Week 20 of the CFL season decided everything we need to know about the playoff picture.
The second final week of the season has set our playoff matchups in stone, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to determine. I have four questions that I have yet to answer as we wait for the 21st week.
Will Nathan Rourke play?
The BC Lions clinched second place in the West Division with a 31-14 win over Edmonton on Friday. All eyes now turn to their final game against Winnipeg and whether we’ll see Rourke suit up in his first game since August. The BC quarterback suffered a Lisfranc fracture in his right leg in Week 11 and hasn’t played since, but that could change this weekend.
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“(Rourke) is going to practice,” Lions head coach Rick Campbell told Vancouver Province. “I think it’s a smart move to not commit to anything until we practice for a few days and kind of see where we’re at.”
“Our number one step with Nathan is to get him to practice and see how he feels about things. And then as far as whether he plays or not, we’ll cross that bridge. The goal with Nathan would be to do his best to be ready for a playoff game.
We know that BC hosts the West Semi Final against the Calgary Stampeders in just under two weeks. The return of Rourke, the most outstanding player before his injury, in that game is a high priority. If it makes sense health-wise to have Rourke suit up against the Bombers, it seems preferable to get him some reps before their showdown with Calgary. We’ll see if things play out that way.
Similarly, eyes will be on star receivers Brian Burnham and Lucky Whitehead to see if they can match up before the playoffs. Burnham hasn’t played since breaking his wrist in Week 16. Whitehead, on the other hand, has been on the shelf since Week 17 with an ankle injury.
Are we seeing Dane Evans for Hamilton?
Evans was forced to leave Friday’s game against Ottawa as the Tiger-Cats did their part to punch their ticket to the postseason. Evans suffered a thumb injury with his team tied 24-24 in the fourth quarter and was replaced the rest of the way by veteran Matthew Schiltz. Schiltz was at the helm as Hamilton put the ball into field goal range for Seth Small’s decisive kick in a 30-27 win.
As of this writing, we don’t know Evans’ status for Week 21 or the Eastern Semifinals in Montreal. Although it’s been a rough campaign for Evans, he’s still Hamilton’s number one and already has a couple of play-off wins under his belt. Bringing him back would be ideal, but Schiltz will be ready to go if things don’t work out that way.
“It’s the CFL and two quarterbacks are going to have to play,” Schiltz said after Friday’s win over the REDBLACKS. “We’ll see how Dane feels and I’m praying he’ll be fine, but if not, it’s like any other position on the pitch, it’s the next man up.”
How do teams manage their rookies?
This is a question that comes up in some form or another every year heading into the playoffs. However, with all six playoff teams decided in Week 21, that becomes different. Each team and coaching staff will take a slightly different approach when it comes to resting, managing or playing their starters this weekend.
This is old hat for Winnipeg, for one. With the Western Division locked up in 2021, the Bombers used some starters normally in the season finale, rested others and gave quarterback Zach Collaros a few series before sitting him down for the rest of the season. A year later, Winnipeg and Toronto are the two teams that split in the first week of the playoffs, and because of that, they could manage things differently than Hamilton, Montreal, Calgary or BC.
Who wins the rushing and receiving titles?
Knowing that, it will be interesting to see how several regular season statistical runs play out in Week 21. Let’s be honest: these things don’t really matter to players and teams compared to winning the Gray Cup. But, on the outside, it will still be fun to watch these races play out this weekend.
On the ground, Calgary’s Ka’Deem Carey enters the final week leading the league with 1,088 yards. That’s 34 more than the Lions’ James Butler, who is second with 1,054. After finishing second to William Stanbeck in 2021, I’m sure it would be a nice bonus for Carey to win the regular season rushing crown this year, but only if it makes sense. And, with Carey and Butler battling it out in the West semifinals, I think you know which matchup is more important.
At receiver, we have three players separated by just 54 yards. Rookie sensation Dalton Schoen of the Blue Bombers leads the way with 1,357 receiving yards. Just behind him is BC’s Dominic Rhimes (1,346), while Alouette’s Eugene Lewis is third with 1,303. Depending on how each of their teams decide to use each player, this could be a fun race to the finish line.