Canadian Football Returns for 2011 Season: Betting Previews and Predictions

Canadian Football League 2011 Season
Thursday, June 30-Sunday, November 27, 2011
Defending Champion: Montreal Alouettes

The Montreal Alouettes are trying to win their third straight CFL Grey Cup. The are the second betting choice at 3/1 behind the Calgary Stampeders.

Though not a lot of Americans pay much attention to the Canadian Football League, different rules up North make for an exciting game. The biggest difference is they only play 3 downs rather than the 4 that American football fans are used to. Combine that with a wider and longer field and the fact that you can have multiple players in motion and it leads to a higher scoring game with a greater emphasis on passing. If you run on first down in Canada and get stuffed you put your team in a second and long which is equivalent to third and long in the NFL, a situation where you will most likely have to punt the ball away.

Speaking of the NFL, if the lockout extends into the regular season, people might turn to either the CFL  or the 5 team United Football League for their pro football fix. Of course college football will still be going on, but smart handicappers know you can sometimes get better lines on obscure leagues like the CFL or WNBA. This is because the oddsmakers know as much about those sports as you do. Now having said that, you do have to do some work to successfully handicap a league like the CFL, including gathering lots of research. If you are worried about not being able to watch the games, don’t worry as the NFL Network will televise at least one game a week and will provide webcasts of  all games.

Here is a look at the 8 teams and their odds to win the Grey Cup and their division courtesy of bodog.

Calgary Stampeders (11/4 odds to win Grey Cup, +150 West Division)

Last years runners-up are the slight favorites this year despite Montreal being the two time defending champions. Led by head coach John Hufnagel, Calgary will be explosive on offense. Quarterback Henry Burris is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He has lots of targets to sling the ball to, including Ken-Yon Rambo, Nik Lewis, Romby Bryant, and Jabari Arthur. The Stampeders also live up to their nickname in the running game with the punishing Joffrey Reynolds. The biggest problem for the Stamps will be a leaky defense that will allow teams to score at will. Calgary will compete for the Western Title with B.C.

Montreal Alouettes (3/1 GC, -150 Eastern Division)

This might finally be the year age catches up with the veteran Alouettes after 2 straight titles. Head coach Marc Trestman has to deal with some key departures due to retirement and free agency. Offensive lineman Paul Lambert and receiver Ben Cahoon both retired, while leading rusher Avon Cobourne now plays for Hamilton.

The offense is led by future Hall-of-Famer Anthony Calvillo who had offseason thyroid surgery. Calvillo is 4,221 passing yards away from breaking the all-time CFL career record. He might have to throw the ball more because running back Brandon Whittaker struggled during the pre-season. He only had 20 carries last year behind Cobourne. The offensive line is still solid even without Lambert. The receiving corps will be led by S.J. Green who moves into the slot occupied by Cahoon and Jamel Richardson who was 4th in the CFL last year with 1,271 yards receiving. 

The defense will be led by linebackers Chip Cox and Shea Emry. The Alouettes signed a pair of high profile free agents to bolster the secondary to replace the retired Matthieu Proulx. Jerald Brown remains the heart and soul of the secretary.

Barring injury, Montreal  should easily win the Eastern Division but I don’t know if they can beat Calgary or British Columbia in the Grey Cup. 

British Columbia Lions (11/2 GC , +350 WD)

After a disastrous 1-7 start last season, the Lions rebounded to make the playoffs. They hope to carry that momentum over to this season. Coach Wally Buono has depth on both sides of the ball. Though young, quarterback Travis Lulay is maturing fast into one of the leagues most consistent signal callers. The receiving corps is led by Paris Jackson and Geroy Simon. The Lions signed 2010 outstanding lineman Ben Archibald away from the rival Stampeders. He should help bolster the O-line who struggled with pass protection last year. 

The defense (or defence to be more accurate) is led by linebacker Solomon Elimimiam and free agent pick-up DL Eric Taylor who should help to shore up the Lions’ rush defense. 

One thing to keep in mind is if the Lions make it to the Grey Cup game, it will be in their home stadium. I like the Lions to do something the Canucks couldn’t do, that is bring a championship to Vancouver.

