CFL West final preview: What you need to know about Blue Bombers vs. Roughriders

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris (33) fights with Saskatchewan Roughriders' Micah Johnson (2) and Christian Campbell (38) during first half CFL action in Winnipeg, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (John Woods/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The visiting Saskatchewan Roughriders (10-5) will face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (11-3) in the second CFL West final in a row between the longtime rivals.

Accustomed to playing a much-anticipated Labour Day home-and-home set annually, the prairie towns are squaring off in the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

It’s the second of two rivalry games on CFL division final Sunday with the Toronto Argonauts hosting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a Battle-of-the-QEW East championship prior to the Winnipeg-Saskatchewan clash.

Here is a capsule look at the West final:

THE SCHEDULE: Sunday, 4 p.m. ET / 1 p.m. PT at IG Field.

THE LINE: The Blue Bombers opened as 6-point favourites at Oddsshark.com.

AT STAKE: The winner goes to Hamilton for the Grey Cup against the Tiger-Cats or Argonauts on Dec. 12.

THE SEASON SERIES: The Bombers were 2-0 against the Roughriders. Winnipeg won 23-8 in Regina on Sept. 5 and 33-9 at home six days later. The Roughriders didn’t score a touchdown in the two games and didn’t score a point in either second half.

PLAYOFF HISTORY: It’s a rematch of the last West final, won 20-13 by the Bombers in Regina in 2019. The Bombers went on to capture the Grey Cup. Winnipeg, which also beat Saskatchewan in the 2018 West semi, is making its fifth straight playoff appearance.

The Roughriders are coming off a dramatic 33-30 double overtime win over Calgary in last week’s West semi.

It marked Saskatchewan’s first playoff victory since the Roughriders won the Grey Cup in 2013. Saskatchewan is in the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.

THE COACHES: Mike O’Shea (Winnipeg) vs. Craig Dickenson (Saskatchewan)

O’Shea, the longest-serving coach in the league, has been on the job since 2014. The former CFL star linebacker from North Bay, Ont., has guided the Blue Bombers to five consecutive winning seasons after going a combined 12-24 in his first two years. This year marks the first time the Bombers finished first in the West under O’Shea, giving Winnipeg a playoff bye and home-field advantage for this game.

Dickenson, the former special teams coach for Saskatchewan, was promoted to the top job in 2019 after the departure of Chris Jones to the NFL (he's now the Argos' defensive co-ordinator). The brother of Calgary Stampeders coach Dave Dickenson, Craig led the Roughriders to a 13-5 first-place finish in 2019 before this year’s second-place showing.

THE QUARTERBACKS: Zach Collaros (Winnipeg) vs. Cody Fajardo (Saskatchwan)
Collaros’ improbable journey to Winnipeg – where he has enjoyed a career renaissance – started when he suffered a concussion while starting with the Roughriders in their 2019 season opener. While Collaros was hurt, the Roughriders turned to Fajardo and eventually traded Collaros to the Argonauts. Toronto then dealt Collaros to Winnipeg later in ’19 and all he did was lead the Bombers to the Grey Cup. This year, the 33-year-old is the favourite to win the league’s most outstanding player award.

The dual-threat Fajardo, meanwhile, has been very good for the Roughriders, finishing third in the league in passing yards and seventh in rushing this season. He survived a four-interception night to beat Calgary last week.

THREE MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Blue Bombers’ pass offence vs. Roughriders’ pass defence: Collaros, with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions on the season, goes against a Roughriders defence that was last in the league in passing yards allowed. The Roughriders will have to figure out a way to defend league-leading receiver Kenny Lawler and one of the CFL’s best Canadian pass-catchers in Nic Demski. Saskatchewan also could have trouble getting pressure on Collaros, who has four West all-star offensive linemen in front of him. The Bombers allowed a league-low 16 sacks this season. However, Saskatchewan had the top two players in sacks this year -- AC Leonard (11) and Jonathan Woodard (10).

Roughriders’ offensive line vs. Blue Bombers’ defensive front: Saskatchewan allowed seven sacks in the two games against Winnipeg, including three by Blue Bombers star defensive end Willie Jefferson. The Bombers also have the West’s top defensive player in linebacker Adam Bighill, who does a bit of everything for his unit. But there were good signs up front on offence from the Roughriders last week against Calgary. They did not give up a sack and rushed for 162 yards.

Blue Bombers vs. rust: After sweeping the Labour Day series with the Roughriders, the Blue Bombers rolled to the West title. Winnipeg clinched the West title way back on Oct. 23, meaning it has been more than a month since the Blue Bombers played a game of consequence. O’Shea has experience in the scenario, having been a part of two Argos teams that clinched first in the East early en route to Grey Cup wins in 1996 and ’97.

THIS 'N THAT: Bombers star RB Andrew Harris, the MVP of the ’19 Grey Cup, was back at practice this week after missing six weeks with a knee injury. The Winnipeg native gives the Bombers another big offensive weapon … The Roughriders dealt with off-field drama early in the week when their defensive player of the year, DB Loucheiz Purifoy, was detained by Regina police for “breaching the peace” at a restaurant after the team’s win over Calgary. Purifoy spent the night in a holding cell, but was not charged. Purifoy, who admitted he got loud because of slow service, said he regretted his decision to go out after the game … One of the best rivalries in the CFL became even more heated this year. Roughriders linebacker A.J. Hendy and defensive lineman Garrett Marino were ejected after a first-half brawl against Winnipeg in the teams’ second game of the season.

PREDICTION: Blue Bombers 31, Roughriders 7

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