Sunday, June 28, 2015

League Hits Home Run with Rule Changes

Argos' pivot Trevor Harris put on an offensive clinic Saturday against the Eskimos, proving the potential of the league's new rule changes. Via
We're only one week into the 2015 CFL season, but it's already starting to appear as though the league hit a home run with the new rule changes that were announced in April.

The new rules were designed to further help offences move the ball and put up points. Many skeptics, myself included, were worried that offences in the league were already at an advantage and that these new rules would penalize good defence and lead to ridiculously high scoring games. That was not the case, however, and it was reassuring to see that the rules- particularly the updated 'illegal contact' infraction- didn't play out as drastically as many thought they would.

While offences are still gelling as the season is young, the average game in week one saw an average of 44 points scored per game (although of course, some points came from defences and special teams). That number is actually down from last season, where the average game saw 45.5 points per game. But it's week one, each team had some rust to shake off and adjustments to make.

Most notable was the smooth flow that the games followed, particularly in the Hamilton-Calgary and Winnipeg-Saskatchewan contests. Offences moved the ball consistently with very few two-and-out possessions that left fans yawning and changing the channel. Friday night's game saw much of that, but with even more good defensive plays by the defences of both Hamilton and Calgary. As expected, we saw far more zone coverage than normal with defences doing their best to contain receivers without having the option to slow their route down past the five yard contact zone. And as a result, we saw more interceptions from defensive backs being able to read the quarterback and jump the route in zone coverage rather than solely focusing on locking down their receiver in man-on-man. Interceptions are exciting plays, and excitement is exactly what the league was looking for when they announced these changes. Even in the lower scoring games, offences didn't struggle to move the ball, they simply failed to execute after gaining positive momentum or self-destructed via penalties.

Two quarterbacks in particular really showed the possibilities of the new rule changes. Both Winnipeg's Drew Willy and Toronto's Trevor Harris put on offensive clinics, dissecting their opposing defences while only throwing three incompletions each. Willy's Blue Bombers had 470 yards of total offence with three touchdowns through the air, and Harris' Argonauts matched that, reaching 484 yards of total offence with their own trio of passing touchdowns. And as I had predicted, the success of these young gun-slingers came at the expense of two veteran secondary's in Edmonton and Saskatchewan who were previously built to play a physical game on receivers and struggled to make the adjustment. These two quarterbacks displayed the exciting potential of the updated 'illegal contact' rule while not completely going over-board, if you will, as the two offences scored 30 and 26 points, respectively.

Another highly anticipated rule change- or highly controversial for some- was that of which prohibited the interior five lineman on each team's punt coverage unit from crossing the line of scrimmage prior to the football being kicked away. This was implemented to decrease the amount of no-yards penalties while bringing more open-field in the return game. I can't tell you if there was a decrease in flags on punt returns, but I can confirm that the league got a taste of what it had desired with this change. Tiger-Cats' ace Brandon Banks took a punt back for six points against Calgary, as expected, while a couple of other return touchdowns in other games were inevitably called back due to blocking infractions.

We saw true CFL-calibre games in week one. They were up-tempo (another factor caused by the rule changes), flowed well and featured offences putting up tons of yardage. Penalties weren't all too bad- Edmonton and Saskatchewan had many self-inflicted wounds- despite the players being new to the rules, while defensive coordinators quickly started to figure out what works and what doesn't when trying to slow down these offences. A plethora of zone coverage and a heavy pass-rush identified themselves as formulas for success, while genuinely skilled defensive backs with increased athleticism are necessary needs as well. The two secondary's that did the best in man coverage were those of Toronto and Ottawa, and they feature mostly young defensive backs that are relatively new to the league and don't rely on impeding a receivers' route to cover them. Those of Hamilton and Calgary, meanwhile, especially excelled in zone coverage, where their veteran defensive backs understand the coverage and angles of the wide field used in Canadian football. The new rules exposed some veterans' inability to cleanly cover, while some youngsters like A.J. Jefferson in Toronto and Brandyn Thompson in Ottawa proved their skill and athleticism in both types of coverage.

The sample-size still might be too small to say that these rule changes were a complete grand slam, but week one was a huge step in the right direction for the entertainment value of the game in two-down football. As defences continue to adjust and offences continue to improve, the games will only get more and more exciting. It's a positive sign for both the fans who love offence and for those who envy great defence, as both sides of the ball had their share of exciting moments. We didn't see any 100 point affairs, we didn't see a touchdown on every play there wasn't an illegal contact penalty, it all balanced out and made for some good week one football games.

