The 2016 CFL season kicks off Thursday, June 23rd and here is a preview of the East Division, as well as some CFL Picks for betting the Football Futures.
Montreal Alouettes (6-12 SU, 8-10 ATS, 6-12 O/U Last Season):
Montreal Alouettes finished last in the East in 2015 and will look to take strides forward this season. GM Jim Popp decided not to hire a head coach and will fill that role. The Alouettes have a lot of QB uncertainty behind veteran and #1 QB Kevin Glenn. Brandon Bridge, Rakeem Cato, Tajh Boyd and Vernon Adams Jr. all wait in the wings and are locked in an intense training camp battle for their spot on the Montreal QB depth chart although Cato appears to have the edge in being the backup QB behind Glenn to open the campaign.
The return of Duron Carter from an NFL stint should bolster Montreal at WR and they have a pair of quality veteran slotbacks in S.J. Green and Nik Lewis. The RB position is a bit thin with Tyrell Sutton and Brandon Rutley leading the charge there but on defense the Alouettes should be solid as they have been in past years under DC Noel Thorpe and that unit completely dominated in the trenches in their first preseason game against Winnipeg.
The Als will be handing over the offensive play calling duties to legendary CFL Hall Of Fame QB Anthony Calvillo and it will be interesting to see how well Kevin Glenn and the offense meshes with Calvillo as the new offensive coordinator in Montreal. Montreal has the potential to be a surprise team this season but they will need to be more productive offensively and get much better QB play than they did last year to have a chance of making the playoffs. The defense should be the strength of the team and may contribute to Montreal being a team that trends Under the total offered on the football odds board once again in their games in 2016 like they did last year.
Toronto Argonauts (10-8 SU, 9-9 ATS, 8-10 O/U Last Season)
It is a very momentous season for the Toronto Argos who finally have a full-time new home stadium to call their own as they play their first season at BMO Field and a site which will also be the host for the 2016 Grey Cup in November. There is no doubt Toronto will have their eyes on the prize and trying to make it to the Grey Cup on their home field this season but a lot of will have to go right for that to happen. Toronto was very active in free agency in the offseason making a number of moves bringing in the likes of Josh Bourke which was a great addition to bolster their suspect offensive line which has been one of the catalysts for veteran QB Ricky Ray not being able to stay on the field for a full season in recent years. Brian Bulcke has a chance to be a solid addition on the DL but health is an issue for him.
They also added Bryan Hall and Justin Hickman to the defensive front and Keon Raymond in the secondary. The Argos did a solid job filling a lot of their holes but the key for this teams remains the ability for Ricky Ray to stay healthy. Behind him this season, there is no more insurance policy at QB after Trevor Harris signed with Ottawa in the offseason. Logan Kilgore will be the team's backup and he doesn't have a ton of CFL experience yet and behind him is a lot of inexperience so it is vital for Ray to stay on the field in 2016 for the Argos to achieve their goal of getting to a Grey Cup on home soil.
Veteran CFL defensive coordinator Rich Stubler takes over that role this season for the Argos and his defenses in BC and Calgary have performed well over the years so his addition to the team combined with some upgrades should make the Argos a better team. Special teams will be an area to watch as the Argos no longer have their terrific place kicker and punter from last season Swayze Waters who signed with Carolina in the NFL recently and that leaves some question marks as to whether their kicking game will be as strong with Lirim Hajrullahu and Zack Medeiros now in charge of those duties. If Ray can remain on the field, Toronto can be pretty good this season. If not, all football bets are off.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats (10-8 SU, 11-7 ATS, 6-12 O/U Last Season)
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have been a consistently strong fundamentally sound team and organization since day one of the Kent Austin era but that consistency will be tested in 2016. Hamilton will begin the season without their #1 QB Zach Collaros who was on his way to an MOP season last year before a torn ACL in September ended his year but Jeremiah Masoli played well late in the season last year and has looked solid in training camp and is capable of adequately filling the void as the Ticats QB until Collaros return. The receiving corps should be solid with Andy Fantuz, Chad Owens, Luke Tasker and promising talents like Tiquan Underwood and Terrence Toliver. The offensive line should be very good once again and this team probably has the best special teams in the CFL.
