Globe and Mail reporters Rachel Brady and Allan Maki make their picks for the opening week of CFL action.
MONTREAL ALOUETTES AT WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
Thursday, 9 p.m.
The Blue Bombers finally open their impressive new stadium, Investors Group Field. Winnipeg’s success hinges on Buck Pierce staying healthy. Watch for a new-look offence and youngsters stepping into the defensive secondary. They face a Montreal squad starting the post-Marc Trestman era with CFL newbie coach Dan Hawkins in charge. Anthony Calvillo, nearly 41, comes off surgery to his non-throwing shoulder but looked good in preseason. Arland Bruce joins his solid receiving corps, and the offensive line is intact, but Chris Jennings steps in at running back for the injured Brandon Whitaker. Montreal needs better special teams and consistency for a defence that has had many co-ordinators in recent years.
The pick Montreal
HAMILTON TIGER-CATS AT TORONTO ARGONAUTS
Friday, 7 p.m.
The defending Grey Cup champs raise the banner at home on opening night after re-signing many stars on offence – Ricky Ray, Chad Owens and Grey Cup MVP Chad Kackert, who declined an NFL offer to stay in Toronto. Chris Jones’s championship defence has many new faces but the same sprint-to-the-ball philosophy. The Ticats enter as polar opposites, a team that didn’t gel last year under head coach George Cortez and missed the playoffs. But Kent Austin brings new direction in his return to the CFL after five years coaching in the U.S. college football. Hamilton lost three of four to Toronto last year, but Henry Burris, Andy Fantuz and Co. aim to show they’ll click this year.
The pick Toronto
B.C. LIONS AT CALGARY STAMPEDERS
Friday, 10 p.m.
Quarterback Travis Lulay and running back Andrew Harris highlight an offence that has replaced Geroy Simon (now with Saskatchewan) with Emmanuel Arceneaux, back from the NFL. The defence remains the best in the West, particularly up front, but the kicking game will be tested. Hugh O’Neill, 23, will start the season in place of the injured Paul McCallum, 43, and handle the place kicking and punting. The Stampeders are anxious to see quarterback Drew Tate play well and stay healthy. They'll also be leaning on running back Jon Cornish, who led the CFL in rushing in 2012 and wants even more production this season.
The pick B.C.
SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS AT EDMONTON ESKIMOS
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
The Riders made their share of off-season acquisitions, mostly on defence with the likes of Ricky Foley, John Chick, Dwight Anderson and Weldon Brown, but the signing of offensive co-ordinator George Cortez may bring the greatest rewards. Cortez has overseen some of the CFL’s most dangerous attacks and his deft play-calling could lift quarterback Darian Durant to new heights. As for the Eskimos, they open the season with free-agent newcomer Mike Reilly calling the signals and rookie Jonathan Crompton as the backup pivot. The key for Edmonton is getting better play from an offensive line that was both injury-prone and over-run last season.
The pick Saskatchewan
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