The Press Box Perspective: Playoff Football in Canada

By Andrew Zuhosky

It’s getting to be the middle of November, and we all know what that means in terms of football: It’s time to start thinking about the playoffs.

No, I’m not talking about Ohio’s high school football playoffs, nor am I talking about the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. Hey, I’m not even referring to the College Football Playoff or American football in general.

That’s right, I’m talking about the Grey Cup Playoffs, the Canadian Football League’s postseason tournament. Out of the nine CFL teams who began the season this summer, six remain in the chase for the Grey Cup trophy. Over the next three Sundays, the CFL postseason will play out.

First off, here is a little breakdown as to how the six-team bracket plays out. To start, the top teams in the CFL’s East and West Divisions receive automatic byes as well as home-field advantage in next Sunday’s Division Finals.

In the West division, the top seed is the Calgary Stampeders, who ended the 2016 regular season with a 15-2-1 record, while the East’s No. 1 seed is the Ottawa Redblacks, who finished 2016 with an 8-9-1 record.

This weekend, the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds from each division will play in the Division Semi-Finals on Sunday at 1 and 4:30 p.m. EST. Both of these games can be seen in the United States on ESPN2 for the East Division game and ESPN3 for the West Division game.

Here’s where it gets interesting and perhaps confusing if you don’t follow Canadian football as closely as me.

In the East Division bracket, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats clinched the second seed and will play host to the Edmonton Eskimos, the fourth-place team in the West Division. Yes, the crossover rule went into effect this year.

The Eskimos crossed over to the East bracket on the grounds that they had a better regular season record (10-8) than the third-place team in the East standings, the Montreal Alouettes (7-11) this season.

Meanwhile, in the West Division, the BC Lions will play host to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Both BC and Winnipeg were separated in the final standings this year by only a single game, so that’ll be a really good contest on Sunday in Vancouver, Canada.

Here’s what I think as far as a pick for the West Division Semi-Final. BC vs. Winnipeg is intriguing.

Both teams are coming in strong, but BC Place Stadium is a really tough place to play a football game, especially with the raucous BC fan base pumped up. I like the Lions to advance in a close one.

Now, onto the pick for the East Division crossover game. This one is a little easier to pick. Although Hamilton will have home-field at Tim Hortons Field on Sunday, it’s hard to pick against quarterback Mike Reilly, the best quarterback in the CFL.

In addition, Edmonton posted a 5-1 mark in its last six regular season games this year. I like the Esks to advance and play Ottawa.

That’ll bring us to the Division Finals next week.

The East Division Final between Edmonton and Ottawa could be an interesting game, but there’s a discrepancy between the quarterbacks of both clubs. Reilly threw for 5,554 yards passing and 28 touchdowns this year, whereas Ottawa’s Trevor Harris is the sixth-best QB in the league, throwing for over 3,301 yards passing and 16 touchdowns this year.

If Ottawa is to advance to the Grey Cup Game, Harris and his receivers will need to have the game of their careers. I think Ottawa could possibly spring an upset.

Now, onto the West Final. Calgary vs. BC would be an AWESOME game. Think about it, you’d have the second and third-best quarterbacks in the league in Bo Levi Mitchell and Jonathon Jennings playing each other. They combined for 59 touchdowns this season.

At the end of the day, I think the game will be decided by who scores last. Give me the Lions here.

Finally, we’ve come to the Grey Cup Game itself. Jonathon Jennings will lead his BC Lions to victory, and they’ll be tops in the CFL two weeks from this Sunday night.

So, there you have it as far as my picks for this year’s Grey Cup Playoffs. Best of luck to all teams and their fans over the next few weeks.