CFL Week 18 Preview: Blue Bombers takes on Lions for West supremacy

2RD11WR Ottawa, Canada. 15th July, 2023. July 15, 2023: Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros (8) sets to throw a pass during the CFL game between Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Ottawa Redblacks held at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa, Canada. Daniel Lea/CSM/Sipa USA (Credit Image: © Daniel Lea/Cal Sport Media/Sipa USA) Credit: Sipa US/Alamy Live News

• Toronto CB Qwan’tez Stiggers for Rookie of the Year? He’s been especially great over his last five games, as he’s allowed just three first downs and a mere 0.56 yards per coverage snap. Stiggers has an 82.1 coverage grade on the season, which ranks third among all corners.

• Collaros vs. Adams Jr. is the QB matchup of the season: Both players are in the thick of the Most Outstanding Player race. The two have the exact same season grade at 90.2 overall. They’ve each thrown a league-high 35 big-time throws.

• QB Matthew Shiltz back in the starting lineup for Hamilton: It’s a small sample size, but Shiltz has an 8.7% big-time throw rate (second in the CFL) and just a 2.8% turnover-worthy play rate (also second).

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

WR:CB Matchup Chart


EDMONTON ELKS VS. TORONTO ARGONAUTS

This game should be interesting in that it’s a must-win for one team and completely irrelevant for the other. Toronto has locked up the top seed in the East and is now just trying to stay healthy on its way to hosting the East finals. Star QB Chad Kelly (league-high 90.3 season grade) will get the start after resting last week, but how much he ends up playing remains to be seen. On the other side, an Edmonton loss (or a Saskatchewan win) means they are officially eliminated from playoff contention. Considering their 0-8 start, it’s impressive that they are even in it to begin with. They can thank the play of QB Tre Ford (86.7) and the improvement of their offensive line for the turnaround, but it may have been too little too late. The Elks can only control one game at a time though, so they’ll need a big game to beat the league’s top team. 

MATCHUP TO WATCH: RT BRETT BOYKO, EDMONTON VS. EDGE FOLARIN ORIMOLADE, TORONTO 

Since Ford took over at QB in Week 10, Boyko has been one of the CFL's best pass blockers. He’s allowed just two sacks and six total pressures over that span, and his 81.3 pass-blocking grade ranks third in the CFL. He’ll need to keep that level of play this week against one of the top pass-rushers in the league. Orimolade is tied for second in the league with 63 total pressures this season. His win rate of 16.5% ranks fourth, as does his 85.3 pass-rushing grade. Simply put, Orimolade is hard to block. If Boyko can’t find a way to slow him down, it could be a long night for the Edmonton offense. 

PLAYER TO WATCH: CB QWAN’TEZ STIGGERS, TORONTO 

There may not be a better story in the CFL this year than Stiggers. The rookie corner did not play college football and had just one season of Fan Controlled Football under his belt when he signed with the Argos last offseason. But he managed to earn a spot as one of the starting corners and has been playing incredibly well all year. He’s been especially great over his last five games, where he’s allowed just three first downs and is allowing a mere 0.56 yards per coverage snap. Stiggers has a coverage grade of 82.1 on the season, which ranks third among all corners. He’ll have a big test this week against the Elks' elite WR Eugene Lewis and will be a player to really keep an eye on.


WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS VS. BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS

This is the game to watch this week, and possibly the game of the year for the CFL regular season. Both teams are 11-4 and tied at the top of the West Division standings. A win all but assures the top spot and the all-important first-round bye. The teams have met twice this season, splitting the games in blowout fashion (30-6 BC in game one, 50-14 Winnipeg in game two). This game is littered with stars. You have the top two WR duos in the CFL in BC’s Keon Hatcher and Alexander Hollins (No. 1 graded slot receiver, No. 2 outside receiver) and Winnipeg’s Dalton Schoen and Kenny Lawler (No. 2 slot, No. 1 outside). The Bombers have Jackson Jeffcoat (highest-graded edge defender in the CFL) while the Lions have Mathieu Betts (highest-graded pass-rusher in the CFL). These are two of the most talented teams in the CFL and this should be one of the most exciting games of the season. 

MATCHUP TO WATCH: QB ZACH COLLAROS, WINNIPEG VS. QB VERNON ADAMS JR., BRITISH COLUMBIA 

This isn’t exactly a matchup in the traditional sense, but these two quarterbacks' performances will go a long way both in who wins this game but also for awards season. Both players are in the thick of the Most Outstanding Player race. The two have the exact same season grade at 90.2 overall. They’ve each thrown a league-high 35 big-time throws. Collaros is safer with the football, with just 14 turnover-worthy plays this season (Adams has 24), but Adams can make up for that with his legs. He’s picked up 23 first downs on runs, one of the highest marks in the league (Collaros has just five). These are two of the best quarterbacks in the CFL and a big performance from one here could vault them to the top of the MOP race with current favorite Chad Kelly playing only sporadically down the stretch.

PLAYER TO WATCH: S QUINCY MAUGER, BRITISH COLUMBIA

Winnipeg’s Collaros loves throwing the deep ball, and that’s exactly what Mauger takes away. The rangy safety has been phenomenal this year. He’s the second-highest-graded safety in the league at 81.3 overall. He allows just 0.33 yards per coverage snap when he’s the primary coverage defender. But more importantly, the Lions as a defense have allowed a league-low 25 deep receptions (20-plus yards in air) and just five touchdowns (second fewest). Much of that success can be attributed to Mauger in his free safety role. He’s constantly in tight coverage on any deep target and his ability to cover so much of the field makes it hard for quarterbacks to really threaten deep. If he can take that away from the Bombers offense, it’ll be tough for them to overcome it.


