- The 2021 Canadian Football League (CFL) season begins on Thursday, August 5.
- The 2020 CFL season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were the 2019 CFL Grey Cup champions.
The Canadian Football League (CFL) 2021 regular season is scheduled to start on Thursday, August 5 as the league returns to play after an 18 month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the most part, it’s ‘business as usual’ in the CFL though not quite. Every team will be able to host fans in their stadiums with the exact number dependent on guidelines from their provincial government. This ranges from 100% capacity in Winnipeg for the Blue Bombers’ opener against Hamilton at IG Field on August 5 to 50% in Vancouver for the BC Lions’ home opener against the Edmonton Elks at BC Place on August 19. Of course, this is all subject to change depending on the state of the pandemic over the next few weeks but unlike the United States everything in Canada appears to be heading in the right direction relative to the country’s vaccination rate.
The 2021 CFL regular season will be 14 games long instead of the typical 18 game slate. There will be no preseason games this year. The CFL regular season is starting 6 weeks later than usual and will end on Saturday, November 20. The CFL campaign usually starts in mid-June and runs through late November. The league scheduled for an eight team playoff format but instead the postseason will stick to tradition with only six teams involved. The Eastern Semifinal and Western Semifinals will be played on Sunday, November 28, the Divisional Finals on Sunday, December 5 and the 108th Grey Cup on Sunday, December 12.
In addition to the CFL team wagers that are available for the 2021 season we’re pleased to see the addition of individual player wagers at BetOnline.ag. They’re offering markets for the CFL’s versions of the MVP award–Most Outstanding Canadian and Most Outstanding Player–and we discussed these numbers along with the rules that necessitate two awards in a previous article. Now we’ll turn our attention to the odds for most regular season rushing yards, receiving yards and passing yards.
CANADIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE (CFL) PLAYER STATISTICAL PERFORMANCE ODDS
CANADIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE (CFL) MOST PASSING YARDS
Cody Fajardo +200 Bo Levi Mitchell +275 Vernon Adams +550 Trevor Harris +600 Jermiah Masoli +650 Mcleod Bethel-Thompson +750 Mike Riley +750 Zach Collaros +1200 Matt Nichols +1600
Life as a quarterback in the CFL isn’t much different than their counterparts in the ‘Lower 48’. Injuries are always an issue and in 2019 none of the starting quarterbacks in the league played in all 18 games. Bo Levi Mitchell played in only 11 games after suffering an early season upper body injury. Cody Fajardo started the year as a backup on a one year contract with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. When Zach Collaros went down with a concussion in the first game, Fajardo took over as starter. Fajardo performed well enough that Collaros was traded to the Toronto Argonauts and then to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Winnipeg had lost their starter, Matt Nichols, to a season ending injury and Collaros ended his year with a Grey Cup victory. The Bombers kept Collaros and released Nichols, who would ultimately sign with the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
The above narrative does illustrate one fact of life in Canadian football that is different than in the NFL–there’s not as much depth at the quarterback position. Most NFL teams have a capable #2 quarterback and even a serviceable #3 that is usually a journeyman veteran or a rookie prospect. Not so in the CFL, where the starting QB position is more of a ‘revolving door’. If a starter is injured during the season you’ll often see the backup play on an emergency basis only until a team’s GM can work a deal for a longer term starter.
In 2019, Fajardo led the CFL in passing yardage with 4302 yards ahead of Edmonton’s Trevor Harris who amassed 4027 yards in just 13 games. The next three on the passing yardage table were Toronto’s Mcleod Bethel-Thompson (4024 yards), Montreal’s Vernon Adams (3942 yards) and BC’s Mike Riley (3897 yards)–all of whom played in 16 games. Durability will play a big part in this statistical category and that gives Fajardo a big edge. The former University of Nevada starter has never missed a game due to injury in his CFL career. Bo Levi Mitchell had a similar legacy of toughness and missed only 1 game in seven seasons before missing 7 games in 2019.
The 14 game schedule may also factor in to not only this position but the subsequent ones as well. A team might not be in a position to wait for an injured starter to return to action and move to bring in a new option. Additionally, a player that suffers an injury during the season might be more inclined to pack it in for the year and come back healthy in 2022 rather than rush though rehab.
We’ll be looking for some value plays on this prop over the next week so stay tuned!
CANADIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE (CFL) MOST RECEIVING YARDS
Brandon Banks +200 Reggie Begelton +250 Bryan Burnham +350 Darvin Adams +550 Martavis Bryant +700 Shaq Evans +800 Derel Walker +1200 Naaman Roosevelt +1600 Jerminic Smith +2000
There’s a mistaken impression among those with only a peripheral knowledge of the Canadian version of football that the CFL is a ‘pass happy’ league. That isn’t really the case–to be sure, some of the unique aspects of the CFL relative to the NFL facilitate passing but it’s not Arena Football. As is the case with US football, the elite teams usually have a productive ground game, stout defense and capable special teams play. When I first started handicapping CFL football in the early 1990s I was surprised at the importance of the rushing game. In fact, one of my first handicapping ‘secrets’ was to look for teams with superior rushing attacks as underdogs–a concept I co-opted from handicapping the NFL.
All of this being said, the major difference between the CFL and NFL might be at the wide receiver position. CFL football is built from ‘the ground up’ in a way that allows receivers with skills and finesse to shine. CFL football is played with 12 players per side as opposed to 11 in the US game–the extra player is (you guessed it) a receiver on offense and a safety on defense. The field is longer (110 yards) and wider (65 yards) than the NFL and the end zones are deeper (20 yards). This gives the receivers more room to operate and makes coverage much more challenging. In addition, all backfield players can be in motion prior to the snap as opposed to only one in the NFL. Finally, the CFL ball is more akin to a #3 rugby ball than a NFL football. It is longer and fatter than the NFL ball and on balance doesn’t lend itself as well to throwing beautiful long yardage spirals. As a result, more of a burden falls on the receivers to haul it in.
Similar to the QB position, only 1 of the top ten receivers in the CFL played in all 18 games in 2019. That was Saskatchewan’s Shaq Evans whom you might remember from his days at UCLA. Evans is the prototypical CFL wide receiver–a guy with excellent skills and football smarts who might not have the monstrous frame that facilitates NFL success. Evans bounced around the NFL playing for four teams between 2014 and 2017 and in the process didn’t help himself with a drug policy suspension in 2017. He moved to the CFL in 2018 and has flourished.
Evans played in 18 games but since the Roughriders have a strong rushing emphasis he simply didn’t get as many opportunities to catch the football. He had 72 receptions in 2019 while the three players ahead of him had 100+ in fewer games. The favorite for this year is the CFL’s receiving yardage leader for 2019–Hamilton’s Brandon Banks who had 1550 yards on 112 receptions. BC’s Bryan Burnham was second (1492 yards) and Reggie Begelton third (1444 yards). Note that Begelton is currently in camp with the Green Bay Packers so he might not even play in the CFL. He’s in competition among a crowded field to be the Packers’ sixth wide receiver and would likely opt for the CFL should that not work out.
The status of Toronto’s Martavis Bryant is also ‘questionable’ at best. He failed to show up at training camp, reportedly due to passport problems. That put him on the league’s ‘suspended’ list and when asked about Bryant at a press conference two days ago Argos’ head coach Ryan Dinwiddie didn’t sound particularly welcoming:
“I really don’t have any comment on him at this stage. He’s not part of our ball club and I’ll leave it at that.”
The prevailing wisdom is that Bryant might have burnt his CFL bridge as Toronto has a nice assortment of receivers in camp. Bryant was a standout player at Clemson in college but a disappointment in the NFL with stints in Pittsburgh and Oakland. He’s on the NFL suspended list indefinitely for violating terms of a previous conditional reinstatement over a violation of the league’s drug policy. He signed with the Massachusetts Pirates of the Indoor Football League back in April, purportedly to prepare for the CFL season but was released by the team on June 2 after playing only one game. Another player not currently on a CFL roster is Naaman Roosevelt who was released by the Montreal Alouettes a couple of days ago. This was a personnel decision and not a result of any off field issues–many CFL experts think he’ll end up with another team before the season starts.
One player worth taking a position on ASAP is Edmonton Eskimos WR Derel Walker who is in training camp after taking a significant pay cut from 2019 with Toronto when he was the highest paid non-quarterback in the league. This is his second stint in Edmonton and by all accounts is very happy with the situation and the personnel around him. He’s got all star level skills and could have a chip on his shoulder due to his cut in pay. With QB Michael Reilly on hand to get the ball to him he could have a huge year and is a steal at +1200.
