After 15 weeks we have our first playoff team and that is the BC Lions. The Lions clinched their spot in the post-season with their win this week over Calgary. The Lions are also close to clinching first place in the West, which would mean the road to the Grey Cup will go through BC Place (at least for teams in the West).
(1) The East stumbles
Taking a look at the East Division right now and it looks like a division in shambles. None of the four teams have displayed any level of consistency and believe it or not, the 5-9 Ti-Cats can still win the division and the 4-10 Blue Bombers can still make the playoffs. This was supposed to be the year where the East took the title of best division from the West, but as the records show, that didn't happen.
(2) Changes to award nominations
Duane Forde used his platform on TSN to say that the process of selecting year-end award finalists needs to be changed. He said the old method of team nominees and then division nominees is no longer good enough. His idea was that there should be three finalists for each award regardless of a player's division or team. I think this is a good idea. Is there any doubt that the two best special teams players are on one team this year (Hamilton's Chris Williams and Luca Congi) or that the top-two Canadians play in the West (Calgary's Jon Cornish and BC's Andrew Harris)? Yet someone from the West is going to go up against one of those three, most likely Williams, and the winner will be obvious before it is announced. It is time to do away with the East vs. West model and get on board Forde's plan.
(3) Score first and win
TSN put up an interesting stat during the Winnipeg-Montreal game that said 20 of the last 24 games were won by the team that score first. That number became 22 of 26 when the Bombers and Riders, both of whom scored first, beat their respective opponents. That's a pretty incredible statistic and shows that if you can get an early lead, it bodes well for your chances. This is something I am going to keep an eye out on for the remainder of the season, so don't be surprised if this stat pops up again before the year is over.
(4) Forget Whitaker, Andrew Harris is the real Two-Way
For the last year or so, Montreal's Brandon Whitaker has been known as Two-Way Whitaker thanks to Matt Dunigan. As good as Whitaker has been, and he has been good, I think the real player that deserves the Two-Way nickname is BC's Andrew Harris. No disrespect to Whitaker, but Harris is the best dual-threat player in the CFL. He is fourth in the league in receptions with 64. That's more than Chris Williams, S.J. Green and Fred Stamps. For a running back, that's impressive.
(5) The Courtney Taylor story
The story of BC Lion receiver Courtney Taylor is an astounding one. The first-year CFL player was diagnosed with MS back in 2008 and sat out for two full football seasons after being released by the Seattle Seahawks. On Saturday night, Taylor started for the Lions because of injuries to Arland Bruce and Geroy Simon. While his numbers weren't eye popping – two catches for 29 yards – the fact that he started and contributed is a great story.
(6) Intentional grounding needs tweaking
After watching the Saskatchewan-Toronto game, I have come to the conclusion that the rule for intentional grounding needs to be changed. In the first half of yesterday's game, a Rider defender had Argo quarterback Jarious Jackson wrapped up for what would have been a sack, but Jackson was able to muscle a throw out that came nowhere near any Argo receiver. The rule states that as long as the ball goes further than the line of scrimmage, then a receiver does not have to be in the area. But if what Jackson did, throwing the ball away to avoid taking a sack and losing yards, is not intentional grounding, then I don't know what is. Jackson clearly had no interest in completing the pass, he just didn't want to take a sack. That, in my opinion, is a text book example of what intentional grounding should be.
(7) No Geroy, no Bruce, no problem for BC
Despite being without their two veteran, all-star receivers in Arland Bruce and Geroy Simon, the BC Lions had no problem becoming the first CFL team this season to get to double-digit wins. BC always seems to have a cupboard stocked with talent at every position that no matter who goes down, they have someone there to take his spot. The Lions are very clearly the best team in the CFL right now and the next best isn't even close. Don't be shocked if these Lions do what no other team before them could: win back-to-back Grey Cups.
(8) Kory Sheets and the rookie of the year award
If you were to ask most people who the best first-year CFL player has been so far, I'd say the majority of them would point to Kory Sheets. Sheets has already amassed over 1,000 rushing yards and his nine rushing touchdowns ties him for first in the league in that category. So he is a shoe-in for rookie of the year, right? Wrong. Because Sheets suited up in the NFL, he is ineligible for the CFL's top rookie award. While I understand the reasoning of the rule that says you are not a rookie if you play in a regular season game in the NFL, it needs to not be so hard and fast. Sheets had exactly one carry for five yards in his NFL career; that's not exactly the same as Ricky Williams playing for the Argos. Sheets is, by all measure, a CFL rookie and as such, he should be eligible for the top rookie award.
(9) Sideline interviews with hockey players need to end
Generally, I enjoy TSN's coverage of the CFL. I think it has been light years better than CBC's coverage and I think "Canada's Sports Leader" has done an excellent job of promoting the league. But that doesn't mean they are perfect and the one area that needs to be fixed is the sideline interviews during games, especially those with hockey players. I don't want to see Kevin Bieksa on the sidelines taking about the NHL lockout during the Stampeders-Lions game. CFL broadcasts should be focusing on football, not giving airtime to an NHL player. Let that stuff be shown and talked about on the myriad other TSN shows that focus on hockey, but please, just let the CFL be about the CFL.
(10) Players of the Week
This week's offensive player of the week is Edmonton's Fred Stamps. There were a lot of great offensive performances in Week 15 – Stamps' teammate Kerry Joseph, and Winnipeg's Joey Elliott and Chris Matthews – but Stamps was a force unlike any other this week.
The week's best defensive player also comes from Edmonton, defensive back Chris Thompson. Thompson had two interceptions against the Ti-Cats on Friday night, the 25th and 26th of his six-year CFL career. Since being dealt from Hamilton following the 2009 season, Thompson has 15 interceptions and three against his former team. Thompson is a ball hawk and he put those skills to good use against his old club.
One of the feel-good stories of this CFL season has been the re-emergence of Sandro DeAngelis. DeAngelis was run out of Hamilton following a subpar 2010 season, spent the 2011 season as a backup in Montreal and was unsigned at the beginning of the 2012 season. But he found his way to Regina and has been slowly getting himself back into the form that made him the most accurate kicker in league history. This past week against Toronto, DeAngelis connected on five of six field goal attempts and has hit 23 of 29 this season. He was by far the best special teams player on any team this past weekend.
Like a pinball, the title of best Canadian bounces back and forth between Calgary's Jon Cornish and BC's Andrew Harris on an almost week-to-week basis. This week, the title belongs to Harris as he out-duelled Cornish when the two went head-to-head in BC. Harris finished with 125 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown on 19 touches. He was simply outstanding for the Lions on Saturday.