Saskatchewan Roughriders (6/1 GC, +250 WD)

The Roughriders are led by quarterback Darian Durant. Durant looks brilliant sometimes but gets a little reckless sometimes and throws balls he has no business trying to complete. (Think Cowboys’ QB Tony Romo.) Saskatchewan lost two of their best receivers  in Andy Fantuz and Rob Bagg. Weston Dressler, Jason Clermont, and Chris Getzlaf have struggled with dropped passes in the pre-season. The running game is led by Wes Cates who is also good at catching passes out of the backfield.

The Riders’ defense will be difficult to move the ball against but the squad is aging.

Saskatchewan will struggle to compete with Calgary and British Columbia but they will probably make the playoffs. That isn’t saying much as 6 of the 8 CFL teams make the playoffs.

Hamilton Tigercats (7/1 GC, +250 ED)

Last year, Hamilton finished 2nd in the East behind Montreal and hosted Provincial rival Toronto in the first round of the playoffs. After sweeping the Argonauts 3-0 in the regular season, the Tigercats were upset by Toronto in the playoffs.  

This year Hamilton tries to rebound from that bitter disappointment. They should be better but I still don’t think they are at the same level as Montreal.

The offense will be led by quarterback Kevin Glenn. He has one of the deepest receiving corps in the league to throw to led by Arland Bruce III & Dave Stala. and the Tigercats signed running back Avon Cobourne away from rival Montreal. The offensive line gave up the fewest sacks in the league last year and is bolstered by the addition of Wayne Smith who returns to the Ti-Cats after 3 years with Saskatchewan.

Hamilton’s defense is very strong and deep on the line, at linebacker, and in the secondary.

Hamilton will make the playoffs and probably host a semifinal game.

Edmonton Eskimos (8/1 GC, +400 WD)

The Eskimos will struggle in the tough Western Division. They finished last in the West season with 7 wins and could be even worse this season. It isn’t a good time to be an Edmonton sports fan as the Oilers were the worst team in the NHL last season.

The offense is led by talented veteran Ricky Ray. The problem is he only has one reliable receiver in Fred Stamps. The running game is nearly non-existent, and the offensive line struggles to protect the quarterback and  open up holes.

The defense is among the worst units in the league. It will be a long season for Eskimos who might have to come up with 100 words for snow and mediocre football.

Toronto Argonauts (12/1 GC, +650 ED)

Coach Jim Barker has been criticized for his micromanaging style, but he took the Argonauts from laughing stock to a berth in the Eastern Division Finals last year. He must be doing something right.

The offense is led by quarterback Cleo Lemon, an NFL transplant. He struggled mightily last year as he learned the Canadian game. He tends to float the deep ball so that it resembles a baseball pop fly. He has looked a lot crisper during the pre-season but still has a long way to go. The receiving corps isn’t bad led by D.J. Boldin and Jeremaine Copeland. Running Back Cory Boyd led the CFL in yards from scrimmage last year and receiver/kick returner  Chad Owens led the league in all-purpose yards. Despite that the Argos were last in offense in the league last year. That is almost as unbelievable as the San Diego Chargers having the top ranked offense and defense last year in the NFL and not making the playoffs.

The defense was the best in the CFL last year giving up only 442 points, but they lost defensive tackles Adriano Bell and Eric Taylor to free agency.

The Argonauts will compete with Winnipeg for the last playoff spot and could overtake Hamilton for the second spot in the East if Lemon advances enough.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers (12/1 GC, +850 ED)

Winnipeg was the worst team in the league last year with a 4-14 record. They will be better but will still struggle in a tough division.

Last year quarterback Buck Pierce missed most of the season  with an injury after starting only 2 full games. If he is recovered the offense will be a lot better. He is very talented but injury prone and has yet to play a full season the league. If he gets injured again, back-up Joey Elliott is a decent option. Running back Fred Reid is one of the best backs in the league, and Terrence Edwards is one of the best receivers.

The defense isn’t bad either, and will be better than last season. Winnipeg is considered to be a dark horse by many experts if Pierce can stay healthy. I don’t see it happening though. They will compete with Edmonton for worst team in the league.

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