As far as Rider fans go, the big game today will be at McMahon Stadium where the underdog Saskatchewan Roughriders will attempt to upend the Calgary Stampeders and secure a berth in the 98th Grey Cup to be played in Edmonton on Nov. 29. Before that game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. though, the East Final will be played between the host Montreal Alouettes and the Toronto Argonauts (kick-off at 12:30 p.m. on TSN).
After several seasons as CFL doormats the Argos, led by running back Cory Boyd and kick returner Chad Owens, plus a pretty strong defensive front seven, showed definite signs of improvement this year — although they were still pretty inconsistent. Against the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the East semi-final they forced five turnovers, while committing only one themselves, and eeked out a 16-13 win.
I’m not sure what the Vegas line is on the East Final, but I imagine the Alouettes are heavily favoured. It’s hard to argue with that assessment either. While they weren’t quite the dominant team in 2010 that they have been in the past, they are still pretty strong, especially when they’re playing at home. As they’ve done in previous playoff games, the Als will play this one at Olympic Stadium in front of an extra large crowd, which could prove disruptive for the Argo offence under inexperienced QB Cleo Lemon.
Still, as heavy underdogs, the Argos should be loose heading into the game. If they can keep it close early, and maybe break a big play or two on special teams, they might have a chance to win. But I doubt it.
The underdog factor could work in the Riders’ favour against the Stampeders too. Led by the solid play of QB Henry Burris, the Stamps were the class of the league during the season — outside of a couple of hiccups against the pesky B.C Lions. The Lions gave the Riders all they could handle in last week’s West semi-final before finally falling 41-38 in OT.
While the Stamps won the season series against the Riders two games to one — including a dominant 34-26 victory at Mosaic Stadium on Oct. 17, they’ve lost four straight playoff games to the Green & White dating back to 1997. If the Riders can get solid production from QB Darian Durant and the high octane Rider receiving core, avoid special team blunders as they did against the Leos, and put some heat on Burris and get him rattled, they should have a shot at winning.
With a large contingent of Rider fans expected at McMahon Stadium, the Stamps’ home-field advantage will be blunted somewhat. One unknown heading into the game is the weather. If poor conditions impede the effectiveness of the passing game, that would work to Calgary’s advantage as during the season they exhibited a stronger running game and better run defense than the Riders.