The league can likely chalk up these rule changes as a success, and while there are still improvements to make elsewhere, they may want to start taking a look at a new problem, and that is the epic epidemic that is the health of the league's quarterbacks. Although, the CFL instilled confidence in myself that most of their rule changes are most likely for the better of the game, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt early on next time around they try to further better the game.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

2015 CFL Predictions: The Bold and the Obvious

Hamilton Tiger-Cats returner Brandon Banks is one of many players expected to have huge seasons in 2015.

The 2015 season kicks off on Thursday and I have a few predictions to put out there before I hear Rod Black's voice crack when he exclaims: "And the 2015 CFL season is officially kicked off." 

I'd like to be able to say that I'm completely confident in my predictions, but that would be a lie. The bold ones are essentially gut-feelings, so be sure to come back to this post in a couple months and laugh at what was wrote. I'll be on Twitter to accept the ridicule with no potential sorry excuse. 

You can read a detailed piece of my West Division predictions here, and East Division predictions here.

Playoff predictions: 

West Semi-Final: Edmonton over Winnipeg

East Semi-Final: Saskatchewan over Montreal

West Final: Edmonton over Calgary

East Final: Hamilton over Saskatchewan

Grey Cup: Hamilton over Edmonton

There you have it, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are my projected Grey Cup champions. Keep in mind, while predicting the two teams that meet in the Grey Cup is logical, predicting the outcome of a game that won't be played for another five months is a complete toss-up. I'm going with the Ti-Cats simply because it'll be their third consecutive trip to the big game. 

And now for some individual stats...

Projected 2015 Individual Leaderboards: 

A) Quarterbacks: 

You'll hear me refer to the new rules the CFL implemented frequently throughout this post. I think we'll see an improvement in the offensive play, although defences will still make games very competitive. 

Starting with the quarterbacks, I think we could possibly see up to five 4,000 yard passers. Saskatchewan's Darian Durant believes he can pass for over 6,000 yards, which I don't buy at all and would be impressed to see a single signal-caller join the 5,000 yard club. Durant, Mike Reilly, Zach Collaros, Bo Levi Mitchell and Drew Willy are all solid bets to have big seasons if they can manage to stay healthy. 

Projected passing totals: 

1. Mike Reilly, Edmonton: 4,700 yards passing, 36 touchdowns, 12 interceptions

2. Bo Levi Mitchell, Calgary: 4,200 yards, 31 touchdowns, 9 interceptions

3. Drew Willy, Winnipeg: 4,150 yards passing, 20 touchdowns, 15 interceptions

4. Zach Collaros, Hamilton: 4,100 yards passing, 28 touchdowns, 11 interceptions

5. Darian Durant, Saskatchewan: 3,800 yards passing, 25 touchdowns, 16 interceptions. 

B) Runningbacks 

The new rules will also affect the CFL's run game and it's bell-cows, slightly diminishing their involvement in the offence with possibly less 1st down hand-offs. Calgary's Jon Cornish and BC's Andrew Harris are the only two runningbacks that I see surpassing 1,000 yards. Cornish is an easy bet as he did so last year in only nine games, while Harris as also an elite 'back who'll be playing in an offence that should be very run-heavy. Montreal's Tyrell Sutton and Edmonton's Kendial Lawrence, pending what his actual role in the offence will be, may not reach the four-figure plateau, but could challenge Harris for the total-yards-from-scrimmage crown. 

Projected rushing totals: 

1. Jon Cornish, Calgary: 1,500 yards, 11 touchdowns 

2. Andrew Harris, BC: 1,100 yards, seven touchdowns 

3. Tyrell Sutton, Montreal: 850 yards, seven touchdowns

4. Paris Cotton, Winnipeg: 750 yards, five touchdowns. 

5. Anthony Allen, Saskatchewan: 700 yards, five touchdowns. 

C) Receivers: 

As someone who loves offence and superstars, it was somewhat sad to see only three pass-catchers individually account for 1,000 yards of receiving last year. Since I have the quarterbacks' numbers improving in 2015, I can say confidently that the receivers' numbers will follow suit. With defensive backs no longer being able to clutch and grab, and with hopefully a clean bill of health, our superstar receivers whom the fans love ever so much will return. 

Projected receiving totals: 

1. Adarius Bowman, Edmonton: 1,500 yards, 10 touchdowns 

2. Eric Rogers, Calgary: 1,400 yards, 12 touchdowns 

3. Weston Dressler, Saskatchewan: 1,300 yards, 7 touchdowns

4. Chad Owens, Toronto: 1,250 yards, 9 touchdowns 

5. Clarence Denmark, Winnipeg: 1,200 yards receiving, 4 touchdowns

CFL awards: 

Most Outstanding Player: QB Mike Reilly, Edmonton

He'll have a monster year with the Eskimos, leading them to the Grey Cup. Both his passing and rushing stats will jump off the page. 
Update: Mike Reilly is likely done for the season with a knee injury. My new pick is Bomber QB Drew Willy. 

