Thursday, February 22, 2024
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CFL: A look at Division Finals

TORONTO — Just four quarters separate the Montreal Alouettes, Toronto Argonauts, BC Lions and Winnipeg Blue Bombers from traveling to Hamilton next week.

It’s the 12th time the Argos and Alouettes face off in the Eastern Final, with each team winning six times, setting up a tie-breaker matchup on Saturday. Chad Kelly and Cody Fajardo were not the starters last year when Toronto beat Montreal on the Argos’ way to facing the Bombers in the 109th Grey Cup. If Fajardo wants to send his team to the Grey Cup, he’ll have to be the first pivot to win a road playoff game since the Hamilton Tiger-Cats did so in 2021 at BMO Field. Montreal is riding the longest active winning streak in the CFL with six straight victories and is backed by a shutdown defence that kept the Ticats from scoring touchdowns in the Eastern Semi-Final. Kelly threw a 46-yard touchdown in last year’s Eastern Final against the Als, but enters his first playoff game as a starter in Toronto after leading his team to a 16-2 record in the regular season.

The Blue Bombers, meanwhile, are the only team with a returning starting quarterback from last year’s Division Finals. Zach Collaros is tied for third place with most career playoff wins for Winnipeg with four victories over four games, including last year’s 28-20 win over the Lions. BC’s Vernon Adams Jr. won his first playoff game last week in the Western Semi-Final while setting a new team playoff passing record eclipsing the total of 375 yards set by Roy Dewalt in 1983 by throwing for 413 yards and adding five total touchdowns.

Who advances to the 110th Grey Cup in Hamilton?

