By Bob Gaughan, Buffalo Sports Page
Weekly Record 6-3-1, Overall Record 37-21-2
MR. Over/Under: Pittsburgh -5 over Jacksonville
Warmer weather and a team that’s been a big disappointment. That’s what the Steelers are facing this week, as they head to Jacksonville. They will have 10-days to prepare for a Jaguars team that beat them in Pittsburgh last year, and kept them out of the AFC Championship game. You can be sure that left a sore taste in the Steelers mouth and they haven’t forgotten it. I expect the Steelers will want to make sure Jacksonville doesn’t make the playoffs this year. Take Pittsburgh –5.
Man in Stripes: Nebraska +2 over Michigan State
Two teams going in opposite direction. After a rough start the Cornhuskers have won 3 of 4, scoring over 40 points a game. The defense is playing better causing 11 turnovers the last 3 games. This team is still playing hard for Scott Frost. Spartans offense has been brutal the past month. Sparty has been bouncing back and forth between two QB’s. Take a more motivated Nebraska team.
Mono: Utah -7 over Colorado
Colorado is in a free fall after starting the season 5-0. Buffaloes have been hit hard with injuries; this isn’t the same team that started 5-0. Utah has gotten back on track since a couple of losses a few weeks ago. They can lock in the conference championship game against Washington State with a win. Colorado has nothing to play for except for maybe salvaging the season with a bowl game. Not happening Saturday, Utah -7.
Slick: Detroit +4 over Carolina
The strength of the Lions is the passing attack with Stafford. The weaknesses of the Panthers is the secondary and the pass defense. I look for Stafford to have a huge day and I think the Lions defense is good enough to limit Newton and the Panthers. I think the Lions win straight up here.
Mr. Brutal: Winnipeg +7 over Calgary
This is a tale of two teams ending their seasons in very different ways. The Stampeders have been the best team in the CFL for the last five years. Each year they got out to a big lead and coasted into the playoffs, resting their starters in the last few games. This year they only needed one win to clinch the Western Division and blew it three straight weeks before they got it in the final game of the eighteen game schedule, ….. beating the British Columbia Lions in Vancouver, 26-9 in a very unimpressive win.
Unimpressive because British Columbia had clinched fourth place in the West and a cross-over playoff date with Hamilton. Having nothing to gain in the standings or play for, they rested almost all of their starters, but still kept the game close for three quarters. Prior to this charity win, the first place Stampeders were terrible!
The week before they lost 29-21 to Winnipeg, “The Chicago of the North”at Investors Group field ( the loudest stadium in the CFL, designed by the same architects who built Husky and Century Link Field in Seattle, arguably the loudest outdoor stadiums in the NCAA & NFL respectively ). The week prior to that, they lost at home, 29-24 to Saskatchewan and before that 26-21 to BC, also in Calgary. The week before they had a bye, and the week before that, they barely beat by far the worst team in the CFL, the Montreal Alouettes, 12-6 in “The City of 100 Steeples” ( according to Mark Twain ). The Als were two touchdown underdogs in that game at home, led by the very mediocre-to-poor play of QB Johnny Manziel who has had a very unimpressive report card after his inaugural season in the CFL. Despite this, the Alouettes came within a last second dropped pass in the end zone of winning the game anyway!
So, in summary, the best team in the CFL hasn’t won a competitive game since October 8, and they almost lost it to the woeful 15 point dog Alouettes. The Stamps were also double digit favourites in their next three losses.
Last week the Stamps had their “not very well deserved bye” and the Blue Bombers went into very cold Regina to play the favoured Saskatchewan Roughriders and their vaunted defence in the Western Semi-Final. Winnipeg controlled the entire game with their balanced, time consuming attack. The final score of 23-18 was flattering to the Green Riders because they scored late, but came up short on the final drive, never getting out of their own end.
Statistically these two teams are fairly close on defense, but the Bombers have the edge, especially when factoring in the last six weeks’ of games. The two teams are one and two in the CFL in offensive points, offensive touchdowns & passing touchdowns allowed. The two teams were also tied for first in forced turnovers.
Winnipeg’s defence finished the year in better physical shape than the Stamps, but Blue Bomber star linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox ( U. Mass. ) was hurt in last week’s playoff victory. It looks like he will play and they should have their best starting linebacker Adam Bighill ( Univ. Central Washington ) as well who suffered a minor injury in the same game.
Calgary has the best overall offence in the CFL, like they did for most of the last five years, but it has had its problems in the last six weeks. Winnipeg has the best rushing attack in the CFL behind RB Andrew Harris, the league’s top rusher the last two years. The Bombers led the league with 135 yards a game, rushing TD’s (23) and yards-per-carry (5.8). These are impressive numbers in a pass happy, three down league.
Harris never played American College or Canadian University Football. Instead he played junior football in Vancouver, then became a walk-on with the BC Lions before being traded to his hometown Winnipeg Blue Bombers where he has since flourished.
Harris had a big game last week in beating Saskatchewan, running for 123 yards in just the second half alone. He has had four straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons and led the league the last two years including 1,390yards this year. Harris is also a threat as a pass receiver out of the backfield and a devastating pass blocker too. He is durable as well, only missing four games back in 2016.
The game will feature two Eastern Washington Eagles’ alumnus playing quarterback. The Stamps’ Bo Levi Mitchell ( Eastern Washington & SMU ) against the Bombers’ Matt Nicholls ( Eastern Washington ). The Stamps led the league in passing this year and Mitchell has been the best overall QB in the League for the last four years, but this past month saw the first three game losing streak of his career. The Bombers were sixth in passing ( partly due to a poor start to the season & their outstanding rushing attack ), but they were first in points-per-game ( 28.2) first in offensive touchdowns (53) and tied for third in sacks allowed (34). They may also have the best singular wide receiver in the game too. Darvin Adams ( Auburn, Carolina Panthers ) has excelled, having his best year as a pro after improving each of his four years in Winnipeg.
The Blue Bombers also have a massive offensive line that especially excels ( as expected ) blocking for the running game.
The Calgary Stampeders have been to four of the last five Grey Cup Championships. They only won one, despite having the best record in the league each year. The last two years, they have lost to double digit underdogs Toronto and Ottawa. This year we don’t think they will get out of the Western Playoff. Yes they have the home field advantage and the bye week rest going in, but as we outlined, they have been dodgy down the stretch of this season. They did beat the Bombers convincingly the last time they played in McMahon Stadium, 39-26, but that game was in August and a lot has changed since then.
The spread has reflected this with the Stamps opening as a far too high 10 point favourite before falling to 5.5 and then creeping back up to a touchdown mostly based on injury speculation. Their could be cold windy weather with a slight chance of snow, but any or all of that favours the Bombers and their number one rushing attack.
Calgary has the playoff experience, the coaching is a saw-off ( Dave Dickenson vs. Mike O’Shea ) but Winnipeg has the momentum and the intangibles. The Blue Bombers have not won a Grey Cup since 1990, the longest drought by far of any team in the nine team CFL. This is their year and we look for not only them to cover on Sunday, but to win outright in an upset and head to Edmonton next week for the 106thGrey Cup. Take Winnipeg
Bob Gaughan: Texans -3 over Washington
The Texans are coming in off the bye. This team is rested and playing a banged up Washington team. The Redskins stole one last week in Tampa Bay. The Bucs had over 500 yards of offense but because of turnovers in the redzone could only muster 3 points. So I have the better team, the more rested team and the healthier team. I only have to give up a field goal. I’ll take it! Texans Baby!