Most Outstanding Canadian: RB Jon Cornish, Calgary 

This would be the third consecutive year Cornish will have won the award. If he stays healthy, he can't be stopped. 

Most Outstanding Defensive Player: LB Dexter McCoil, Edmonton 

A sightly bold pick here, but McCoil was a ball-hawk in his rookie season. He has freakish athleticism and led the Eskimos in tackles, defensive touchdowns and was tied for the CFL's interception lead. 

Most Outstanding Rookie: G Sukh Chungh, Winnipeg

Drafted second overall by the Bombers not even two months ago, Sukh Chungh has already earned a starting position. His incredible athleticism and intelligence have impressed Winnipeg's coaching staff every day. 

Most Outstanding Special Teams Player: PR Brandon Banks, Hamilton

The league installed another new rule to open up the return game, so I definitely think this award will go to a returner. Banks is part of a great special teams group led by coordinator Jeff Reinebold that will be dynamic in 2015. 

Most Outstanding Lineman: G Brendon Labatte, Saskatchewan:

With former Calgary Stampeders centre Brett Jones gone to the NFL, I think Labatte is now the clear-cut top offensive lineman in the CFL.

10 Thoughts and Predictions: 

1. Much like in 2014, the Eastern Division will start terribly slow. The Argonauts play their first four games out West followed by a divisional game in Hamilton before finally playing their home-opener August 8th against Saskatchewan. 

The Alouettes play Calgary twice in their opening five games and could start 1-4, while the Redblacks are still gelling as an offence and start the year out West, so they'll possibly either start 1-6 or 2-5. Either way, CFL fans may revert back to insisting the league should implement a single-division playoff seeding format by labour day. 

2. If the Redblacks start as slow as I think they will, there's no way quarterback Henry Burris isn't holding a clipboard as Thomas Demarco's back-up by week nine. Burris will have no excuse as Ottawa did a great job acquiring talent to build around him, but still, it won't be enough to solve his accuracy woes. 

3. Training camp may be wrapped up, but there's still somewhat of a quarterback controversy brewing in "La Belle Province". Jonathon Crompton is currently Montreal's starter, but head coach Tom Higgins has made it pretty clear the 27 year-old pivot's job is far from secure. 

We already know Crompton isn't a field-general who'll carry the team to victory each week with big numbers. He's a game manager, but he still wins. As long as Crompton keeps his team's record around an even .500, he'll keep his job, no matter how he performes. But I can't see this happening. Dan Lefevour takes over by week six. 

4. BC Lions defensive end Alex Bazzie will be the lone breakout edge-rusher from 2014 to suffer a sophomore slump. Bazzie hit double-digits with his sack total last season, however he's currently listed as a back-up and could've been a product of the system last year. I also think Toronto's Ricky Foley, BC's Khreem Smith and Ottawa's Justin Capicciotti will see their numbers fall off. 

6. Out in Edmonton, I think Shamawd Chambers regresses in his fourth season with the Eskimos. A former first round pick, Chambers will start the season on the six game injured list, giving veterans Nate Coehoorn and Cory Watson a chance to lock down their spot, while 2014 first round draft pick Devon Bailey will get an opportunity as well. Chambers' season high for receiving yards is a mere 465. 

7. The Saskatchewan Roughriders will lead the league in penalties. It's a known fact that they had the most holding infractions called against them in 2014, and if they weren't first in total-penalty-yards-against, they were close. I think Saskatchewan's veteran secondary will struggle to adjust the to new role changes and it will hurt the team all season. 

8. There'll be a high number of veteran defensive backs that'll be on the bench by mid-season. Certain players that depend on their ability to play physical and impede a receiver's route will be exposed by the new rules and eventually replaced. Geoff Tisdale was the first to experience this, who's next? 

Patrick Watkins? Terrell Maze? Brandon Stewart? 

I expect many veterans to be affected. 

9. The speedy Brandon Banks will out-duel Ottawa's Chris Williams in the return game this year. While numbers show Brandon Banks is pretty average, I'm still predicting he'll have a massive year with Jeff Reinebold drawing up returns. Meanwhile, Ottawa's special teams are a mess that perhaps not even Williams can meet his full potential in, however the new rules will undoubtedly see punt return averages increase, and Williams will be right behind Banks. I'll set the 'over/under' for punt return touchdowns for the two as 5.5 and will take the 'over' for Banks.