  • Home Playoff Domination: In CFL post-season play heading into this week, the home team has won the last seven games including the two 2023 Semi-Final games. The streak longer than seven was in 2014-2015 at eight straight home team victories. Home teams have 15 of the last 20 playoff games overall.
  • Identical 2022 & 2023: The 2023 season thus far has matched 2022 precisely in their final standings and even in the results from the Semi-Final games. Both Finals are again in Toronto and Winnipeg for the third straight year – in 2023 it is Montréal and BC as the visiting clubs again from 2022. A few firsts (covering the single-game Final format since 1972):
    • That both Division Finals were played at the same site in three consecutive seasons – first time EVER;
    • That both Division Finals were played at the same site in two consecutive seasons – first since 2003 (before the 2021-23 run);
    • That both Visiting teams were the same in consecutive years – first since 2003-04 (Saskatchewan, Toronto).
  • West second Place Teams to Reach the Grey Cup: It was Winnipeg in 2019 and before that Saskatchewan in 2013. Home teams (first place) have won seven of the last eight Western Finals and are 14-6 since 2002.
  • East second Place Teams to Reach the Grey Cup: It was Hamilton in 2021 and before that Hamilton in 2013 and Toronto in 2012. Home teams have also won seven of the last eight Eastern Finals and are 16-6 since 2000.
  • No Deep Completions Coincidence: The top three ranked clubs with 20+ depth completions are in the Finals: BC 59, WPG 55, TOR 47.
  • Division All-Stars: The Western Final features 20 of the 27 players selected as 2023 West Division All-Stars (Winnipeg 11, BC 9).
  • Finals Matchups: Since 1946 when the Montréal Alouettes were formed, they have met Toronto in the Eastern Final on 12 occasions. Each team has won six times. Since they first met in a Final game, BC and Winnipeg have played each other four times (1983-85, 2022). Each team has won twice.
  • Finals Records to Watch For: Since 1972 and the creation of the single-game playoff format in both Divisions, here are a few marks to look out for in Division Final games:
    CATEGORYYEARPLAYERTEAMYARDSYEARPLAYERTEAMYARDSPassing Yards1998Jeff GarciaCGY4481990Tracy HamEDM441Rushing Yards1992Mike RichardsonWPG2272011Chris GarrettWPG190Receiving Yards1983Mervyn FernandezBC2602012Chad OwensTOR207Receptions2004Arland Bruce IIITOR12 (receptions)2018Bralon AddisonOTT12 (receptions)
  • Other Records:
    CATEGORYYEARPLAYERTEAMYARDSCATEGORYYEARPLAYERTEAMYARDSPunt Return2009Ryan Grice-MullenBC106 yardsKickoff return2004Arland Bruce IIITOR97FGs made1995Carlos HuertaBAL7FG LG2018Justin MedlockWPG57Sacks2007Cameron WakeBC5Def. Tackles2013Deron MayoCGY14
  • Productive Offence – Semi-Finals: Last week’s games featured 110 points, 55.0 per game and the highest since 2019 (57.5 ppg). The key was that the four clubs converted on second down at 54 per cent of the time keeping drives alive. That turned into 24 drives where clubs scored either a touchdown or a field goal in 52 possessions.
  • Big Plays and Red Zone Last Week: On Offence there were 12 long gainer plays (20+ rush, 30+ pass) but none at all on kick returns. In the red zone, teams cashed in on seven of 14 chances to score a touchdown.
  • All-Time Playoff Rivalry – Year #10 / Finals #5: This game marks the fifth time that Winnipeg and BC have met in the West Final – the first three across 1983 to 1985 and the other time last season when Winnipeg won 28-20. They have each won two of the four Finals matchups. Overall they have played each other nine times in the playoffs with the Lions up five wins to four.
  • Second Place West Grey Cup Winners: No West Division second place club has won the Grey Cup in the last eight post-season campaigns. The last club to do so was Saskatchewan in 2013. Here are the last five clubs that accomplished that feat from the West – BC will be trying to win the Grey Cup after a second place finish for their first time: (four wins from first, two from third) Saskatchewan 2013, Saskatchewan 2007, Calgary 2001, Edmonton 1993, Edmonton 1987.
  • Winnipeg Home Success: The Blue Bombers have not lost a Division Final at home in 29 years. They won at home in 2022, 2021, 2011, and 2001. Their last loss was to Baltimore in the 1994 Eastern Final at Winnipeg Stadium – their only home Finals loss since 1987.
  • Two Years in Row in the Western Final: The last time that the same two clubs met for a second consecutive year in the Western Final was in 2014-15 between Calgary and Edmonton. The last time that two clubs met in the same city two years in a row was in 2006-07 when Saskatchewan visited BC.
  • #1 All-Time Passing Mark 116.2: Winnipeg broke the all-time CFL record for highest team pass rating at 116.2 – the highlights of that rating were 44 touchdowns passes to just 15 interceptions and a 69.0 completion percentage for 4,816 yards.
  • Last Week’s Win Over Calgary: The Lions overcame an early 7-0 deficit (after just four plays and a convert) and reeled off four straight touchdown drives (all of 60 yards or more) to lead 28-13 at the half. At one point BC converted nine straight second down conversion chances, five of which were in second-and-eight or more situations. They gained 292 yards in the first 30:00 and 482 yards overall.
  • BC’s Last seven Division Finals: The Lions look to stop a trend in place since 2007. BC’s record since 2007 in seven Division Final games is just 1-6. Their most recent Finals win came in 2011 (EDM). BC’s last Final wins on the road came at Calgary in 2000 and 1994.
  • 1950 to 2022 – 100 Playoff Games Started: Winnipeg has a 52-46-2 record in 100 playoff games since 1950 and for which we have accurate records for their starting quarterbacks. Here are the pivots with the most playoff wins for the Bombers:
    QUARTERBACKWINSYEARSRECORDQUARTERBACKWINSYEARSRECORDKen Ploen151957-196615-5-1Zach Collaros42019-20224-0-0Jack Jacobs71950-19547-6-1Tom Clements41983-19874-3-0
  • Vernon Adams Jr.: Set a new BC playoff passing record last week eclipsing the total of 375 yards set by Roy Dewalt in 1983. His 413-yard effort was the 20th time that a CFL QB had gone over 400 yards in a playoff game. Adams is now 1-1 in two career playoff starts.
  • Keon Hatcher: Last week, recorded the second-highest ever receiving total by a BC Lion trailing only Mervyn Fernandez and his 260-yard game in 1983 (second all-time overall). Hatcher’s 195 yards was the seventh-highest receiving total in CFL playoff history back to 1950. In regular season play, he led the CFL at 81.4 yards per game.

