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Week 1 CFL power rankings: Bo Levi Mitchell’s Calgary Stampeders enter season as the team to beat

Week 1 CFL power rankings: Bo Levi Mitchell’s Calgary Stampeders enter season as the team to beat
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1. Calgary Stampeders: They open at McMahon Stadium, where they’re 31-5 in the regular season since 2014, when Bo Levi Mitchell took over the offence. Mitchell said this receiving corps is the best he’s had at his disposal, and it improved with the addition of Eric Rogers. Several veterans headed for the exits but this is still a deep, talented roster.

3. Toronto Argonauts: Since the Eskimo dynasty ended in 1982, only the Argos of 1996 and ’97 and the Als of 2009 and ’10 have repeated as Grey Cup champs. But coaching, quarterbacking depth and RB James Wilder Jr. will keep the Argos in the mix.

4. Hamilton Tiger-Cats: They draw the short straw in Calgary, but look capable of a 10-win season. Their one-two punch at QB should keep defences off balance, and the late season resurgence of Brandon Banks at receiver last year cannot be over-stated.

5. Saskatchewan Roughriders: If apparent starter Zach Collaros shakes off the rust and his O-line rounds into shape, the Riders will be able to deploy a lethal receiving corps. With Tyler Crapigna out for the year, they’re handing kicking duties to inexperienced Brett Lauther, who was perfect in pre-season but is still a question mark.

6. B.C. Lions: The Leos are hoping that demanding offensive coordinator Jarious Jackson will get better performance from his QBs, especially starter Jonathon Jennings, who has to rebound after struggling through 2017. GM Ed Hervey said his key veterans bought in as he retooled the roster.

7. Ottawa Redblacks: In the CFL’s pre-season media poll, not one of 70-plus voters thought Ottawa capable of winning the Grey Cup. After a mediocre 2017 season, they underwent a significant rebuild and look solid though unspectacular. They will go undefeated through Week 1, with a bye.

8. Winnipeg Blue Bombers: A healthy Matt Nichols would carry this team into the top three. But the knee injury that felled the cursed starting QB has a potentially devastating ripple effect. QB Chris Streveler should get the ball against Edmonton, Montreal, Hamilton and B.C. and a 2-2 record with him at the helm would be a win-win.

9. Montreal Alouettes: There is but faint hope for the Als to reach .500 this season, and only if QB Drew Willy can sustain the limited success he’s had in brief stints over the past four seasons. He completed at least 68 per cent of his passes in each of those seasons, and racked up 17 TDs to just 10 interceptions.

Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET: Eskimos (+6) at Blue Bombers

With oft-injured QB Matt Nichols on the sidelines, the Bombers will likely give RB Andrew Harris all kinds of touches and hope that a formidable defence bolstered by the late addition of middle linebacker Adam Bighill will keep them in the season opener, no matter what happens to raw rookie pivot Chris Streveler. The Eskimos will counter with likely MOP candidate Mike Reilly under centre, receiver Derel Walker, running back C.J. Gable and a slightly retooled offensive line, as well as a defence that got better with the return of J.C. Sherritt. Edmonton by seven.

Friday, 9 p.m. ET: Argonauts (even) at Roughriders

Saturday, 7 p.m. ET: Tiger-Cats (-9) at Stampeders

The Stamps will field a potent air attack, directed by the winningest active starting QB in the CFL, Bo Levi Mitchell, who is 56-10-2 when they give him the ball. Their kicking and punting game, with Rene Paredes and Rob Maver, is among the best in the CFL. They rarely lose at home and their all-time record against Hamilton is 63-30. The Ticats are a solid bet to improve on last year’s dismal 6-12 record, but are over-matched here, with either Jeremiah Masoli or Johnny Manziel under centre. Calgary by 10.

Saturday, 10 p.m. ET: Alouettes (-6.5) at Lions

The Alouettes, who did not win a road game last season, start with the Lions, who were a lousy 3-6 at home in 2017. Toss-up? Not necessarily. The Als, under new head coach Mike Sherman, are desperately seeking leadership, and offensive mileage, from quarterback Drew Willy, but early returns weren’t promising. Sure, it was just the pre-season, but the Als scored one measly touchdown in two losses. The Leos, meanwhile, won a game in Calgary, and beat Winnipeg at home. Again, it was the pre-season. But starting QB Jonathon Jennings appears ready to bounce back from his inconsistent 2017 season, clicking with Bryan Burnham and Manny Arceneaux. B.C. by seven.

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