It has been 208 days since we saw the Calgary Stampeders take down the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to win the 102nd Grey Cup. That was the last time we saw true CFL action, until this weekend. Thursday night marks the kickoff of the 2015 CFL season, and there is a stacked slate of games to open up the 2015 campaign.
Thursday, June 25: Ottawa REDBLACKS vs. Montreal Alouettes
Opening night features an intriguing matchup live from Percival Molson Memorial Stadium, as the still-new REDBLACKS take on the enigmatic Alouettes. After a flat-out depressing first season in the CFL, Ottawa is entering this season with a massive amount of questions. Cheif among them is whether or not quarterback Henry Burris is capable of leading this team in his advanced playing age. After one of the worst seasons of his long career, Burris will need to play better if the Rouge et Noir will be at all competitive in 2015. Adding Maurice Price at receiver should help a destitute Ottawa offense, but there are plenty more issues that need to be addressed. Defensively, it can't get much worse for the REDBLACKS after finishing last in total yards allowed and sacks last season, as well as second to last in points allowed. A win over Montreal to open this season could be a sign that things are turning around for Ottawa.
Montreal is going to be one of the most interesting teams to watch this coming season. One of the most watched teams internationally this offseason, mostly thanks to the Michael Sam saga, Montreal could be a dark horse to make a run at the cup in 2015. Pivot Jonathan Crompton developed a great deal last season and helped lead the Als to their miraculous turnaround in the second half of the season (Montreal won 8 of their last 10 games last year). The defense for the Alouettes should be good once more, but the offense will need to play well. The additions of Nik Lewis and Fred Stamps should be beneficial to this desperate offense. Still in the wake of Anthony Calvillo's retirement, Montreal will have to put it all together this season if they wish to remain relevant down the stretch. With all the issues these two teams have taken into consideration, this could turn into one of the more exciting and surprising games of the opening weekend.
Friday, June 26: Hamilton Tiger-Cats vs. Calgary Stampeders
The CFL is kicking off the Friday Night Football schedule with a bang, as the two finalists for the Grey Cup will be squaring off in the second game of the 2015 slate. After two straight appearances in the Grey Cup final, Hamilton is looking to finally take the cup home. There are stil questions around starting quarterback Zach Collaros, who ranks seventh in VAVEL's preseason QB rankings. He does still have one of the top slot backs in the league in Andy Fantuz, who can stretch the field and make plays with the best of them. Two years straight the TiCats have been a sleeper team that makes a run at the Cup, but they will need to play even better in 2015 if they actually want to win it this time around.
Simply put, Calgary is still the best team in the CFL. In 2013 they came up just short of an appearance in the Grey Cup final (falling to Saskatchewan in the playoffs), and last year they ran roughshod on the entire league on their way to winning the 102nd Grey Cup. Bo Levi Mitchell is the best quarterback in the game today, and Jon Cornish is still arguably the best overall player in the league. Lemar Durant is also a contender to have a breakout rookie season after being drafted in the second round by the Stamps this offseason. Hamilton is a good team, there's no denying it heading into the season, but until someone stops them, it's hard to bet against a team as strong as Calgary.
Saturday, June 27: Edmonton Eskimos vs. Toronto Argonauts
It's unfortunate that the fans are being robbed of what would have been a stellar opening weekend matchup of Mike Reilly vs. Ricky Ray due to Ray's injury. Nonetheless, Reilly should be lighting up Fort McMurray like he does in most any location. In a quarterback-driven league like the CFL, it's no wonder that Reilly is one of the best in the business, with his ability to dominate the game on the ground and through the air. Edmonton's strong defensive also cannot be ignored, as it is arguably the best in the CFL today. A strong leader on offense and a devastating defense will likely have heads turning to look at the Esks all season long and certainly during the first week of this season.
It will be hard for Tornoto to kick off the season without one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the CFL, but there aren't many slouches on the Argos' roster. Adding Dave Stala and Brandon Whitaker to an already potent offense could be dangerous, as it forces defenses to pay slightly less attention to one of the game's most exciting players, Chad Owens. It hurt for the Boatmen to lose Shea Emry this offseason, but Ricky Foley to the defensive squad should prove to be a wise investment. It still must be asked whether or not Toronto will struggle without Ray at the helm to start the season. Trevor Harris is a fine player, but Ricky Ray is one of the best that the game has ever seen, even as he gets older and older. Without a home-field advantage for the Argos (this game will be held upwards of 1,600 miles from Toronto), look for Edmonton to come out firing on all cylinders against Toronto's backup QB.
Saturday, June 27: Winnipeg Blue Bombers vs. Saskatchewan Roughriders
One of the biggest rivalries in the CFL, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan both have plans to make a run at the Grey Cup this season. After a dreadful second half the 2014 campaign, the second year of the Drew Willy era will need to be a good one for the Bombers if this roster wants to stick around as-is. Ranked #6 in VAVEL's preseason quarterback ranking, Willy has proven in the past that he has potential, but now it needs to be put into action. The offensive line is certainly improved this season with the addition of Stanley Bryant, so Willy should have more time to make good plays in 2015. Winnipeg has missed the playoffs in two straight seasons; a win over the hated Riders would get them off on the right foot to change that trend this season.
Saskatchewan enters the opening weekend as one of the favorites to win the Grey Cup in 2015. With a new offensive stratgey in place and a healthy Darian Durant ready to go, this could be a huge season for the Roughriders, akin to their 2013 run at the Grey Cup. The team still have plenty of great receiving threats, including Weston Dressler, Taj Smith and Rob Bagg, while also holding on to a strong corps of rushers, despite not having anyone with pure ability like former Rider Kory Sheets. Defensively, Shea Emry should bolster an already capable Saskatchewan defense, led by the dominant Tyrone Brackenridge. There's no question that the Roughriders are one of the best teams in the CFL, and you can expect to see them open up the season with a big performance at home against the Blue Bombers.