10. Toronto's defence may have holes all over, but I'm quite confident newly signed defensive back A.J. Jefferson will stand out and earn All-Star nods. Jefferson, a four year NFL veteran, locked down receivers during the pre-season and has an interception to show for it. Expect teams to shy away from throwing towards him once the lanky 6'1", 200lbs cornerback pads his stats early on.

Monday, June 22, 2015

2015 CFL East Division Preview

Quarterback Zach Collaros is expected to have a big season in his second year with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, whom I'd label as the team to beat in the East Divison.

Much like their Western opposition, the East Division will feature a very competitive race to the playoffs. This isn't a division filled with powerhouses like Calgary or Edmonton, but rather with team's that have lots of potential and could surprise the league in 2015. A new season brings new optimism and predictions, and this is how I think the East Division will shape-up. 

1. Hamilton Tiger-Cats 
2014 record: 9-9 
2015 projected record: 11-7 

After earning their second trip to the Grey Cup in as many years, the Tiger-Cats have proven that they're the undisputed beasts of the East. Their 2014-2015 off-season was relatively quiet, and that's a good thing. After two full seasons at the helm, Kent Austin is done re-shaping the Tiger-Cats into the team he wants them to be, and that's a positive sign for those in the 'Hammer' that have seen this team experience more than their fair share of roster turnover in recent years. 

Some of Hamilton's off-season losses included injury-plagued offensive linemen Greg Wojt and Marc Dile, national receiver Sam Giguère and of course, their starting weak-side cornerback and CFL All-Star Delvin Breaux, who signed with his hometown New Orleans Saints of the NFL. The 'Tabbies also lost national defensive tackles Brian Bulcke and Linden Gaydosh for the season, while national receiver Spencer Watt won't suit up either due to a torn achilles tendon. 

Coach Austin's best move of the off-season came at the draft, where he acquired veteran national offensive lineman Ryan Bomben from Montreal in exchange for a couple high draft picks. The pick-up of Bomben was huge as it gives Hamilton easier ratio flexibility having a third starting national offensive lineman. Bomben joins a unit that struggled in 2014, no matter what the ratio balance was. Hamilton will also be getting national guard Peter Dyakowski back after he missed almost all of 2014 with a freak-injury suffered in the year prior's Grey Cup. 

Simoni Lawrence, Ted Laurent, Chris Butler and Eric Noorwood (I could keep going) headline Hamilton's elite defence. They boast one of the league's top linebacker corps, and while they're suddenly short of Canadian defensive tackles, Hamilton's still set at defensive line. Their secondary wasn't amazing last season despite all the talent, and I don't think it'll get much better in 2015. Hamilton will need some young defensive backs to step in and take on a large role in replacement of some of their veteran guys who I don't think will adjust well to the new rules. 

Special teams play in the CFL is so crucial to success, and it's on this side of the ball where Hamilton will dominate all of their competitors. Justin Medlock is the second most reliable kicker/punter in the league beside Swayze Waters, while we all know what the electrifying Brandon Banks can do when he gets the ball in his hands. The Ti-Cats, who drafted more-than-enough linebackers at the 2015 draft, are always focused on improving their coverage units as well. The hiring of special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold a few years ago is really paying dividends to the Tiger-Cats' brass. 

Final Analysis: On paper, Kent Austin has put together a much better roster than an 11-7 record would indicate. Getting that entire roster ready for game day presents a bigger issue, as the Ti-Cats just keep losing players as training camp progresses. Two of their top three runningbacks are out, so expect Collaros to really carry the offence early, which shouldn't be an issue. Hamilton also has a history of starting seasons slow, and I don't expect that trend to change in 2015. The 'Tabbies, who were a terrible team on the road last year, will spend the first four weeks of the season as the visitors, which could hurt. They'll also be missing some key contributors to injury early on, which won't help even when they do return home to the ever-glorious Tim Hortons Field. But if the Ti-Cats decide to get all mediocrity out of the way early, they'll dominate the rest of the season. All of Ti-Cat nation will be hoping their teams momentum will carry them through the playoffs and back to the Grey Cup, where they can ultimately bring back the Grey Cup to 'Steeltown'. 

2. Montreal Alouettes 
2014 record: 9-9 
Projected 2015 record: 9-9

Jim Popp was a very busy general manager this off-season. He picked up a handful of veterans in free agency including runningback Stefan Logan from BC, cornerback Rod Williams from Saskatchewan as well as receivers Nik Lewis from Calgary and Sam Giguère from Hamilton. The Alouettes also acquired veteran receiver Fred Stamps from Edmonton in exchange for an up-and-comer in Kenny Stafford, to much fan-fare. 