BC at Winnipeg

  • Team Notes:
    – Consistent Lineups – 15 Starts or More in 2023: Winnipeg 19 players, BC 19 players
    – Experienced Lineups – 100+ Career Games: Winnipeg 11 players, BC 9 players
    – WPG Home Final Games: The Blue Bombers have won their last four home Division Final Games back to 1994.
    – Josh Woods: With Ben Hladik on the sidelines last week, Woods led all CFL tacklers with a career-best 11.
    – Play Call Difference: In 2023, the Bombers play calls were 43 per cent rush attempts; BC’s runs were at 35 per cent of their play calls.
    – Top two CFL Ranked: This game features the top two passers and on a per game basis the top two receivers (Hatcher, Schoen)
    – Zach Collaros: His best two passing yard totals in 2023 were both against BC – 389 & 369 yards (plus another 369 vs OTT)
    – Adams Jr. at Mid-Range: Last week he completed 6-of-8 for 131 yards in the 10-19 yard depth range.
     WPG second Down Conversions: The Bombers had a higher conversion percentage in 15 of their 18 games in 2023.
    – Deep Downfield Passing Close! Winnipeg finished first with 53 completions at 20+ depth, BC was second with 52 connections.
    – Winnipeg Rushing: They outrushed their opponents 13 times and went 12-1. They were 2-3 when outrushed.
    – Sean Whyte: Won his first-ever CFL Divisional Award in 2023. He is the 10th leading scorer all-time in playoffs (147 pts).
    – Penalties: Winnipeg drew by far the fewest in the CFL with only 100 in total, 22 fewer than any other club.
    – Jevon Cottoy and Justin McInnis: Each recorded career-best seasons with 807 and 690 yards respectively.
    – Leading Into Fourth Quarter Critical: BC had a 10-1 record when leading after three quarters; Winnipeg was even better at 12-1.
    – BC Passing: BC led the CFL at 315 passing yards per game – they will match up with Winnipeg’s No. 1 ranked pass defence.
    – BC Pass Defence Last Week: The Lions gave up just two completions to Calgary deeper than 20 yards downfield.
    – Bombers Defence: They led the CFL in fewest points, net yards and passing yards allowed.
    – FG KickersSean Whyte has made 38 of 42 career playoff field goal attempts, Sergio Castillo has yet to attempt one.
    – Knockdown Specialists: Winnipeg led the CFL with 72 and had the CFL’s top three ranked players.
    – Sacks LeaderMathieu Betts was the first BC player to lead the CFL since Keron Williams in 2012 (12).
    – Sacks Allowed Gap: BC allowed 53 sacks in 2023 compared to Winnipeg’s 33 allowed.
    – 500+ Receiving Yards: There are 11 players in this game who went over the 500-yard mark in 2023.
  • Winnipeg at Home: The Blue Bombers are playing in their third straight Division Final and all have been at home. It is the first time they have ever hosted three consecutive single-game Division Finals (Note: Up to 1971 most years were a ‘Best Of …” series).
  • BC Playoffs Year #42: The Lions are into their 42nd post season campaign – they have now gone beyond the Semi-Final round in 24 of those years. BC has now reached the West Final three times in their last four post-season runs back to 2016 losing in the Final on the road in 2016 and 2022.
  • Coaching Records: Mike O’Shea has led Winnipeg to five wins in eight playoff games and he is 3-1 in Final games (2018-2022). Rick Campbell’s playoff record is 5-2 overall and he is 3-1 in Final games.
  • Brady Oliveira: Led the CFL with 1,534 rushing yards and seven games of 100+ – the second-highest rushing total ever by a National. He also led with 2,016 yards from scrimmage – just the second National player to go over the 2000-yd mark from scrimmage. Oliveira is up for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player and Canadian Awards.
  • Zach Collaros: Has a 4-0 record in the playoffs for Winnipeg to go with a 39-8 regular season mark. Including regular season he is now 77-40 overall and against BC he is 11-3 for his full career.
  • Mathieu Betts – 18 QB Sacks: The CFL record for most sacks by a National in a single season was set by BC’s Brent Johnson at 17 in 2005 and tied by Jamaal Westerman (WPG 2015). 2023 West Division Most Outstanding Defensive Player Mathieu Betts passed them both this season with his 18 Sacks. He was named the West Division’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player for 2023.