The Ticats saw their former offensive coordinator leave the team for personal reasons but they hired a quality replacement in Stefan Ptaszek who has been a winner as a player and completely turned around the McMaster University football program as their head coach at the Canadian University Football level and he has a brilliant mind for designing and implementing offenses in the Canadian game and I think he will prove to be great as OC much like he was in his university coaching career. Hamilton's kick coverage has been terrific for the last couple years and they have one of the most dynamic and explosive kick returners in the CFL in Brandon Banks so this team should excel in that aspect of the game. They did lose their kicker Justin Medlock in free agency as he signed with Winnipeg in the offseason. He was Mr. Automatic so replacing him won't be an easy task and it will interesting to see if the Brett Maher and Cody Mandell duo can step up for the Ticats in the punting and FG kicking department.
The defensive line looks strong again and the addition of John Chick is a good one assuming the veteran defensive end can stay healthy. The biggest area of concern on this team is their secondary. It lost some key players from last season and has been hit hard by the injury bug in training camp and the preseason so far. Hamilton is already trying to find 3rd and 4th stringers to fill starting roles in their defensive backfield and that is going to be something to watch for the Ticats early on.
I never underestimate this Hamilton team and when fully healthy, they are among the best teams in the CFL but they've had a pattern of slow starts to a season and with 5 of their first their first 7 games being on the road to go along with the absence of Zach Collaros and some shuffling of deck chairs on defense and specifically in the secondary, it could be a rocky June and July for this team. It is usually late August and into September when the Ticats typically rev it up each year and I could see history repeating itself here but come October and November, the Ticats should be in the mix for a title once again as has been the case in every year that Kent Austin has been in Hamilton.
Ottawa Redblacks (12-6 SU, 12-6 ATS, 10-8 O/U Last Season)
The defending East Division champions will have a major challenge on their hands to duplicate the success they enjoyed in 2015. Everything went right for Ottawa as they were the surprise team of the CFL going from 2-16 in their expansion franchise season in 2014 and improving by 10 wins, capturing the division title and advancing to the Grey Cup where they fell to the Edmonton Eskimos. Regression being on the way for Ottawa seems way too obvious to call but before we completely get carried away with predicting this team's decline, it must be factored in they play in an East Division which has been the weaker division in the CFL for many years now and all the other teams in the division have question marks of some kind.
Ottawa got a “turn back the clock' type of season from 41 year old QB Henry Burris last season who was magnificent but asking him to match last season's production and also stay healthy for an entire season at his age may be asking a lot. He can still have a very good season but I do not see him matching the 70.9% completion rate he put together last season and his 101 QB rating was way better than his previous two seasons in which he had a 93.4 and 78.7 rating. Burris still possesses a very good receiving corps (one of the best in the CFL) led by Greg Ellingson, Chris Williams, Ernest Jackson and Brad Sinopoli.
Ottawa did lose upwards of a half dozen of their veteran players to free agency and the losses of OL Colin Kelly and defensive stalwarts like Shawn Lemon, Justin Capicciotti, Keith Shologan and Jovon Johnson will be felt and the defensive line and secondary changes will be the biggest obstacles for Ottawa to overcome early in the season. Ottawa suffered a critical injury in the preseason as projected starting RB William Powell who was great last season is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles. Not all was bad for Ottawa in free agency as they signed a critical insurance policy at QB in Trevor Harris who performed well for an injured Ricky Ray with the Toronto Argos last season.
Harris threw a CFL best 33 TD's last season and was ranked 3rd in passing yards at 4,354 with the Argos last season. Ottawa will not suffer much at all if Henry Burris is sidelined due to injury at any point this season with a more than capable and experienced CFL QB in Trevor Harris in the backup position. The loss of offensive coordinator Jason Maas could take some time for Ottawa to adjust to as he implemented a highly efficient and effective no huddle, tempo offense with Ottawa last season but he left to become the head coach of the Edmonton Eskimos.
Jaime Elizondo takes over as OC and while capable, I have been extremely impressed with Maas in his brief coaching career and there could be an adjustment period with the coordinator change. I think based on law of averages, it's impossible to expect Ottawa to duplicate the success of the season they had a year ago going from 2-16 to 12-6 and a Grey Cup appearance in just one year but the talent is still there for this team to compete for an East Division title. It will be a question of value and whether the betting markets price this team as a team that got to the Grey Cup last year and if that is the case, Ottawa may have a difficult time being an early season profit producer.
Recommendation: I think the Toronto Argonauts at +600 offered at Bovada provide some value as future football betting picks to win the Grey Cup on the futures board. It is all contingent upon the health of Ricky Ray but he is still a very good QB when he is on the field and the Argos defense should be improved with the moves they made and the addition of Rich Stubler as DC. The incentive of a Grey Cup appearance on their home field in November should motivate Toronto to have a strong season in their first season at their new home of BMO Field.