Modifying the receiving corps was one of Popp's main goals this off-sesason. They lost an elite receiver in Duron Carter to the NFL, while 30-year old Brandon London surprisingly retired. Replacing Carter will be nearly impossible this season, but Montreal will be fine with SJ Green and Fred Stamps working as the team's number one and two receivers. 

The Alouettes cut injury-prone runningback Brandon Whitaker in a salary cap move during training camp but aren't expected to miss a beat. Whitaker was deemed expendable by a loaded group of runners that include Tyrell Sutton, Stefan Logan and Brandon Rutley. Frankly, the Alouettes could probably put whoever they want behind that offensive line and still find success. 

If their defence is forced to carry the team as they did in 2014, Montreal still has a very good chance of making the playoffs. Much like Hamilton, they have a stacked front seven led by Bear Woods, John Bowman, Chip Cox and Gabriel Knapton. The Alouettes just might finish with the league's number one rushing defence, but the Ti-Cats will surely put up a fight. The two teams are also in a similar situation regarding their secondary. 

Final Analysis: Quarterback Jonathon Crompton's performance will go a long way in determining where the Alouettes place in the East Division. While I think they'll make the playoffs either way, they can say good-bye to any hopes of catching Hamilton in first place if Crompton regresses. The Alouettes have a fantastic offensive line, capable receiving corps and talented defence, but the Ti-Cats have that and a game-changing quarterback. Dan Lefevour looked better in limited pre-season action than Crompton did, and it sounds like there's a closer competition between the two than you might think. 

3. Toronto Argonauts
2014 record: 8-10
2015 projected record: 6-12

Trevor Harris will have the keys to the offence for at least six weeks while Ricky Ray recovers from off-season surgery. Harris has looked sharp in the past, most recently throwing for 281 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception on 26/36 passing in a must-win game last year against Ottawa. Despite the potential he's shown, it's hard to say the Argos make it to week seven in good shape. They'll spend the first four weeks on the road against the tough West Division, then continue their road trip  to Hamilton before finally returning home for their actual home-opener against Saskatchewan. 

The Argos lost more experienced players than they gained this off-season. Gone to the NFL are cornerback Jalil Carter and receiver John Chiles, while left tackle SirVincent Rogers signed with Ottawa and veteran wideout Maurice Mann retired.

Toronto's abysmal defence went through a slight makeover this off-season. They brought back veteran national defensive end Ricky Foley from Saskatchewan to form quite the tandem with 2014 break-out player Tristan Okpalaugo after the defensive line as a whole failed to generate much of a pass-rush last year. That trade was made possible by the emergence of linebacker Cory Greenwood- Toronto's first round pick in 2010- who's play late that season gave the Argos the opportunity to trade Shea Emry. Two other new faces on the defence will be former NFL defensive backs A.J. Jefferson and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, who have both impressed in the pre-season. Toronto's secondary is still very much inexperienced, and 2014 showed how valuable veteran defensive backs are. 

Final Analysis: If the Argos want to stay relevant in the Eastern Division, they'll need to find a way to survive the awful road trip that awaits them and Trevor Harris at the start of the season. Harris and Ray will be protected well behind Toronto's offensive line, but you have to wonder about the health of their main weapons Chad Owens and Andre Durie down the stretch even if the double blue start strong. The Argos' superstars simply cannot find a way to stay healthy, and that'll hurt Toronto again in 2015. The Argos are an up-and-coming team that I think will be really good come next year. They already have what appears to be a dominate defensive line in place and will use 2015 to gain another year of experience in their secondary while they also evaluate what they have with their linebackers and receivers. Trevor Harris could break-out and push Ray towards an earlier-than-anticipated-retirement, and while that's unlikely, it's definitely intriguing. His 2014 record may not help, but you can hardly blame the 29 year old. 

4. Ottawa Redblacks
2014 record: 2-16
2015 projected record: 5-13

There's a whole lot to be optimistic about in R-Nation. The Redblacks made the off-season interesting, acquiring a dynamic receiving corps, new offensive coordinator and an upgraded offensive line. Their young, promising defence remains intact and will be looked to build on what they started in Ottawa's inaugural campaign. 

Their biggest move was acquiring receiver/ return specialist Chris Williams. Williams spent the 2013 and 2014 season in the NFL after dominating the two previous seasons with Hamilton. Ottawa also signed receivers Ernest Jackson, Greg Ellingson, Brad Sinopoli and Alex Pierzchalski, all of whom have shown tremendous potential with their previous clubs. They also acquired veteran speedster Maurice Price in a trade that sent linebacker Jasper Simmons, voted the team's Most Outstanding Player, to the Stampeders.

