CFL 2021: East Division Season Preview

by Scott Rickenbach

CFL 2021 Season Preview – East Division

Hamilton - Likely the team to beat in the East as this team appears to be built very well for success. Of course what will grab the most attention is that the Tiger-Cats passing attack made some headlines based on what transpired in the off-season. This is a team with a lot of dangerous weapons now available for aerial assaults on opponents. However, defense and also special teams are certainly other less glamorous areas that often are key to winning football games and this is where the Tiger-Cats appear particularly strong. Their return game could be lethal in special teams. As for the defense, they were fantastic in 2019 up until the Grey Cup and allowed a league low 19 points per game! Between retirement and free agency, Hamilton lost some key pieces from that defense but this team is still very well-coached on that side of the ball, has great systems in place, and should quickly form another formidable unit in 2021. 

Montreal – The 2019 season was the Alouettes first post-season appearance in 5 years and we could see them fall back again this season as it was a bit of an unlikely run for them in 2019. In terms of special teams play the Als got a strong return came going late in the season thanks to Mario Alford and he is back and a big threat every time he touches the ball. But the East Division appears very improved this season and I don’t see the Alouettes again having winning percentages in line with the 5-3 / 63% they produced in 2019 divisional games. In terms of offense and defense coming into this season this team should be respectable on each side of the ball but nothing fantastic. Keep in mind, this was the only team to make the playoffs in 2019 that allowed more points than they scored on the season! Could see some regression for the Alouettes in 2021 especially with improvements expected for Toronto and Ottawa plus Hamilton is looking strong again. 

Ottawa - Off a horrible 2019 season (3-15) but should improve this season. This is especially true if they get better QB play which is certainly possible with QB Matt Nichols now on board. Hamilton is the favorite in this division and Toronto made some solid offseason additions that have caught attention. Montreal also was in the post-season in 2019. So, after the missed season due to covid in 2020, where will the Redblacks end up in the East out of the 4 teams? It depends of course. They will be improved and should have a respectable defense thanks to new defensive coordinator Mike Benevides and also look to be strong in terms of special teams units. However, will Ottawa get strong enough play on offense to put enough points on the board to win games? That could depend on how well Nichols meshes with the offense under head coach Paul LaPolice. Perhaps the shortened 14-game season will also help the Redblacks hang around in this division but ultimately a 3rd place finish would be a good goal for this team. 

Toronto - New coaching staff, a lot of new players too which was needed after a 4-14 season. Bethel-Thompson and Arbuckle combine to give the Argonauts multiple options at QB.  Dinwiddie is the new head coach and he is a former QB who had great success as a QB coach in Calgary. That great QB play for the Stampeders helped lead the way to 3 Grey Cup appearances in his 4 seasons as the QB coach there. Big difference with now being the head coach plus having an overhauled roster. But do not be surprised if the Argos show major improvement this season after coming off back to back 4-18 seasons!  This is largely a new roster in Toronto and looks very talented and they have a new coaching staff so there could be some growing pains but, overall, this entire franchise feels rejuvenated heading into the new season. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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