Monday, July 18, 2011

The winners and the losers: setting up Friday?s games

Week Two's Friday Night Football doubleheader should be an interesting one, as each game features a pair of teams with identical records. The first one should feature a battle of terrific running backs, as Cory Boyd and the Toronto Argonauts (1-0 after a close 23-21 victory over the Calgary Stampeders in Week One) head to Winnipeg to take on Fred Reid (pictured above taking a handoff from �quarterback Buck Pierce last week) and the Blue Bombers (7:30 p.m. Eastern, TSN), who also picked up a win in their season-opener on the road in Hamilton. The late game features two teams in the opposite situation, with the aforementioned 0-1 Stampeders travelling to B.C. to face the Lions (10:30 p.m. Eastern, TSN), who narrowly fell 30-26 to Montreal in their first game. Regardless of who emerges victorious in these games, unless there are one or more ties, we'll have a 2-0 team, two 1-1 teams and a 0-2 team, or binomial theorem-endorsed results.

Does that really mean all that much, though? From the point of view of the standings, winning games in Weeks One and Two is no more important than winning games in Weeks Eight and Twelve. A win is a win is a win, and a loss is a loss is a loss. What's in a win? That which we call a win in any other week would be as important to determine who makes the playoffs, and every team's still going to have 16 games to play after this week. It's worth noting that the defending Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes went 1-1 in their first two weeks of play last season. They were 2-0 after two weeks en route to winning in 2009, but the eventual champion Stampeders were only 1-1 after two weeks in 2008. Saskatchewan was 2-0 in 2007, but B.C. was only 1-1 in 2006. Thus, sweeping the first two games is hardly a prerequisite to lifting the Grey Cup, although it's probably best not to lose your first two games.

It is possible that the first two games of the CFL season have a larger effect than your average two games, though, as there are potential morale and momentum implications to consider. That's particularly true in Winnipeg, where the Bombers haven't won their first two games since 2003. Winning the first two might help the team's confidence and convince the players to buy into the team's systems and philosophies, which is certainly a possible outcome in Toronto as well. Losing the first two might raise major questions, especially for a team that was highly-touted heading into the season, which could apply to either Calgary or Vancouver. There's a long way to go after this still, but the start to the season certainly doesn't seem to be insignificant.

In Winnipeg, expect a game with plenty of ground-and-pound action, as the CFL's top two backs from a yardage perspective last season (the Bombers' Reid and the Argonauts' Boyd) are both expected to feature heavily. Both teams also have solid defences; Toronto held Calgary's vaunted attack to just 21 points last week, while Winnipeg only conceded 16 against Hamilton. Both of these squads have quarterback issues as well. �Pierce may have survived a massive hit last week, but he only threw for 151 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a 46.2 per cent completion rate. Cleo Lemon led the Argonauts to victory, but looked more like the sour old version than the supposedly new-and-improved model, completing 16 of 30 passes for 187 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Thus, we might not see a passing shootout.

Out in B.C., we may see a higher-scoring match. Both teams have dominant aerial attacks, with Travis Lulay (pictured leaping for a touchdown in last year's playoff game against Saskatchewan last year) throwing for 366 yards and a touchdown in the Lions' first game (with a 57.8 per cent completion rate) and Henry Burris throwing for 293 (with a 70.3 per cent completion rate and an interception). Calgary also has a strong rushing game with Joffrey Reynolds, Jon Cornish and Burris' own mobility, while B.C. has more questions there; Jamal Robertson and Andrew Harris are talented, but weren't used much in Week One.

Both defences in the late game have some question marks, especially in the secondary, but the Lions would appear to have the special-teams edge with outstanding veteran kicker Paul McCallum and promising returner Tim Brown (the CFL's special-teams player of the week in Week One). Calgary returner Larry Taylor's certainly accomplished plenty in the CFL to date as well, but wasn't quite as impressive in the first week; he did pick up 121 yards on five kick returns and 95 yards on nine punt returns, but did lose a fumble. The Stampeders have a great punter in Burke Dales, but will be relying on unproven kicker Rene Paredes thanks to an injury to Rob Maver. Each of these squads will do all they can to avoid an 0-2 start, but only one will be likely able to (barring a tie). We'll see who triumphs under the Friday night lights.

Veronica Kay Mýa Natalie Imbruglia Patricia Velásquez Jennifer Morrison

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