Of the four teams facing off in the first round of the CFL playoffs, it's only the two Alberta-based ones that had questions about who would be under centre heading into this week. For Toronto and Saskatchewan, the obvious and non-controversial choices at starting quarterback are Ricky Ray and Darian Durant respectively. In Edmonton and Calgary, the quarterbacking situations were a little more muddy. The Stampeders cleared things up Tuesday, announcing that Drew Tate will be under centre to start Sunday's game against the Riders, but the Eskimos' picture is still complicated, and they're apparently planning to use both Kerry Joseph and Matt Nichols regardless of which one's eventually anointed as the starter. It's hard to see the starters in either Edmonton or Calgary being on a long leash, but that may not be so bad.
For the Stampeders, Tate does seem like the most reasonable option. Yes, Kevin Glenn filled in pretty well following Tate's early-season injury, but using the Stampeders' 10-5 record with Glenn as their starter to make the case for him is problematic, to say the least. Keeping win-loss records for quarterbacks is incredibly flawed, as it ignores the quality of their teammates, how well they succeed at what they're asked to do and how well the opposition performs. Players like Jon Cornish, Nik Lewis and Keon Raymond also had a lot to do with the Stampeders' 2012 success. Now, Glenn still does have a case if you look at quarterback-only stats; he threw for 4,420 yards this year with a 66.7 per cent completion rate (second-best amongst regular starters), and his 25:16 touchdown-interception ratio isn't bad. However, Tate looks like the quarterback with the higher ceiling; he barely played this year thanks to injury, but completed 73 per cent of his passes in limited action (best amongst all quarterbacks) and threw for 570 yards and four touchdowns (with three picks) in about a game and a half. Going with him as the starter is a bit of a gamble, and he'll certainly be on a short leash with a successful quarterback like Glenn on the bench, but this looks like a high-upside gamble for Calgary. If Tate starts off well, great; leave him in and take the win. If he struggles, though, at least they have a solid option to consider.
It may wind up being a similar story in Edmonton, but head coach Kavis Reed's comments that they intend to play both Joseph and Nichols are curious. That would seem to limit the incentive for whoever winds up being the starter to play well, and if anything, perhaps make them feel like they have to make more spectacular plays just to stay in (leading to forced throws and interceptions). There's a strong case for either starting Joseph (his 60.2 per cent completion rate's the best of any Eskimos' quarterback this year, as are his 2,187 passing yards and 12 touchdowns) or Nichols (he's impressed in limited action, and has the best quarterback rating and TD:INT ratio of any Edmonton quarterback), as long as they don't go with the mediocre-at-best Steven Jyles. Vacillating and saying you're going to play both seems like a curious idea, though (but at least it's one that would be consistent with some of the Eskimos' prior misuses of talent).
Still, there's a legitimate debate whether it's better to have a quarterback controversy or not. Yes, there's more uncertainty around the Eskimos and Stampeders as a result. Yes, they're going to have plenty of questions asked about the quarterback situation all week, while it won't be a frequently-discussed topic for the Riders and Argos. However, if something happens to Ray or Durant, or if they're ineffective, the backup options for Toronto and Saskatchewan don't seem as strong. We'll see how it plays out, but although quarterback depth may make for issues now, it could prove beneficial for the Stampeders and Eskimos if things don't go according to plan Sunday.