CFL division finals: Redblacks, Lions look like strong picks

Lions receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux, left, will likely be ready to go by Sunday. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

The Edmonton Eskimos make their second ever appearance in the CFL Eastern Final on Sunday when they take on the Ottawa Redblacks. The last time Edmonton crossed over and won an East semifinal, it lost 36-26 to Montreal in 2008.

Meanwhile in the West, Calgary and B.C. meet for the fourth time in 2016, with head coaches Wally Buono and Dave Dickenson matching wits.

Edmonton Eskimos (11-8) @ Ottawa Redblacks (8-9-1)

Mike Reilly appears to be all systems go. Edmonton’s franchise pivot took a shot from Simoni Lawrence and immediately left the game last week in Hamilton. It appeared to be a left shoulder injury as the Eskies signal caller made his way to the locker-room, returning to the sideline with a brace on.

The shoulder was at least strong enough to hold a newborn baby as Emily, Reilly’s wife, gave birth to their first child, Brooklyn on Monday. Reilly admitted that he hasn’t slept a lot since the baby was born. Mark Nelson, Ottawa’s defensive coordinator, has likely lost some sleep preparing for Edmonton’s dynamic offence, especially considering the Redblacks allowed the most passing yards in the East Division and Reilly was the most prolific passer in the league this year.

Jason Maas’s offence has developed balance for the playoffs, rushing for more yards than the Eskimos passed for against the Ticats. John White recorded season highs with 20 carries and 160 yards on the ground. And Shakir Bell, a shifty, talented back, will be dressed once again in the East Final.

Cleyon Laing could be a key defender for the Redblacks in trying to neutralize Edmonton’s ‘O.’ The Canadian defensive tackle was signed on Nov. 2 after being released from the Miami Dolphins practice squad. He provides a stout presence against the run and pushes the pocket from the interior defensive line (8 sacks with Toronto in 2015).

It seems like everyone is convinced an Edmonton-Calgary Grey Cup is a forgone conclusion, but never in CFL history has a West team played all the way through the East (ask Justin Medlock what those odds are like). Ottawa plus the points is the prudent play.

Line: Eskimos -2
Pick: Ottawa

BC Lions (13-6) @ Calgary Stampeders (15-2-1)

Rewind through the three games B.C. and Calgary played in 2016: the Leos beat Calgary 20-18 in Week 1, Week 6 saw the Stamps rally from a 15-point deficit in the final four minutes and 33 seconds to force overtime and win, then in Week 9 Dickenson’s group laid a 37-9 beating on a toothless Lions club.

That Week 6 matchup jumps out because it was played at McMahon Stadium and B.C. had the game in hand until Jonathon Jennings threw an ill-timed interception, which spurred a Stamps comeback and overtime win. Despite that loss B.C. proved that they could hang with Calgary in Cowtown. However, Jennings must avoid costly mistakes.

It appears likely that Jennings will have No. 1 target Emmanuel Arceneaux available. The 1,500-yard receiver took a hellacious hit from rookie Bombers safety Taylor Loffler, which dented his helmet. That could give B.C.’s young pivot another weapon to go with one that was unleashed in offence last week.

In the West semi, Chris Rainey featured more by B.C. on offence. The speedy playmaker touched the ball a season-high 11 times on offence for 97 total offensive yards. He’s an explosive athlete who can change the momentum of a game in an instant.

Even with the weaponry B.C. possesses on offence, finding a way to slow down Jerome Messam, the CFL’s 2016 rushing champ, might be the most important factor of all for the Lions. Dickenson likes to be balanced on offence and stopping the big Canuck would put Calgary in more second and long situations, which would allow Alex Bazzie to rush the passer more freely on those downs.

A full touchdown with a game B.C. squad is too much to pass up.

Line: Stampeders -7
Pick: B.C.

Overall record against the spread: 47-34-2

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