As any CFL fan knows, the push for the playoffs really begins in earnest after Labour Day. With Calgary really the only team in a comfortable position in the standings, the playoff picture has really not even begun to sort itself out. As the nine teams push forward to the postseason with between seven and nine games left, here is one x-factor player who will need to step up if his team has any chance of playing in Edmonton in late November.
BC Lions – Jeremiah Johnson
Ok, he might not quite deserve the normal “X-factor” status, as the entrenched starting running back. But with only 365 yards on the ground in 7 games, Johnson will need to play an integral role in an offence that has sputtered and is now missing their top deep threat in Emmanuel Arceneaux (ACL). He is a triple threat in the backfield; he can run the ball, catch the ball, and might be one of the best blocking backs in the league, so the Lions will need him to excel in all three aspects if they hope to jump up in the standings.
Calgary Stampeders – Lemar Durant
Picked 18th overall in 2015, Durant has yet to live up to the ceiling his potential offers. With only 170 receiving yards this season, and a career-high of 402 in 2016, Durant is someone who needs to step up in the absence of the 2nd leading receiver Kamar Jorden, who might be out long-term after suffering a knee injury on Labour Day. Durant’s potential is high, but hasn’t come close to living up to it. He will need to change that moving forward into the fall.
Edmonton Eskimos – Alex Bazzie
The easy answer with this team would be Kenny Stafford or Vidal Hazelton with Derel Walker going to the 6-game, but I don’t expect Mike Reilly and the offence to skip a beat. Their defence, on the other hand, needs to see improvement from the first half of the season. Bazzie is a guy who had double digits sacks twice as a BC Lion but only has four this season. Yes, the Esks lead the league in sacks this season, but Bazzie needs to re-discover his form and pose a dominant threat off the edge.
Saskatchewan Roughriders – Mike Edem
Offensively, the Riders appear to be hitting their stride. Defensively, they have one of the worst deep-ball defences in the league, so Edem needs to become more of a presence patrolling the middle of the field. Yes, this doesn’t just fall on him alone (teams seem to be figuring out that halfback is the Riders’ weak spot), but he will need to be a big part of the Riders turning things around from being 2nd-worst in deep-ball completions (28), deep-ball completion % (45.9), deep-ball yards (959), and worst in deep-ball touchdowns against (10).
Winnipeg Blue Bombers – Tristan Okpalaugo
Just look at what I wrote about Bazzie needing to re-discover his form. Same holds true here. 3 sacks so far for a player this talented isn’t nearly close to what he should be achieving on a defence that has looked porous of late.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats – The Defensive Line
Singling out just one player from this unit was way too tough. The Ti-Cats are dead last in run defence and second-last in sacks, and that has to change in a competitive East Division with another crossover from the West looming. Their pass defence is fine, so getting more pressure on the quarterback and stopping the run need to become their defensive priorities. The Ti-Cat defensive end with the most sacks? Jamaal Westerman with 3 – all while he was a Montreal Alouette.
Toronto Argonauts – Marcus Ball
He boasted on TSN last week that he was one of the best – if not the best – in the game. Well, now he’s gotta walk the walk and bring the rest of the defence with him. The Argos rank last in almost every defensive category, so Ball and his unit-mates need to turn things around with three very dangerous offences in the East Division. He might be questionable for Saturday’s rematch against Hamilton, but when he does get back in the lineup he’ll need to start backing up his claims (0 sacks and 1 interception this season…and he fumbled it away).
Ottawa Redblacks – Antoine Pruneau
One of the best safeties in the game right now, Pruneau has gotten better seemingly every season. While his stats this season may not hold proof in themselves (1 INT, 1 forced fumble but a team-high 42 defensive tackles), Pruneau has year in and year out been one of the best special teamers around the league. He will need to rally the troops around him in those two facets of the game as the offence attempts to find its consistency.
Montreal Alouettes – Ernest Jackson
Criminally underused in his first season and a half as an Alouette (1140 yards in 29 games…he had 1225 yards in 17 games in 2017 as a Redblack), Jackson has to become a vital part of the offensive scheme moving forward if the last-place (for now!) Alouettes hope to earn a playoff berth. 7 catches for 155 yards in the last two games would hint at Jackson being more present in the game plan with Antonio Pipkin throwing him the ball, so getting him back to the form he had in his two seasons in Ottawa could propel the Als back into the upper half of the East Division.