Sat Nov 27 11:34pm EST
The Playoff Preview series continues with a look at tomorrow's Grey Cup (6 p.m. Eastern, 4 p.m. local, to be live-blogged here). Will Montreal knock off Saskatchewan for the second year in a row, or can the Riders find a way to avenge last year's ignominious last-second defeat? To find out, let's get to the matchups.
Saskatchewan offence: Five Eddie Johnson moustaches
Actually, it's not just everyone's favourite Grey Cup storyline Eddie Johnson who's rocking the facial hair this week, as the following video points out:
It's unclear whether all that facial hair will do anything for Saskatchewan Sunday, but arguing with moustache power generally isn't wise. The Roughriders' offence doesn't need any help, though. It boasts the league leader in passing yardage (Darian Durant), the league leader in rushing touchdowns (Wes Cates), the league leader in receiving yards and Most Outstanding Canadian (Andy Fantuz), and an incredibly deep receiving corps that can burn you in a variety of different ways. I'm not sure how you decide who you're going to cover on that offence, but whoever does get open is probably going to make you regret your decision.
Saskatchewan defence: Four Eddie Johnson moustaches
The Riders' defence has received a fair bit of criticism this year, but consider that they're coming off a road game where they held Calgary's top-ranked offence (the only CFL offence to score over 600 points this year) to 16 points. More importantly, they took their greatest perceived weakness (stopping the run) and turned it into a strength, holding the Stampeders' dominant rushing attack to just 86 total yards on 15 carries. That was with a limited Barrin Simpson, too, who looks to be in better health this week. He may not be mad about his all-star snub, but he's been one of the league's most effective linebackers this year. He'll also have plenty of help from the likes of Jerrell Freeman (who saved the day last week and earned an unusual reward in the process) and Mike McCullough (who picked up a unique honour of his own this week). Facing Anthony Calvillo is always tough, but as long as Montreal doesn't throw any coffee at them, Saskatchewan should put up a decent defensive showing.
Saskatchewan special teams: Three Eddie Johnson moustaches
This is the biggest question mark for the Riders. Of course, a special teams error proved disastrous last year, but there's more to it than just that. Ryan Grice-Mullen has struggled at times as a returner and narrowly gave the game away last week, and while Johnson's been excellent on punts, the injury to Luca Congi has hurt Saskatchewan. Warren Kean has been okay, but not great, and he'll likely have to make some field goals Sunday for the Riders to win. Every point may count against the Alouettes.
Total: 12 Eddie Johnson moustaches
Montreal offence: Five 2002 parties
You thought I was going to go with hotel complaints, didn't you? Well, I would have, but I was told that infringed on Montreal's territorial rights, and it was opposed by a powerful university faction. Anyway, not much actually needs to be said about this offence. They have (in my mind) the rightful Most Outstanding Player under centre in Anthony Calvillo, they have running back Avon Cobourne (who took apart Toronto last week), and they've got quite a solid receiving corps of their own, including Jamel Richardson. They may not be the loud and proud Alouettes of 2002 any more, but this year's offence might be just as dangerous on the field as that group was.
Montreal defence: Four 2002 parties
This group is particularly dangerous up front, with sackmaster John Bowman and tackle Jermaine McElveen leading the way. They also have a solid linebacking corps featuring the likes of Chip Cox and Shea Emry. I'm still not entirely sold on their secondary, though, and you can find the reason why in this video, where Nik Lewis demolishes DB Mark Estelle and then runs through the rest of the team. Granted, Lewis is a special receiver, but if Saskatchewan can accomplish anything similar to that, it could be a bad day for the Montreal secondary.
Montreal special teams: Three 2002 parties
Yes, returner Tim Maypray had a heck of a game last week and was my special teams player of the week, but he still hasn't proven he can do that consistently yet. Damon Duval has been great on punts this year, but nowhere near as effective on field goals (and remember, a missed field goal by him would have cost them a Grey Cup last year if not for a penalty on Saskatchewan). This unit has the potential to be great, but it doesn't always deliver.
Total: 12 2002 parties
Add the factors up: 12 Eddie Johnson moustaches for Saskatchewan, 12 2002 parties for Montreal
X-Factor: The crowd
You thought I would say the weather? Well, we here at 55-Yard Line are slightly less expected than the Spanish Inquisition! On the weather front, a high of -8 isn't too bad, and Saskatchewan proved last week that they can air it out in cold conditions. A slippery field might affect the game more than the cold, and the Roughriders might have an edge there thanks to playing outside last week, but I'm not expecting that to be the biggest X-factor this week despite frightening videos like this one:
In my mind, the biggest X-factor is going to be Rider Nation, which has been omnipresent around Edmonton this week and will undoubtedly repeat that Sunday. Saskatchewan does have a substantial home field advantage here, but it's not because of their hotel or their dressing room; it's because of their fans. They're loud, they're proud and they might just make life very difficult for Montreal.
Prediction: I'm expecting this to be a close game, and I think it may be a high-scoring one despite the conditions. Both of these teams are going to throw the ball, and with the slippery conditions perhaps playing a larger role than the temperature, defenders sliding around may matter more than receivers' cold hands. In the end, there isn't a lot between Saskatchewan and Montreal, and either of them could walk away with the 98th Grey Cup. I'm picking the Riders, though, and I'm doing so because I think their partisan crowd's going to provide them the edge they need. Last year, one version of the thirteenth man cost them the game. This year, another one might win it for them.
Saskatchewan 31, Montreal 28.
(Playoff record: 3-1)