Montreal at Toronto

  • A Game That Counts: Toronto clinched first place back on September 15, 2023 – a span of 57 days from then until this game day. They did that with a win over Montréal in Week 15 at 11-1 and meant that their final six games had no playoff bearing.
  • Toronto and Montréal Finals #13: Toronto and Montréal have met 12 times in the Eastern Final covering the 1946 to 2023 years (when the Alouettes were formed post WW II). They have split the first 12 meetings winning six times each.
  • Two Hot Teams: Toronto comes into this game with their best-ever 16-2 record and wins in four games in a row. Montréal has the CFL’s longest active win streak at six straight games including last week’s Semi-Final win.
  • Consecutive Eastern Finals: The last time that the same two clubs met for a second consecutive year in the Eastern Final was in 2006 when Toronto played Montréal – that capped a run of five straight head-to-head Finals (2002-2006). The last time they played two years in a row at the same site was Montréal in Toronto in 2003-04.
  • Team Notes:
    – The Argos +27 turnover ratio led the CFL and was their best mark in club history (1966-2023).
    – Toronto comes into this game having won 10 straight games at BMO Field including the 2022 Eastern Final.
    – Montréal was second in the CFL with a +14 turnover ratio – their best mark since 2010.
    – First Down Matchup: Toronto led the CFL at 7.5 yards per play on first down, Montréal was second on defence allowing 5.9 yds.
    – Toronto had exactly one game where their Opponent recorded more Sacks than they did (Calgary, August 4, 2023).
    – In 12 of their games, Montréal had more ‘explosive plays’ than their opponent.
    – The Argos’ 66 total touchdowns was their highest since 1997 (78). They led the CFL in first quarter scoring with 182 pts (182-76, +106).
    – Montréal was second in the CFL with 48 defensive takeaways.
    – The Als’ offence produced the fewest touchdown drives in the CFL with just 31.
    – Field Position: Toronto had better average starting field position in 16 of their 18 games.
    – Toronto led the CFL in run defence allowing just 84 yards per game
    – Third and Short Issue: Toronto converted on just 6-of-11 attempts (55 per cent); the Alouettes were good on 19-of-22 (86 per cent).
    – Big Play Advantage: Toronto ranked first at +16 (63 made, 47 allowed); Montréal was third at +12 (54 made, 42 allowed).
    – Coaches Challenges: The Argos went 0-for-8 on their challenges, the Als were 3-of-12 (CFL-high 12 challenges)
    – TOR vs MTL: The Argos swept the 2023 season series and have won five of the last six meetings.
    – Fast Starts: The Argos led after the first quarter in 12 of their games going 11-1. Montréal led seven times after the first quarter but won all seven.
    – No touchdown Drives: Last week the Alouettes stopped Hamilton on all 13 possessions limiting them to four field goals and with three turnovers.
    – Marc-Antoine Dequoy: Made 80 total defensive plays in 2023 and of those 80, 10 were takeaways/forced fumbles.
    – Adarius Pickett: Made 144 total defensive plays to lead the East and 124 total tackles (tied for 15th all-time).
  • Chad Kelly: With a 15-2 mark in regular season starts, this will be his first-ever playoff start. He saw limited action in 2022 but did come off the bench to throw a 46-yard touchdown pass to DaVaris Daniels.
  • Cody Fajardo: Raised his career playoff mark as a starter to 2-2 last week. Cody is now 2-0 in Semi-Final games but 0-2 in starts in a Division Final game (2019 SSK, 2021 SSK).
    PLAYOFF GAMETEAMATTEMPTSCOMPLETIONSPERCENTAGEYARDSINTERCEPTIONSTOUCHDOWNSSACKSRESULT2019 FinalSSK412765.9366102L2021 SFSSK332266.7189410W2021 FinalSSK271970.4265015L2023 SFMTL231565.2212123WPlayoffsSSK/MTL1248366.91,03264102-2 
  • 2023 Return touchdowns #1-2: Toronto and Montréal earned their way into this game with a focus on scoring on defence and special teams.
  • They ranked easily #1-2 in the CFL in Non-Offensive touchdowns: Montreal 12, Toronto 10. No other club had more than seven touchdowns.
  • Toronto 10-0 Division Record: In Canadian Football history, NO team had EVER completed their season with a perfect divisional record of at least nine wins. The Argos went 10-0 in 2023 to break the mark set by Montreal at 8-0 in 2004.
  • Stars of Last Year’s Eastern Final: The leading offensive players last year were Tyson Philpot with eight catches for 127 yards and a touchdown for Montréal while DaVaris Daniels caught three passes for 107 yards and a major. Neither quarterback starter returns for the 2023 re-match. Leading rushers were William Stanback with 84 yards and for Toronto the combination of Andrew Harris (42) AJ Ouellette (38).
  • FG % Differential: For Montreal, David Côté has never missed a playoff field goal attempt going 9-of-9 including his 4-of-4 performance last week. Boris Bede has been outstanding as well with 9-of-10 in the playoffs. Where they differed however was that Bede led the CFL in 2023 at 94.9 per cent (35-of-37) while Côté had his lowest career mark at 75.0 per cent (39-of-52).
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