BET DEREL WALKER +1200 MOST RECEIVING YARDS
CANADIAN FOOTBALL LEAGUE (CFL) MOST RUSHING YARDS
Andrew Harris +200 William Powell +325 William Stanback +325 John White +600 Ka'Deem Carey +600 Shaq Cooper +800 James Wilder Jr +1200 Brendan Gillanders +1600 Maleek Irons +1600
Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris ran away with (no pun intended) the CFL rushing crown in 2019 amassing 1380 yards on 225 carries in 16 games. That’s nearly 300 more than runner up William Powell had in Saskatchewan where he had ten fewer carries despite playing in two more games. He was also the ‘Most Outstanding Player’ in the Blue Bombers’ Grey Cup victory. The question now is over Harris’ health. On July 13, Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea announced that Harris would sit out the first two weeks of practice. His explanation was pretty vague:
“We don’t need Andrew to practice right now. We need to get the reps for the young guys who are going to be with us in that capacity all year long and evaluate those positions. I would say this: Andrew is probably going to take it easy for the next couple weeks and then he’ll be ready to go when I ask him to be, right?”
“If I asked him to practise today he would have practised today. If I ask him to practise tomorrow, he’ll practise tomorrow. But I’m not going to ask him to practice for a little bit because we need to figure out who is behind him and what they’re doing.”
More recently, reports began to surface over what is being described as a ‘lingering lower body injury’. The take is that this is why Harris was held out all along. Harris tried to do a light workout on his own a week or so ago but left the field limping after suffering a setback. Here’s the word from TSN reporter Farhan Lalji:
Harris did try to get some work on the practice field, but then he pulled up, he was noticeably limping, he was frustrated afterwards.”
“And again, this is now an injury, it’s not simply maintenance. And there is some concern that the league’s leading rusher and MOP in the Grey Cup game will not be available to play in Week 1.”
William Powell will be the Saskatchewan Roughriders starting RB but there’s many league observers who think he might be on the downside of career at age 33. The opposite is true for Montreal’s William Stanback who played only 14 games in 2019 in which he carried the ball 170 times for 1048 yards. At age 27, he’s just now hitting his prime and could be in for a breakout season. John White was a 1000 yard rusher in 2019 though he’s suffered from knee and Achilles injuries throughout his career. He’s since gone from the BC Lions to the Toronto Argonauts where he’ll be the featured running back. Prized for his versatility (he can be used as a receiver and block) the COVID-19 shutdown of the league could have really helped White from a physical standpoint and he’s entering the year healthy.
In Calgary, running back Ka’deem Carey could also have a big season after an injury plagued 2019. He’ll be the Stampeders’ starter when the season begins. The concern here is more about QB Bo Levi Mitchell who has dealt with a sore groin throughout training camp. Carey really needs Mitchell in the lineup as a downfield threat to open up more opportunities for him to run the ball. The BC Lions brought in Shaq Cooper as their starter after a couple of years as a backup in Edmonton. He’s definitely got the kind of mentality you want in this situation:
“I want to show everybody what I can do,It’s important to show the world. That’s what this season is for, to show the world. I feel like I have to prove myself. That’s the chip I have on my shoulder. I feel like I haven’t done enough.”
The Lions could be a surprise this year with as much talent on offense as in recent memory. Cooper will get the opportunity and is worth shot at the +800 price while he’s still under the radar. Ditto James Wilder, Jr. who briefly retired during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wilder is receiving raves from teammates and coaches not only for his on-field performance during training camp but his enthusiasm, work ethic and leadership. Here’s what Edmonton head coach Jaime Elizondo has to say about Wilder:
“I could not be more impressed with James and in a lot of different ways. It starts with the leadership component. He’s been great in that room, coaching the young running backs. He’s been great setting the energy and the tempo for practice. His demeanour has been incredible.”
Wilder is just 29 and physically a monster by CFL standards at 6’3″ 232 pounds. In a league with a good deal of parity in terms of talent attitude means a lot. Hard not to back a player like Wilder at a nice price. Ottawa’s Brendan Gillanders had been getting equal reps with the starters as the REDBLACKS American RB Timothy Flanders but missed several practices of late. He’s back on the field but looks to be getting limited work and the vibe now is that he’ll start the season as the #2 RB on the depth chart behind Flanders. Maleek Irons is a well thought of player but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are likely to go with a ‘running back by committee’ approach with Sean Thomas Erlington, Don Jackson, Maleek Irons and Jackson Bennett. Irons averaged just 5.5 carries per game in an injury shortened 2019 season and with the Ti-Cats offensive philosophy and a crowded backfield hard to see how his workload could get him a rushing title.