HAMILTON TIGER-CATS VS. SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS

While not quite the same stakes as the game above, there are still plenty of implications for this cross-division game. Hamilton is currently one game back of Montreal for second in the East (and the home playoff game that comes with it). Saskatchewan meanwhile has lost four straight games and has kept the door open for Calgary, Edmonton, or Ottawa to potentially pass them and sneak into the playoffs. A win here by the Riders makes that impossible for Edmonton and Ottawa. The Roughriders need to get stronger play out of QB Jake Dolegala if they want to win this game. He has just a 64.4 passing grade over that losing streak and his eight turnover-worthy plays are the most in the league over that span. Across from him, Hamilton will see QB Matthew Shiltz likely start after returning from injury and playing well last week.    

MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR TIM WHITE, HAMILTON VS. HB AMARI HENDERSON, SASKATCHEWAN

From Weeks 11-14, White went on as big a tear as any receiver has this season. Over four games, he recorded 29 catches for 448 yards, six contested catches, 13 explosive plays and an 84.2 receiving grade, all of which led the league. He has slowed down quite a bit since then, with a receiving grade of just 59.4 over the last three games. He’ll be looking for a bounceback game against Henderson. That won’t be easy, as the slot corner has been having quite a good season. His 79.2 coverage grade ranks fourth among halfbacks, and he allows just 0.58 yards per coverage snap. Henderson has been able to lock down top slot receivers throughout the year. If he can do it again, he’ll take away Hamilton’s top weapon and make things very difficult for that offense.

PLAYER TO WATCH: QB MATTHEW SHILTZ, HAMILTON 

Rookie quarterback Taylor Powell played fine during his stint as the Hamilton starter. But it was clear last week that Shiltz should and will be the starter as long as he’s healthy (and as long as Hamilton realizes he’s a better option than a soon-to-be-healthy Bo Levi Mitchell). It’s a small sample size, but Shiltz has an 8.7% big-time throw rate (second in the CFL) and just a 2.8% turnover-worthy play rate (also second). Compare that to Powell who ranked 11th and 13th in those respective rates. Shiltz will push the ball downfield often and effectively. His 48.1% adjusted completion rate on deep throws ranks fourth in the CFL behind only the big three (Kelly, Collaros and Adams Jr.). Look for Shiltz to uncork some bombs in this game as he tries to stretch out this Roughriders defense.


OTTAWA REDBLACKS VS. MONTREAL ALOUETTES 

Ottawa suffered a tough loss to these Alouettes last week, and that essentially closed the book on their playoff chances. While they are not officially eliminated yet, it’s currently out of their hands as Saskatchewan needs to win just one more game and it’s over. QB Dustin Crum played his worst game of the season last week, forcing bad throws (three turnover-worthy plays) and missing open looks. He finished with a grade of just 53.9 overall. He’ll need to bounce back for Ottawa to have any chance in this one. Montreal is looking to win and keep a hold on their home playoff game, as they are currently one game up on Hamilton for second in the East. QB Cody Fajardo’s struggles continued last week (53.9 passing grade) and he was lucky it didn’t cost them. In the six games since his return from injury, Fajardo has a league-low passing grade of just 59.1 and 12 turnover-worthy plays to just six big-time throws. 

MATCHUP TO WATCH: LT NICK CALLENDER, MONTREAL VS. EDGE BRYCE CARTER, OTTAWA

Looking at the numbers, it’s been a very good season for Carter off the edge. He’s currently tied for second with 63 total pressures, and his pass rush win rate of 13.3% ranks seventh among edge rushers. But last week was a tough week for him. He finished with just one sack and one additional pressure. In fact, when he matched up against Callender, he didn’t record a single pressure. He also didn’t contribute against the run either. Callender is the highest-graded left tackle in the CFL this season at 75.2 overall. But his pass-blocking efficiency score of 96.4 ranks eighth. When he’s beaten, it often ends in a sack. So he’ll need a repeat performance and keep Carter off the stat sheet if Montreal is going to have the same success as last week. 

PLAYER TO WATCH: WR AUSTIN MACK, MONTREAL

Mack missed last week’s game due to injury, but it looks like he should be back for this one. Ultimately, they didn’t need him, but Montreal’s offense definitely could’ve used Mack last week. He’s been a Redblacks killer this year. In the two previous games he played, Mack put up 13 catches for 236 yards. He picked up eight first downs, had four explosive plays and made three contested catches in those games. Mack has been one of the best receivers in the CFL this season and is averaging 2.23 yards per route run, which ranks second among outside receivers. Mack can do it all, from making guys miss after a short catch, to taking shots over the middle, to hauling in deep bombs. Watch for him to have a big impact in this game.

Subscriptions

Unlock the 2023 Fantasy Draft Kit, with League Sync, Live Draft Assistant, PFF Grades & Data Platform that powers all 32 Pro Teams

$31 Draft Kit Fee + $8.99/mo
OR
$89.88/yr + FREE Draft Kit