The 2021 CFL West semifinal pits the visiting Calgary Stampeders (8-6) against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (9-5) in their first playoff meeting since 2013.
Despite a slow start, Calgary reminded the CFL why they remain the model of consistency in the West Division clinching a playoff spot for the 16th-straight season. Saskatchewan was once again a strong team from start to finish claiming second place in the division and earning that all-important home-field advantage.
Here's a preview of the game looking back at the regular season series and key matchups.
THE SCHEDULE: Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET / 1:30 p.m. PT at Mosaic Stadium.
THE LINE: Roughriders listed as 1.5-point favourites on oddshark.com.
AT STAKE: The winner goes to Winnipeg to face the reigning Grey Cup champion Blue Bombers in the West final on Dec. 5.
THE SEASON SERIES: The Stampeders took two of three games against the Roughriders with each game finishing within six points.
Calgary took the first meeting 23-17 on Oct. 2 and won again 22-19 on Oct. 9 as Saskatchewan won 20-17 on Oct. 23 to avoid getting swept.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: In 2019, Calgary was upset by the Blue Bombers in the West semifinal after winning the Grey Cup in 2018. The Stampeders are 13-26-2 as the road team in the post-season.
The Roughriders claimed the West Division title in 2019 but were upset by the Blue Bombers who went on to win the Grey Cup. Since 1936, Saskatchewan is 23-18-1 as the home team in the playoffs.
THE COACHES: Dave Dickenson (Calgary) vs. Craig Dickenson (Saskatchewan)
For the first time in history, the Dickenson brothers will face off in the playoffs. In Calgary, Dave owns a 3-1 record in the playoffs and helped guide his team to a Grey Cup title in 2019. As a player, he was CFL and Grey Cup MVP and was named the CFL coach of the year in 2016. His brother Craig was named the coach of the Roughriders in 2019 after spending five seasons as an assistant. He was also an assistant in Edmonton and Calgary and is a two-time Grey Cup champion.
THE QUARTERBACKS: Bo Levi Mitchell (Calgary) vs. Cody Fajardo (Saskatchewan)
Mitchell's season didn't get off to a great start as injuries and poor play led to a rough 2-4 record through six games then he started to turn a corner victories over the Roughriders to get the team to .500. Mitchell threw for 2,594 yards, 10 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and finished the second half of the season on a 6-1 run. The two-time CFL MOP and two-time Grey Cup champion faces Saskatchewan in the playoffs for the first time in his career
After a breakout season where he was nominated for the CFL's MOP Award, Fajardo ensured the Roughriders were back near the top of the West. His production took a dip finishing third in the CFL in passing yards with 2,970, second in passing touchdowns with 14 and led all quarterbacks with 468 rushing yards. He will be looking to overcome a tough loss in last year's West Final to Winnipeg where the final and potential game-tying play ended with Fajardo's pass in the endzone going off the crossbar.
THREE MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Duke Williams vs. Stampeders secondary
Duke Williams decided to stir the pot a little bit heading into Sunday's game warning Calgary that he and his fellow receivers will take advantage of their secondary if they try to play zone coverage.
“They’re not going to play man-to-man, they can’t cover us man-to-man so why would they even play us man to man? We know they’re going to play zone, we just got to be where we at,” Williams told reporters.
“They’re a disciplined team, I respect them, but all they do is play zone, drop back, rush four, nothing more than that. There’s always one door open in a zone, you can’t cover every window, you just got to be there at the right time — I love playing zone teams.”
After signing with Saskatchewan back in the beginning of October, Williams made his season debut against the Stampeders making three catches for 48 yards. It took some time for the former Buffalo Bills receiver to get back into the swing of CFL action but saved his best performance in the regular season finale where he had 146 yards and a touchdown.
It's no secret that Saskatchewan will be looking to throw the ball to Williams but the Stampeders got a major boost to the secondary when they brought back defensive back Tre Roberson who was an all-star and nominee for the Most Outstanding Defensive Player award in 2019 when he had seven interceptions.
If Williams is able to find open space downfield, expect the Roughriders to try and get the ball in his hands.
Ka’Deem Carey, Stampeders offensive line vs. Roughriders defensive front
Calgary made sure to run a more balanced offence this season by getting running back Ka'Deem Carey involved more. He finished the season second in the CFL with 869 yards and seven rushing touchdowns.
His best game of the season came against the Roughriders where he had 178 yards from scrimmage and a rushing touchdown. Saskatchewan doesn't allow much on the ground allowing just 4.4 yards per carry and 82.5 yards per game this season.
The Stampeders allowed just 20 sacks this season (second-fewest among CFL teams) but they are going against a Roughriders defence that finished second in sacks (47) and forced turnovers (34). Containing A.C. Leonard and Jonathan Woodward will be crucial for Calgary's offensive line considering they finished first and second in the CFL in sacks and it will be easier to do that if they can establish the run.
Reggie Begelton, Kamar Jorden vs. Roughriders secondary
Roberson wasn't the only major addition Calgary made late in the season as they brought back Reggie Begelton as well. The 28-year-old wasted no time getting reacquainted into the offence making seven catches for 119 yards and a touchdown in his season debut against the B.C. Lions.
What the Stampeders envisioned when they brought Begelton back was to provide a boost to an already dynamic offence led by Kamar Jorden who finished with 767 yards and four touchdowns despite missing three games with a hamstring injury.
Providing Mitchell with another elite target in the passing game is crucial considering the Roughriders have two great playmakers in the secondary with Nick Marshall and Ed Gainey. Now, Saskatchewan has to account for two big-time receivers and seeing how they intercepted Mitchell three times in their last meeting, they will be looking to make plays on the ball.
THIS 'N THAT: The Stampeders have not lost in back-to-back divisional playoff games since 2010, 2011 when they lost to Saskatchewan and Edmonton...The last two times Calgary and Saskatchewan played in the West semifinal, the winner went on to the Grey Cup in 2007 and 2012...In 20 all-time playoff games, Calgary and Saskatchewan are deadlocked at 10-10...The Stampeders roster has a combined 106 CFL games worth of playoff experience with Randy Chevrier (15), Calvin McCarty (13), Rene Paredes (11) and Bo Levi Mitchell (10) all with 10-plus appearances.
PREDICTION: Calgary 28, Saskatchewan 24