If you’re a fan of the Canadian Football League, then the most wonderful time of the year is upon us: Training camps are about to open, with pre-season games only a couple weeks away.
Projecting how all nine teams will do is always a bit of luck, and often foolhardy. Nevertheless, I will take a stab soon at guessing how the 2017 season will play out.
Now, however, I examine what I think are the best and worst scenarios for each team at the start of training camp.
BEST: Jonathan Jennings continues to play at a level that makes him one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the league. Chris Williams recovers quickly enough from his knee injury to make a meaningful contribution at receiver. The Lions come out of the deep Western Division and make it to the Grey Cup.
WORST: Jennings takes a step back after a phenomenal 2016 season and the departure of linebacker Adam Bighill is a bigger deal than anyone thought. The Lions drift to fourth in the west and struggle to make it into the post-season.
BEST: The Stamps shrug off their surprising loss in the Grey Cup, play at an elite level again in 2017 and compete for the top prize in November.
WORST: The Stamps’ offensive line remains in flux, largely because of the departure of Derek Dennis, and the defense isn’t as stingy as it was one season ago. Calgary becomes vulnerable to an upset that would prevent another Grey Cup appearance.
BEST: The funk that seemed to hang over this club throughout 2016 is gone, and Jason Maas is more comfortable as head coach. Edmonton is challenging for the division championship and the league crown.
WORST: The funk turns out to not be a funk, but instead represents what the Esks are: Talented but prone to losing on any given week. Edmonton is good enough to make the playoffs but bows out, ending 2017 with more questions than there are right now.
BEST: The revolving door that was the roster last season is gone. Vince Young, at 34, resembles the quarterback he was at the University of Texas. Saskatchewan finishes as high as third place and becomes a can’t-miss team in 2018.
WORST: Chris Jones wears out his welcome because of more league-mandated fines and too many losses. The Roughriders cannot figure out who their starting quarterback should be. Another last place season awaits.
BEST: The league’s surprise team from one season ago continues to progress. Number one pick Faith Ekakitie becomes an absolute terror on a ball-hawking defense. The Bombers make a serious run at the Grey Cup.
WORST: Quarterback Matt Nichols can’t repeat his excellent play this season. The defense doesn’t notch as many turnovers. Justin Medlock misses a couple of late field goals. Winnipeg finishes in fourth place and misses the playoffs.
BEST: The potential for a championship is finally realized in 2017 because quarterback Zach Collaros remains healthy all season. The addition of Abdul Kanneh solidifies the TiCats’ already dangerous secondary. Hamilton takes advantage of a division in flux and wins at least 12 games.
WORST: Another up and down season for a team that seems capable of so much more. The question of whether Kent Austin should be the team’s coach is answered, and it’s “no.”
BEST: Darian Durant’s experience, tenacity and smarts guarantee the Alouettes become the team to beat in the east. The defense is again the best in the division. Hello, Grey Cup game!
WORST: Durant’s injury bug joins him in Montreal, which again can’t figure out a starting quarterback. The chronic inability to score points leads to another forgettable season with general manager Kavis Reed repeating the word “consequences” too many times.
BEST: Henry who? Trevor Harris slides easily into the number one spot on the quarterback depth chart and the REDBLACKS have another controversy-free season. And, oh yeah, Ottawa plays in its third straight Grey Cup, with this one on home turf.
WORST: The REDBLACKS have been good — but fortunate — over the past two seasons. The run of luck comes to an end this season and the decline in depth drops the team from champs to chumps.
BEST: General manager Jim Popp and head coach Marc Trestman rekindle their professional relationship and it goes better than anyone imagined. Popp’s ability to sign some decent talent and Ricky Ray staying healthy brings a division championship.
WORST: The Argos can’t be as bad in 2017 as they were in 2016, right? Well, if Ray is hurt, no other quarterback steps up and the team looks like a group of individuals instead of a cohesive unit, then Toronto could be this year’s version of Saskatchewan.