CFL Week 21 Preview: No playoff implications but plenty of storylines

2T2X6AW Winnipeg, Canada. 21st Oct, 2023. October 21, 2023, WINNIPEG, MB, CANADA: Winnipeg Blue Bombers""?A?A´ Brady Oliveira (20) runs for the first down against the Edmonton Elks during first half CFL action in Winnipeg, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. (Credit Image: © John Woods/The Canadian Press via Credit: Zuma Press/Alamy Live News

• You can’t stop Winnipeg RB Brady Oliveira from getting yards: Oliveira leads the league in carries by a significant amount and yet has only been stuffed (rush for no gain or less) on 6.7% of those carries, the lowest mark in the league

• QB Bo Levi Mitchell finally rounded into form last game: He made three big-time throws and just one turnover-worthy play (his previous ratio was a very poor 2:14) and finished with a season-high 78.0 passing grade.

• Second half surge for Redblack’s RB Devonte Williams: Since Week 12, Williams has a rushing grade of 88.4, second in the league behind Brady Oliveira. He’s forced a ridiculous 46 missed tackles in that span (nobody else has more than 28).

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes 

WR:CB Matchup Chart


WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS VS. CALGARY STAMPEDERS

Unfortunately for the league, there are no games this weekend that have any playoff implications, but that doesn’t mean these games don’t matter. For some, it’s a chance to round into form before the playoffs. For others, it’s a chance to rest some stars so that they are fresh for their do-or-die game. Winnipeg is choosing to rest many starters, so we won’t see QB Zach Collaros (87.9 season grade), WRs Dalton Schoen (79.7) and Nic Demski (75.5) or EDGE rushers Jackson Jeffcoat (85.0) and Willie Jefferson (70.4). Calgary is starting most of its usual lineup, hoping that it can use this game to build some momentum going into next week’s West Division semifinals. The Stampeders will need better play from QB Jake Maier (64.0 passing grade since Week 16) to pull off a playoff upset so this game will be big for his confidence heading into that game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR KENNY LAWLER, WINNIPEG VS. CB JONATHAN MOXEY, CALGARY

While it hasn’t quite been the All-Star season that he had last year, it’s still been a solid season for Moxey at corner. He’s forced six incompletions to go along with his interception and is allowing 0.88 yards per coverage snap. Only three times all season has he surrendered more than 50 yards in coverage. Meanwhile, Lawler has six such games (out of only 11) and his 2.66 yards per route run is the highest in the CFL. Something will have to give here. Neither of these guys may play the entire game, but when they do it will be one of the best matchups to watch.

PLAYER TO WATCH: RB BRADY OLIVEIRA, WINNIPEG

Another caveat with this game is how much Oliveira actually plays. He’s listed as the Bombers starting running back, but it seems likely that he will not get a full workload as they need him healthy for the playoffs. But when he plays, he’s a must-watch. The Blue Bombers Most Outstanding Player nominee for a reason, Oliveira is the top RB in the CFL this season, with a 92.8 rushing grade. Maybe the most impressive stat is that Oliveira leads the league in carries by a significant amount and yet has only been stuffed (rush for no gain or less) on 6.7% of those carries, the lowest mark in the league. Oliveira needs two yards to become only the second Canadian RB ever to rush for over 1,500 yards in a season. Look for that milestone to fall on the first play of the game.


HAMILTON TIGER-CATS VS. MONTREAL ALOUETTES

This game will happen, but there’s next to no chance that either team is going to show anything beyond the most basic plays on the field. With these two teams playing again next week in the East Division semifinals, neither team is going to want to give anything away this week in a game that means essentially nothing. Both of these teams will probably give their starters some playing time to keep them fresh but then put the backups in once they’ve seen enough. Montreal QB Cody Fajardo (68.6 passing grade this season) has 16 turnover-worthy plays and just eight big-time throws since returning from injury in Week 12. He’ll need to reverse that ratio come next week’s playoff game and this game could be a chance to build his confidence early.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: LG BRANDON REVENBERG, HAMILTON VS. DI MUSTAFA JOHNSON, MONTREAL

Revenberg is the CFL's top-graded offensive lineman this season, with a 76.4 season grade. Johnson is the top interior defender in the CFL, with an 85.4 season grade. These two matching up will be as good a matchup as there is in the league. Revenberg rarely gets beaten in the run game (78.2 run block grade, second in the CFL) while Johnson has 33 run tackles, including 16 solo stops. Revenberg has a 98.1 pass-blocking efficiency score (sixth in the CFL) while Johnson has 68 total pressures and an 89.7 pass-rush grade, both the highest marks among interior defenders. While we may not see an entire game of these two against one another, when they are it’s the matchup of the game.

PLAYER TO WATCH: QB BO LEVI MITCHELL, HAMILTON

Based on how Hamilton has been playing things, it seems likely that Mitchell is going to be the starting QB come playoff time. They’ve been working him back into game shape on a snap count the past two games since he returned, so look for that to continue in this game. Mitchell had been the lowest-graded quarterback in the CFL prior to their Week 19 game, but he finally took a step forward in that one. He made three big-time throws and just one turnover-worthy play (his previous ratio was a very poor 2:14) and finished with a season-high 78.0 passing grade. If he can play well in this game too, it will give Hamilton a ton of confidence heading into their playoff rematch next week.


TORONTO ARGONAUTS VS. OTTAWA REDBLACKS

This game is a chance for Ottawa to end the season on a high note. It isn’t playing for anything other than pride and its own individual futures but don’t expect the team to take it easy. Even though Toronto will be resting most of its top players, a win over the Argonauts will still mean a lot for the Redblacks. Rookie QB Dustin Crum (88.7 season grade) will be trying to end the season on a high note after his three below-average games in a row. On both defenses, Ottawa’s Bryce Carter and Toronto’s Folarin Orimolade are in a tight race for who will finish the season with the second most total pressures. Carter is at 71 and Orimolade is at 70 (BC’s Mathieu Betts leads the league with 91). Seeing which of those two finishes with more pressure is one of the fun battles in this game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: WR SHAQ EVANS, OTTAWA VS. CB QWAN’TEZ STIGGERS, TORONTO

It’s been another tough season for Evans, who missed time due to injury again and was far off from reaching the height of his 2019 All-Star season. He has just six explosive receptions this season and is averaging only 1.01 yards per route run. He’ll have an even tougher time getting open if he lines up across from the Argos Most Outstanding Rookie nominee Stiggers. The corner has the sixth-highest grade among all defenders in the CFL at 85.0 this season. He’s been one of the best players in the CFL in general, not just among rookie players. Keep an eye on this matchup and see if Stiggers can take Evans out of the game like he has so many receivers already this year.

PLAYER TO WATCH: RB DEVONTE WILLIAMS, OTTAWA

Ottawa has been leaning on their run game all season in order to give Dustin Crum some help as he acclimates to the CFL, and over the second half of the season, Williams has been unstoppable. Since Week 12, Williams has a rushing grade of 88.4, second in the league behind Brady Oliveira. He’s forced a ridiculous 46 missed tackles in that span (nobody else has more than 28). His 24 explosive runs also led the league over that period. Williams is a human highlight reel and one of the most exciting players to watch. He is just 48 yards shy of 1,000 rushing yards on the year, so look for him to get out and crack that milestone in the final game of the season.

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