The Saskatchewan Roughriders could pull off a big playoff upset

Rider Fan Forum | by Gregory Beatty

After stumbling out of the gate with a 2–4 record, the Riders went 8–4 the rest of the way to finish fourth in the West and earn a cross-over playoff spot. With their thoughts on the final three weekends of CFL football, we’re joined by our Rider Fan Forum panel of Ivanka Trudeau, Cal Corduroy, Ron Mexico and Earl Camembert.

When we spoke before Labour Day, you were optimistic about the Riders prospects heading into the second half of the season. What thoughts do you have on their play?

Cal Corduroy: The Riders demonstrated they could play with any team in the league. Their defence improved consistently throughout the year, and GM/coach Chris Jones somehow managed to make the best out of an offence that had spotty quarterbacking, a poor offensive line, and a carousel at running back. The addition of Christion Jones as a kick returner vastly improved a steady (but uninspiring) special teams unit.

Oh yeah, and Duron Carter is tremendous… crazy, but tremendous. And TSN’s Rod Black is the worst play-by-play announcer in the history of television — edging out Pat Marsden, who can be excused because he was always plastered.

Ivanka Trudeau: They have played very well in the second half of the season. The receivers are top-notch, and the defense has improved significantly too. The running game is hit and miss, but hopefully our running backs will be healthy and consistent. Coach Jones has proven that his rebuild has worked and his detractors have been quieted. The goal was to make the playoffs, and they have done that. Now, anything can happen.

Ron Mexico: It would be hard not to be happy with the Riders in the second half. The defence has been solid, and the offence has done what it needed to do to win. Simply put, the Riders were a top-three team in the second half of the season.

Earl Camembert: I have to say that the Riders had a solid second half of the season. In fact, the first half of the season was marred by two losses they shouldn’t have had (the season opener against the Alouettes in Montreal, and the home opener against Winnipeg). If those two were converted into wins, the Riders record would have been 12-6. That’s pretty solid.

The Riders travel to Ottawa to play the Redblacks in the East semi-final on Nov. 12, with the winner meeting the Toronto Argonauts on Nov. 19. Neither of those teams had a winning record in a woeful conference. Do the Riders have a shot to make CFL history by being the first cross-over team to play in the Grey Cup?

CC: They do, but it won’t be easy. They should have beaten Ottawa in that game at home on Oct. 13, and they CAN beat them this time. Toronto will be a challenge. QB Ricky Ray has made a career roasting the Rider defence.  If they squeak by Toronto, they’ll win the Grey Cup.

IT: Absolutely. They have the talent to do it, and some depth, which was lacking the past few years. They beat every team in the league at least once, so they certainly have a shot at beating both Ottawa and Toronto in order to make it to the Grey Cup. They’ll need to play a disciplined game, but I think they will do it. There’s something special about this team.

RM: I don’t think so. I think the two weeks in Eastern Canada will be too tough to overcome. I hear that the team plans to stay in the East all the way to the Grey Cup if they get there without coming home at all. That seems goofy to me given that the time zone difference isn’t exactly like travelling to Australia. Play your game, come home, and then travel out there for the next one. In addition, I think Toronto will be too tough to handle.

EC: They have a shot, but I don’t think that they will do it. Ottawa at home will be tough to begin with, and Toronto with coach Marc Trestman and Ricky Ray will be equally tough — if not tougher. The one thing they can look forward to if they make the East final is that they will be playing in front of 16,000 Rider fans and 16 Argo fans. I agree with Ron Mexico that the time zone argument doesn’t have a lot of merit. Toronto is only one time zone different than us now.

In the West semi-final, Winnipeg Blue Bombers will host the Edmonton Eskimos, with the winner meeting the Calgary Stampeders. Calgary looked dominant early on, but closed out the season with three straight losses, while Edmonton and Winnipeg have run hot and cold this year. How do you see those games playing out?

CC: Edmonton will beat Winnipeg and, dare I say, beat Calgary as well. Calgary has shown that they have a few chips in the armour.

IT: I think Winnipeg will beat Edmonton in front of their hometown crowd, but then will lose to Calgary. Calgary has a lot of very skilled players who can be tough to beat when they’re all at their best. They are a well-coached team, so I see them going to the Grey Cup again this year.

RM: I think Winnipeg wins a close one, and then gets beat handily in Calgary, with the Stamps returning to form or close to it.

EC: Edmonton is very much the team in form going into the playoffs. Winnipeg has an issue at QB, and frankly I think they lucked out in winning at least three or four of their games. They are tough at home admittedly, but Mike Reilly was the best player in the league this year and Edmonton really commits to the running game. Those two factors tip the balance in their favour, so Edmonton by 10.

Something has been wrong with Calgary all year and I don’t see them righting the ship. Plus, you can always count on them shitting the bed in crunch time. See: Riders in the 2010 and 2013 West final, and Ottawa in the 2016 Grey Cup. Edmonton wins that one too.

The 105th Grey Cup is in Ottawa on Nov. 26. Looking deep into your crystal ball, who do you see hoisting the big shiny trophy at the end of the game?

CC: As outrageous as it sounds, the Riders have as good a chance of winning as anyone. If they don’t beat Toronto in the East final, Toronto won’t beat Edmonton or Calgary in the Grey Cup. If Calgary beats Edmonton, the Riders lose to Calgary in the Grey Cup.

IT: Riders, baby! I believe!

RM: Calgary. They’re too good, and their coaching staff is good enough to get the ship righted.

EC: The team with the best player wins the game. That’s Mike Reilly. Edmonton wins.