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Naylor’s Kickoff: Divergent paths cross in divisional semifinals

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TSN Football Insider


This year’s CFL divisional playoff round features four teams that traveled very different paths to get to this weekend.

There are the Calgary Stampeders, the perennial powerhouse that prefers reloading over rebuilding. The Stamps have been to three consecutive Grey Cup games and survived numerous departures to the NFL, free agency and losses to injury.

Yes, this is Bo Levi Mitchell’s game to win, but the reason the Stamps are where they are is just as much about Nick Arbuckle, the backup quarterback who steered the team through Mitchell’s two-month absence.

There are loads of new faces on this team, making the Stamps the new kids on the block and the old guard at the same time. By Stampeder standards, it’s been a season of ups and downs, with more challenges and setbacks than usual.

But they’re still the team to beat.

No one knows that better than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who return to the place their 2018 season ended, when the highest-scoring team in the CFL rode into Cowtown for the Western Final but couldn’t find the end zone even once.

The Bombers emerged from that disappointment looking like the dominant team during the first half of this CFL season, with a run-based offence that was efficient through the air and a defence that could knock you out or simply take the ball away.

There has also been a passing of the torch at quarterback in Winnipeg, where the underappreciated Matt Nichols gave way via injury to athletically gifted Chris Streveler, who then surrendered the same way to Zach Collaros, the unlikeliest of late-season heroes.

The Stampeders have always been a tough out for Winnipeg. There can be no moral victories for the Blue Bombers on Sunday – not in Calgary, not during the first round of playoffs.

In Winnipeg, that’s no longer good enough. Not when you’ve been knocking at the door as long as they have.

The same can’t be said for the Montreal Alouettes, who are back in the playoff dance after four........