Inside the CFL: Sun setting on Als in East, Bombers rising in West Herb Zurkowsky, Montreal Gazette

We’ve had more than two months to digest the schedule, determine which teams should be in the hunt for the Grey Cup and which are merely pretenders. There remain questions to be answered and scenarios to play out as teams jockey for their playoff run. Others, however, can already start thinking ahead to 2018 while contemplating where it all went wrong.

So here are some of our random thoughts on each team as we look ahead to the final nine weeks of the schedule.

Montreal: It seemed like a good idea at the time when the Alouettes acquired Darian Durant from Saskatchewan. It provided them with a veteran quarterback, a Cup winner and their first legitimate pivot since the retirement of Anthony Calvillo.

Not so much now, however. The Als are saddled with a 35-year-old making a reported $400,000, and there’s no reason to believe Drew Willy provides a better option. Jonathan Crompton won games for this team and was released. Vernon Adams, the youngest at the position who was most ready to play, won games for this team and was traded to Saskatchewan.

The Als have made no inroads the last three seasons and almost certainly will miss the playoffs for a third straight year. Rookie general manager Kavis Reed and head coach Jacques Chapdelaine would be the easy fall guys, but what sense does it make to change management on an annual basis? They deserve a second chance next season, but Chapdelaine needs to add a quality offensive coordinator.

Ottawa: What’s wrong with the defending Cup champs? Nothing. The Redblacks struggled to get to .500 last season and might do so again. But they’ve also won three consecutive games and, in the weak East Division, might be the best of a sorry lot. They’ve lost some leaders and might have overplayed their hand on Trevor Harris, but could catch lightning in a bottle for a second straight year, especially with TD Place hosting the title game.

Toronto: The Argonauts could be the best team in the division — as long as quarterback Ricky Ray’s chronic shoulder doesn’t give out and receiver S.J. Green’s knees remain stable. While GM Jim Popp has no viable Plan B at QB, head coach Marc Trestman always provides his team with a fighting chance.

Hamilton: Eight games into the season and no victories. Defensive coordinator Jeff Reinebold was fired, head coach Kent Austin fired himself and the Tiger-Cats made an aborted attempt to hire disgraced Baylor head coach Art Briles. Quarterback Zach Collaros can’t win, so the team has turned to Jeremiah Masoli. The Ticats used to be invincible at home, now they can’t win there. What’s happening in Hamilton is sad.

Winnipeg: The Blue Bombers might be the CFL’s biggest surprise. This is an organization that hasn’t won a Cup since 1990. They have a competent quarterback (Matt Nichols) who wins, a great group of Canadians, a wonderful head coach in Mike O’Shea and, in Paul LaPolice, arguably the league’s best offensive coordinator. With five consecutive wins, they must only ensure they haven’t peaked prematurely.

Saskatchewan: It took a while for GM and head coach Chris Jones to mold this team into his image, but that patience is starting to pay dividends. And the Roughriders are succeeding with a quarterback, Kevin Glenn, who most teams — including the Als — wanted no part of. They might be no better than a .500 team when the dust settles, but Saskatchewan already has produced point totals of 40, 37, 38, 41 and 54. Tailback Cameron Marshall will be formidable enough for Prairie football in the autumn and their defenders get after the ball. This could be a team to watch.

Calgary: Nothing changes in southern Alberta. Bo Levi Mitchell’s winning percentage is incredible, battering-ram running-back Jerome Messam is unstoppable, the receivers are talented, the defence stops drives and returner Roy Finch is electrifying. The Stampeders were 15-2-1 last season and lost the Cup in overtime to Ottawa. We’re guessing they might have a chip on their shoulder.

Edmonton: Nobody expected the Eskimos to go undefeated, but it was intriguing when they jumped to a 7-0 start — a buffer that proved invaluable once injuries began to pile up. They lost players, yet always seemed to have an answer as executive director of player personnel Paul Jones filled holes. The Esks lost their best receiver, Derel Walker, to the NFL and are without middle-linebacker J.C. Sherritt, but they still have QB Mike Reilly, making all things possible. The Eskimos are arrogant, but it’s impossible not to admire them.

British Columbia: There are five strong teams in the West Division, but only four will make the playoffs. Somebody has to draw the short straw and it might be the Lions, who have lost three straight. An injury to starting QB Jonathon Jennings changed the team’s fortunes. He’s lost his confidence and his job. But at least the team, coming off a bye week, has the Als visiting next Friday. Montreal should prove to be the antidote.

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