General Manager Marcel Desjardins made sure to address their poor offensive line in the off-season as well, inking former Argonauts left tackle SirVincent Rogers to a contact while also drafting centre Alex Mateas with the first overall pick. If Henry Burris can take a sip from the fountain of youth and even somewhat regain his old form, there's no reason why this offence won't vastly improve on their terrible results from last season. 

Ottawa's defence was a glaring bright spot in their inaugural season. I see plenty of potential in the secondary with names like Brandon McDonald, Jerell Gavins, Abdul Kanneh and Jermaine Robinson, although I do worry about the lack of experience in this group which will improve as the weeks go on. Their front seven seems rather mediocre, with only break-out Canadian defensive end Justin Capicciotti, middle linebacker Travis Brown and strong side linebacker Antoine Pruneau being the lone sure-things. Ottawa's still without a second capable pass-rusher, while weak-side linebacker and defensive tackle are both positions with question marks. 

Final Analysis: I wouldn't expect the Redblacks to come flying out of the gate to open up the 2015 season. While pre-season games should be taken with a grain of salt, it seems Ottawa's offence is still behind as both the new faces and returnees learn Jason Maas' offence. It might not be until July until we see the full potential that we see on paper show it on the field, and that's assuming Henry Burris steadily improves as the weeks go on. I have my doubts with the 40 year old quarterback. His accuracy woes displayed last season didn't look any better in the pre-season, but of course most of his pass-catchers weren't familiar faces with Ottawa's new acquisitions. Ottawa's defence didn't suffer from much roster turn-over, although there is an obvious lack of depth at nearly every position and that has to be concerning. Once again, the Redblacks will remain very competitive in the East Division, however the fans no longer want to settle for competitiveness, they want wins. The 2015 season may not bring as much as they may hope. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

2015 CFL West Division Preview

The 2015 season is expected to be quite the battle in the CFL's West Division. The off-season was littered with transactions and most made the Western teams look even more intimidating on paper. I feel like there's quite a disparity in talent between the two divisions, evidently shown by the amount of wins handed out to teams in the West in my preview. 

So here it is, my 2015 CFL West Division predictions, preview and off-season recap. 

1. Calgary Stampeders
2014 record: 15-3
2015 projected record: 14-4

The Stampeders have a league-high 75 wins over the past six seasons under the guidance of John Hufnagel. They'll be expected to add a lot more to that total in 2015, and of course, another big shiny trophy. 

The Stamps were unable to keep a good chunk of players that left during free agency. But don't be fooled, even with these losses, the reigning Grey Cup champions still have the most impressive roster in the league. 

Out are the likes of right tackle Stanley Bryant (Blue Bombers), centre Brent Jones (New York Giants), national receiver Brad Sinopoli (Ottawa) and defensive end Shawn Lemon (Pittsburgh Steelers). They also traded veteran slotback Maurice Price to the Redblacks in exchange for linebacker Jasper Simmons. 

One of the main reasons that Calgary has been so good is because of their incredible depth, which makes most of these losses hardly anything major. They're the league's best team at finding and developing talent, so they almost never miss a beat when a player goes down, even if it's Jon Cornish. 

Expect big things from Bo Levi Mitchell and this offence in year two of the young signal-caller's career as a starter. Mitchell was exceptional in his first season, so don't be surprised if offensive coordinator Dave Dickenson makes the passing game the feature of the offence after years of them employing a run-first system with Cornish. Cornish will still easily lead the league in rushing; he did so last year in only nine games. Cornish even believes he could surpass the 2,000 yard plateau- only Mike Pringle has ever accomplished the feat- and I wouldn't bet against him. 

Calgary's defence is just as good. They have an elite group of linebackers and defensive backs, while there's many options along the defensive line. Look for veteran defensive end Charleston Hughes to have a huge season after injuries plagued him in 2014 and for Freddie Bishop to smoothly replace Shawn Lemon opposite of Hughes.

Final Analysis: The Stamps have to be the favourites to hoist the Grey Cup at Investors Group Field in November. Looking to win back-to-back Grey Cups for the first time in team history, the Stamps will look to their up-and-coming elite quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, healthy runningback Jon Cornish, talented receiving corps and ball-hawking defence to guide them back. Hufnagel and his coaching staff have discovered the perfect winning formula, and it'll be in full effect this season. 

