjoyed a blowout home win over Montreal in Week 1 – a perennial CFL heavyweight. They marched down the field on their opening drive of Week 2 against Toronto to take an early lead. On the next offensive series, QB Drew Tate was sacked, injuring his shoulder and leaving the game. It was later determined that the injury would require season ending surgery and just like that, Tate’s season for over. Enter backup QB Kevin Glenn who was part of that big offseason trade between Calgary and Hamilton which included seeing former Calgary starting QB Henry Burris sent to Hamilton. Glenn has shown flickers of solid play but overall, it’s been a struggle and almost to the point where their offense has had problems even picking up first downs let alone scoring points and finding the end zone. The key for Glenn to be successful is that he needs to receive good pass protection and enough time to throw the football behind the Calgary offensive line. Glenn doesn’t have the quickness, agility or speed to run his way out of trouble when the pocket collapses. He’s an aging QB at 33 years old and he was never that mobile even in his prime and more than Glenn being the problem, I have to pass some of the blame along to that OL. They haven’t done well in pass protection at all and they have failed to create holes for the running game as neither RB Jon Cornish nor LaMarcus Coker have been able to get going as a result of poor blocking up front by a suspect OL. The defense started strong but has completely fallen apart in recent weeks. They’ve allowed 30 or more points in every game except their Week 1 win. The secondary in particular has been shredded by the better QBs in the league like Calvillo, Ray and Lulay. For Calgary to remain in the thick of the race in this ultra competitive division, they must get better defensively. Their offense with Kevin Glenn and without Drew Tate has taken a major hit and there is no way Calgary can win games that are played in the 30’s and 40’s. They need to improve on the defensive side and look to play lower scoring games in order to remain competitive and give themselves the best chance to win games. Calgary better hope they put their bye week to good use to improve their woes on both sides of the football because they’ve got a date with the explosive and surging Hamilton Tiger-Cats on the road on Thursday. That won’t be an easy setting for the current last place team in the West. Calgary is not a team that I’m in any rush to support until I see legitimate signs of improvement on both offense and defense because right now they are not anywhere close to being where they need to be with either one.
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