It was only two weeks ago that the Roughriders were sitting pretty at 5-2, fighting for second place with the 4-2 Lions, then the Riders visited Calgary to begin a two-game series.
A down-trodden 2-5 Calgary Stampeders were the underdogs when they welcomed the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Calgary was led under center by Bo Levi Mitchell, who had disappointed early in the season, including throwing four picks against the BC Lions in week two, a career single-game record. Mitchell had just returned from the injured list, the expectations were low and a loss against the Roughriders would most definitely doom their playoff chances, in fact, the Stamps would need to sweep the Roughriders to have a chance in a division where they were three games behind a playoff place.
And that is what happened. The Stampeders saved a possibly lost season on a good defensive performance and a last-minute field goal. They’re now 4-5, right behind the 4-4 BC Lions and 5-4 Saskatchewan Roughriders. Calgary has found themselves in the perfect situation, now all they have to do is grasp the opportunity that has arose.
These last few weeks are crucial for the West. This week, the Stamps’ go to BC Place to face Michael Reilly’s Lions. A victory would almost assure the Lions be relegated to fourth place as they are to visit Winnipeg next week and with the Blue Bombers playing better than their Grey Cup-winning season, a loss should be expected. A 4-6 Lions would be hard to catch up to a 6-5 Calgary or Saskatchewan.
But the real crossroads for the West is next week, it could be the deciding point of the season for the entire West because if the Lions fall to the Stampeders, the Stampeders would be primed to take second and all they have to do is take down the Roughriders once again, the third time in four weeks. If the Roughriders take down the Stampeders, then their bid for second is effectively done. The Roughriders will come into that game off a bye feeling rested and looking for revenge meanwhile Calgary would have all the momentum.
A team that’s season was to the dogs only a few weeks ago now motivated with the prospect of the playoffs. A winning Riders team would be given an easy walk to the playoffs, facing the Alouettes and then the Elks twice in the row, meanwhile, the Stampeders would have the advantage over the Roughriders and be given a clear path to the playoffs, albeit not an easy one, with Winnipeg and a final meeting with the Lions in the way.
So those may be the facts. But what should we truly expect? The hypothetical I threw out is all well and good and definitely possible, but Calgary is being asked to do something absolutely insane. The rest of the Roughriders schedule is so much easier than the Stampeders schedule. The Alouettes could offer a challenge but unless a trap game presents itself, Elks twice in a row after that is too great of an opportunity to not put yourself two games ahead. Even if you lose to the Als, beating the Elks both times puts the Roughriders at 7-6 just before the final game of the season.
The Stampeders, as I stated before, has a significantly harder schedule coming up, they’ll need to go on a winning streak until the end of the season to clinch a playoff spot. The only other options for the Stamps’ are either praying that the Roughriders lose out the rest of the season or that they do go on a winning streak, but sadly, lose one of those games, and just one. In that scenario that they lose just one game, then they’ll sit at 7-6 with just one game left. The Roughriders have a very winnable game against a Ti-Cats side that is also very much in the running for a playoff spot and is hungry, meanwhile, the Stampeders will have to overcome the Blue Bombers.
To achieve the most ideal situation possible for the Stampeders, their defence would need to continue the upward trend they have been on. Whilst not showing stellar numbers, they have been fantastic in preventing a long passing game. Statistically, they are only fifth in the league for allowing passes over 30 yards but context is important, a good portion of those completions came in the Labor Day Classic, where a Stampeders defence looked flat and defeated. The defence’s ability to stop big plays definitely shown its face against the Roughriders, allowing only one pass more than 30 yards through the air. It isn’t just the backfield playing great either, the defensive line put the work in against the Roughriders, breaking through the line five times in their first matchup, with Fajardo’s ability to escape the only reason the stat line for sacks wasn’t higher that game.
Offensively, The Stampeders have been on the upturn too. They are coming back from the loss of their franchise quarterback so obviously, they were going to improve as soon as Mitchell was back in action but a key problem with the Stampeders offence this season has been turnovers and that doesn’t look like it’s going to stop, even with Mitchell back. Continuously gifting the other team with great field position can shift the tide of a game in an instant and Mitchell threw three interceptions against Saskatchewan in their two-game series and five in total since he’s returned from his injury. The Stampeders are currently leading the league in interceptions with a team total of 12 on the year and unless the team can seem to solve whatever is creating this issue, it doesn’t look like it will slow down any time soon, especially with a team that throws as much as Calgary, leading the league in both attempts and completions.
For the Stampeders, confidence in this season has definitely soared but it isn’t exactly saved yet – especially if the Lions have anything to say about it this weekend.