2. Edmonton Eskimos 
2014 record: 12-6
2015 projected record: 12-6

The Eskimos are one of the those teams that have took on their head coaches' personality and philosophy onto the playing grid-iron. Lead by a tough, physical and strategic defence, the Eskimos define football in the Western Division. Chris Jones has transformed the identity of this defence while quarterback Mike Reilly has become an elite signal caller on Edmonton's exciting, smash-mouth style offence. 

The Eskimos were rather quiet in the off-season, although the shocking trade that sent veteran and fan-favourite receiver Fred Stamps to Montreal for young receiver Kenny Stafford made plenty of headlines. Edmonton mainly picked up reinforcements for their shaky offensive line in 29 year old guard Greg Wojt (Hamilton) and former Eskimos centre Alex Krausnick (Ottawa). The Esks are hoping Wojt will replace right guard Matt O'Donnell, who signed with the NFL's Cincinatti Bengals. 

GM Ed Hervey didn't have to do too much this off-season, but one thing he did quickly was pick up a replacement for runningback John White. Edmonton had high hopes for White after the 24 year old was named a West Division All-Star in 2014, however he recently tore his achilles tendon in practice, ending his season prematurely. Hervey picked up former Blue Bomber Chad Simpson to provide depth behind while either Shakir Bell or Kendial Lawrence take on the bulk of the hand-offs.

On paper, the Eskimos look very solid. Offensively, Reilly has a slew of weapons to throw to including the league's top receiver in 2014 Adarius Bowman, young Canadians  Nate Coehoorn and Shamawd Chambers, and also dynamic, dual-threat player Kendial Lawrence. And that's not it, the list goes on. The offensive line is my main concern (it may be the league's most depleted), but Reilly is one of the best in the business at buying himself time, and offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo runs his offence to their strengths. 

Their defence is even better. Led by Odell Willis and Almondo Sewell, Edmonton's defensive line is the best in the business, while their secondary, led by Pat Watkins and Aaron Grymes, is very strong as well. They have JC Sherritt at middle linebacker along with the CFL's top rookie of the year in 2014, Dexter McCoil, ball-hawking on the weak-side. 

Final Analysis: Clearly, the Eskimos haven't made any friends with the CFL's schedule makers. The Green and Gold play consecutive games between their terrible week 2 and 20 bye weeks, which won't help an already injury-plagued team stay healthy or energized. Especially not against the Stampeders, who stand in the Eskimos way from getting a first round playoff bye or a Grey Cup berth. The Eskimos went 0-4 against Calgary last year, but don't expect the battle of Alberta to go all Calgary's way this year. In year two of all their coordinator's systems, and with no major off-season changes, the Eskimos are destined to improve. They'll be battling during the race for the West Division title, although injuries and an awful offensive line could slow them down. 

3. Winnipeg Blue Bombers
2014 record: 7-11
Projected 2015 record: 10-8

The Bombers made sure they did their due-diligence and brought in enough talent to make sure Drew Willy stays off his back in his second season as the Bombers' starting quarterback. The 28 year old pivot was sacked a league high 68 times last year and was bruised and battered by mid-season. 

And Kyle Walters decided to do something about it. The Bombers inked highly coveted left tackle Stanley Bryant from Calgary in free agency and picked up centre Dominic Picard after he was cut from the 'Riders for salary cap purposes. They even drafted guard Sukh Chungh with the second overall pick, so Winnipeg's more than set along the interior of their offensive line. 

Another big move Walters made was signing national defensive end Jamaal Westerman, an NFL veteran who had contract offers from all nine CFL teams. The Bombers could potentially start 8 Canadians per game now if they choose. That's an incredible thought considering they've had trouble scraping together seven capable starters in the past. 

Two things the Bombers have to get better at are running the ball and stopping the run. Newly signed bruiser Cam Marshall will be a nice compliment to the speedy incumbent Paris Cotton, but it's still up to offensive coordinator Marcel Bellefeuille to give them enough carries per game for them to get in a groove. On defence, the Bombers brought in Richie Hall and his traditional scheme as defensive coordinator after witnessing Gary Etcheverry's exotic defence get run over by runningbacks week after week. Hall doesn't have a whole lot of talent at linebacker to work with, while I still have questions about the interior of this defensive line. 

Final Analysis: Drew Willy and this Bomber offence should be able to put up points consistently through the air. Willy passed for big yards when healthy, and he should continue that trend with his improved offensive line giving him time to progress through his reads. However, I think that if the Bombers can't run the ball consistently, it'll hold the team back a lot. Winnipeg is set on special teams and looks decent on defence, especially their always-good secondary. Mike O'Shea is in year two, so he knows the players and they know what to expect. The Bombers have to make the playoffs, and their projected 10-8 record will give them a spot. 

