Five reasons for Calgary and Ottawa to be hopeful about the Grey Cup

Andrew Bucholtz
Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell celebrates as the Stampeders reached the 2016 Grey Cup with a win over B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol photo)

The matchup is set for next Sunday’s 104th Grey Cup at Toronto’s BMO Field, with the Ottawa Redblacks beating the Edmonton Eskimos 35-23 in a snow-filled East Final and the Calgary Stampeders thumping the B.C. Lions 42-15 in a lopsided West Final. Here are five reasons why each team could win.

Five reasons the Calgary Stampeders will win:

1. The teams’ records. Regular-season performance isn’t everything, but it is a relatively large sample size that tells us a lot about these teams. Calgary went a league-best 15-2-1 this season (and might have posted a CFL-record season if they hadn’t played backups in their meaningless regular-season finale), while Ottawa became the first CFL division winner with a record below .500, posting just a 8-9-1 mark. Calgary also led the league with 586 points for and 369 points against; Ottawa was more middle of the road with both 486 points for 98 against (sixth in both categories). On the year, Calgary has been much more consistent, and that bodes well for them.

2. The relative divisional final performances: Ottawa had an impressive game against the 10-8 Edmonton Eskimos Sunday, roaring out to a 9-0 lead after the first quarter and a 17-3 mark at the half. However, they let Edmonton back into the game a bit, and a comeback looked somewhat possible for a while. By contrast, Calgary stomped all over 12-6 B.C. all day, leading 32-0 at the half and never letting the Lions back within reach. Of course, it only really matters that you win, not by how much, but the Stampeders were the more impressive team Sunday, and that speaks well for how they’re playing.

3. The trench battle: Calgary shines on both the offensive and defensive lines, which is often a predictor of victory. The Stampeders gave up a league-low 20 sacks this season (Edmonton was second with 31) while recording 52 (tied for a league high). They’re also good at establishing the run (5.3 yards per game, second in the league) and stopping the run (4.6 yards per rush, tied for first in the league). Meanwhile, the Redblacks allowed 50 sacks (seventh in the league), recorded 42 (fifth), gained 4.8 yards per rush (last) and allowed 4.8 (third). That bodes well for Calgary’s linemen on both sides of the ball.

4. The quarterback battle: In last year’s Grey Cup, Ottawa had the league’s Most Outstanding Player, quarterback Henry Burris. The Redblacks still have the 41-year-old Burris, and he played well Sunday, but it’s been an up-and-down year for him, including a mid-year benching. Meanwhile, Calgary has Most Outstanding Player candidate (and likely winner) Bo Levi Mitchell, who had a phenomenal season, recording 5,385 passing yards and 32 touchdowns in 17 games with a 68.0 per cent completion rate and just eight interceptions. We’ll see how it shakes out Sunday, but the Stampeders would certainly seem to have a quarterback edge on paper.

5. The stingy defence: There’s a lot of talk about Mitchell and Calgary’s offence, but their defence deserves major praise as well. They allowed a league-low 20.5 points per game, just 339.3 yards of offence per game (second to B.C.), and just 5.7 yards per play (best in the CFL). The Stampeders are good at forcing turnovers (45, second in the league) and at holding teams down in both the ground game (72.4 yards against per game, first in the CFL) and the passing game (290.2 yards against per game, third). Their defence will be difficult to beat.

Ottawa QB Henry Burris heads back to the Grey Cup with plenty of motivation. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld photo)

Five reasons why the Ottawa Redblacks will win:

1. Henry Burris’ motivation. Burris’ two Grey Cups came with the Stampeders in 1998 and 2008, but the team eventually opted for Drew Tate (since replaced by Bo Levi Mitchell) and traded Burris to Hamilton ahead of the 2012 season. Burris has often played his best with a chip on his shoulder, and that certainly could be the case Sunday, especially after a whole week of media asking about his matchup against his old team. Burris also played at an exceptionally high level last year, and he’s had spurts of greatness this year. If he can find one of those, the Redblacks could have a chance.

2. Their receiving depth. Ottawa had the same four receivers reach 1,000 yards last year and this year, and three of them will be available this week. Chris Williams is gone for the year thanks to injury, but Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson and Ernest Jackson are all outstanding receivers who will pose matchup challenges for Calgary. Khalil Paden and Juron Criner (who had four catches for 88 yards Sunday) are good depth options too.

3. Their Grey Cup experience: The Redblacks made the Grey Cup last year in just their second year of existence, which was pretty remarkable for an expansion team. They didn’t win, but that experience may prove helpful for them this season. The Grey Cup can be an intense week of media, practices, hype and more for teams, and while many Stampeders’ players will be used to it as well (they went to the game in 2012 and won it in 2014), Ottawa’s players certainly will be prepared this time. There’s motivation for them considering how close they were to a Grey Cup victory last year, and that could help push them over the hump. It also may help that much of the focus may be on the Stampeders given their regular-season dominance; that could keep the Redblacks out of the spotlight and help set them up for success on Sunday. Moreover, head coach Rick Campbell is in his third season and his second Grey Cup appearance, while Calgary’s Dave Dickenson is in his first season as a head coach. That experience differential might matter as well.

4. Their cold-weather experience: There’s certainly a possibility we could be in for another weather-affected game in the Grey Cup, as many of the Grey Cups held outdoors in Toronto have been impacted by the elements. The Redblacks’ performance Sunday against Edmonton not only gives them experience in those conditions, but suggests that they’re quite capable of doing well in them. Calgary’s played in some cold-weather games over the years as well, but not as recently as Ottawa has, so if the elements become a factor on Grey Cup Sunday, that could possibly give the Redblacks an edge.

5. The history of Grey Cup upsets. There’s plenty of precedent for teams with worse regular seasons getting hot at the right time and winning the Grey Cup. The most recent example is the 2012 Toronto Argonauts, a 9-9 team that peaked in the playoffs and beat the 12-6 Stampeders. Other examples include the 2004 Argonauts (10-7-1 vs 13-5 B.C.) and perhaps most notably, the 2001 Stampeders (8-10 versus 14-4 Winnipeg). The Redblacks’ season certainly wasn’t the equal of Calgary’s, but that doesn’t mean anything now. In one game, anything can happen; we’ll see if Ottawa can pull off an upset to remember.