4. Saskatchewan Roughriders
2014 record: 10-8
2015 projected record: 9-9

The 'Riders had quite the entertaining off-season. The blockbuster trade that sent fan-favourite national defensive end Ricky Foley back to the Argonauts in exchange for national linebacker Shea Emry shocked many, but made sense as it meant the 'Riders had finally found a middle linebacker after a revolving door there in 2014. It especially made sense when the Riders announced the signing of defensive end Alex Hall, who was a force in the CFL in 2013 but spent the 2014 season down south in the NFL. 

There were other significant players brought in, such as quarterback Kevin Glenn, who'll solidify Saskatchewan's back-up position. The 'Riders went 2-10 when Darian Durant went down last season, so GM Brandon Taman made it his priority to bring in the best insurance policy in a former 'Rider in Glenn.

The 'Riders should have one of league's top passing attacks under a healthy Durant in new offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine's system. Their veteran quarterback is surrounded with quite the arsenal of weapons with a pick-your-poison type receiving corps headlined by Weston Dressler. There are some concerns regarding the five big-men blocking for Durant, however, as centre Dominic Picard was released for salary cup purposes and national right tackle Ben Heenan left for the NFL. There's also some questionable depth along this offensive line as well. 

The 'Riders may have a revolving door around their seven National starters. Saskatchewan, who'll start three Canadian offensive lineman and two Canadian receivers, brought in safety Keenan MacDougall from Calgary to account for another while their seventh may come in the form of Jerome Messam. However Messam, who doesn't have a capable national runningback behind him, is prone to injuries while Saskatchewan is also short on national back-ups behind Emry at linebacker and MacDougall at safety. They could turn to starting one of their talented Canadian defensive lineman should injuries pile up, but you never want to sit a talented international just because the ratio forces you to make changes. Expect to see plenty of games the 'Riders choose to start three Canadian receivers considering the depth they have there while coach Corey Chamblin is forced to do some juggling with his seven starters. 

Final analysis: Saskatchewan is going to compete in every game, with every team. There could be a couple last-second field goal losses that sting, or maybe some in their favour courtesy of the inconsistent Chris Milo. There's no shortage of talent on the roster, particularly at defensive line, receiver, runningback and quarterback, but still some concern along the offensive line and with their shortage of Canadians. They also brought in two new coordinators in the off-season, meaning the players are still learning their new systems, and they may start slow. I have the 'Riders going 9-9, a single win down from the 2014 total, while still being an exciting team to watch.

5. BC Lions 
2014 record: 9-9 
2015 projected record: 5-13

The hiring of head coach Jeff Tedford was the highlight of BC's off-season. Tedford is a well-travelled, well-respected coach with loads of experience south of the border in the NCAA and NFL, and some with the CFL, where he was a quarterback for six years and also spent three years as an assistant coach for Calgary. Tedford immediately began rebuilding his new club, releasing veterans Eric Taylor, Tim Brown and Stefan Logan while deciding against re-signing veteran cornerback Dante Marsh, receiver Ernest Jackson and quarterback Kevin Glenn. 
In return, the Lions didn't bring much in. They picked up national safety Chris Rwawakumba from Edmonton and inked former NFL receiver Austin Collie, who qualifies as a national, to a contract. 

The weight of the franchise rests upon the shoulders of Travis Lulay; particularly his right one. Lulay missed all but three quarters of play last year with an injured shoulder, so it'll be interesting to see whether the league's 2011 M.O.P. will ever be the same player. 

Lulay will have a new offensive coordinator in 2015. Tedford brought in George Cortez from Saskatchewan to run the offence, and I think this was a great hire. Cortez is a Grey Cup champion with a proven scheme. He'll make runningback Andrew Harris the feature of the offence, as he should be, while letting Lulay stretch the field on passing downs. 

There are some glaring weaknesses on this re-building roster. BC's offensive line has been less than stellar, while there's two vacant defensive tackle spots with the exit of Khalif Mitchell and Eric Taylor. There's also a lack of Canadian talent on the team as well. The lack of depth at some positions on the team has to be concerning. 

Final Analysis: A healthy Andrew Harris will go a long way in sparking this offence, but again, it's all about Travis Lulay. If the 31 year old pivot can't stay healthy, the Lions will have to go through the growing pains of grooming a young quarterback. BC's defence, highlighted by a good pass-rush, elite linebacker corps and serviceable secondary will be forced to anchor the team. But it won't be enough to carry them through an improved West Division. The Lions fall to 5-13.