The CFL season is now complete, with an unlikely victor in the Toronto Argonauts. With the season now over, the league turned its attention to 2023 almost immediately. The schedule was released giving us some insight into how to watch the Redblacks in 2023.
The first thing that jumped out to me when looking at the schedule is that the Redblacks have just three games that aren’t scheduled for the 7:00 pm hour. The first is at 4:00 pm ET on Saturday, July 15th, then again in back-to-back games against the Montreal Alouettes at 4:00 pm ET, and 1:00 pm ET. This back-to-back stretch against Montreal will feel like a mini-bye week. The first game will be played on Saturday, September 30th at 4:00 pm, and the next game doesn’t occur until Monday, October 9th. Nine days between games could prove to be an advantage for the Redblacks against their division rival.
The Redblacks open their season on the road, with an away game at Molson Stadium against the Alouettes. The following week they are at home, and in week three…they get their first bye week. This is a rather odd way to start the season, but this is likely the effect of having an uneven amount of teams to schedule. However, fans who are worried about the Redblacks having a very early bye week, do not need to worry. Their second bye week doesn’t come until another nine games have been played. Then their final bye week doesn’t come until the second to last week of the season.
To me, this is a solid setup given how dispersed the bye weeks are throughout the season. When looking at it from an injury perspective, it would appear that these weeks are nearly perfectly placed to get guys healthy at the right times during the season. The Bye week at the end of the season could be better placed, but if the playoffs are a possibility in 2023, that late bye week could prove to be crucial before what could be a meaningless match-up against the Toronto Argonauts at that point. Get your injured guys as close to 100% as possible with the bye week, and if needed sitting guys in the final game.
With the CFL season consisting of three bye weeks, and spanning 21 total weeks, it seemed appropriate to look at the season broken into three parts, six weeks apiece. So let’s begin by looking at the initial stretch run of the season.
Beginning with an away game against the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday, June 10th at 7:00 pm ET. The two teams split their series in 2022 with the Alouettes winning the first match-up and alternating victories from there. The final game between the two teams ended up being the nail in the coffin of the Redblack’s playoff hopes this season. A heartbreaking four-point loss, and the first loss of new head coach Bob Dyce’s tenure.
In week two the Redblacks will be at home against the Calgary Stampeders now led by Jake Meier. The Redblacks have a very quick turnaround between these first two games. Week two takes place on Thursday at 7:30 pm ET, just five days removed from week one. The last time these two teams faced off, the Stampeders focused on running the ball and playing sound defense on their way to a 17-3 victory. On the day Dedrick Mills totaled 132 yards on 18 touches, while the defense collected 2 sacks and 3 interceptions. Dionte Ruffin and Titus Wall were all over the field that day collecting 13 tackles and 3 interceptions between the two of them. Ottawa will need to focus on limiting mistakes against an opportune defense that doesn’t often let turnovers slip through their fingers.
Weeks Three and Four
With a bye in week three, the Redblacks don’t play for a full 15 days, their next game coming on the final day of June at 7:30 pm ET. This time they face off against the Edmonton Elks at home. Their second straight home game after opening the season on the road. In two games last season the teams split the series 1-1. The Elks were able to score a combined 48 points against Ottawa in these back-to-back games, while Ottawa managed just 37 points despite winning the second game 25-18. I expect the Elks to look much different in 2023, than they did in 2022 after finishing the season 4-14 tied for the worst record in the league with the Redblacks.
On Saturday, July 8th, the Redblacks travel to Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton to play the Tiger-Cats. Last season these two teams met three times and Hamilton won each meeting. The dominance wasn’t quite as absolute as it sounds though. In three games, Hamilton managed to win by a combined 12 points. With two games decided by a field goal or less. This match-up is a lot closer on paper than it appeared in 2022. There is also a bit of extra motivation in 2023, with Jeremiah Masoli allowed his first chance to face the team he spent nine seasons with from 2013-2021. This should add a bit of extra juice to the Ottawa offense. Let’s hope Masoli can stay healthy until week five at the very least.
In week six, the Redblacks return home to face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Blue Bombers have been the juggernaut of the CFL over the past three seasons, steamrolling nearly every team in their path. Losing the Grey Cup in what would have been their third straight victory, will undoubtedly give them the motivation they needed in 2023. Mike O’Shea has won six grey cups in his career, but the 7th would have placed him atop the charts for most wins ever by any coach/executive in CFL history.
You can bet, they will be gunning for that 7th win in 2023. Last season the Redblacks opened the year with back-to-back games against the eventual Western Representative in the Grey Cup. The Redblacks defense would hold the opposing offense to just 19 points in both games. The offense came up short, unable to score 20 points in either game. Losing by a combined 7 points, we begin to see why Ottawa had such a rough season, winning close games was not their strong suit in 2022. This game takes place at 4:00 pm ET.
Week seven, and the final week of the first trimester of the season, will be their second match-up against Calgary. In 2022 these two teams faced each other just once on August 5th. In 2023, they will play Calgary twice before the end of July. An Away game at McMahon Stadium in Calgary is no easy task. The Stampeders faithful packed an average of 23,457 fans in their home games last season good for fourth in the league. This helps create a hostile environment for opposing teams coming to play them. Fans could be coming at a higher rate than ever before with a budding young talent in Jake Meier as their starting quarterback. Can Ottawa overcome the home crown in Calgary and pick up a victory against the Stamps twice in 7 weeks?
Predictions for the First Seven Games
I am overall predicting a 4-3 record in the first seven weeks of the season. I believe they lose in Montreal in week one, then rattle off two wins in a row against Calgary and Edmonton. Hamilton will be another tight game, that I think ends in another loss for Ottawa. Hamilton seems to have Ottawa’s number at home.
In week eight after what I expect to be a loss to Calgary, Ottawa will be facing Hamilton again already. After losing what I expect to be a tight game to Calgary in week five, the two teams will square off once again just three weeks later. This time the Redblacks are the home team and this could be all the difference they need between the two match-ups. Hamilton isn’t a team that necessarily blows teams out in their current configuration. They win based on playing a complete game and limiting mistakes. This isn’t the Blue Bombers we are talking about that can blow a team out at will.
In week nine the Redblacks play a team, they haven’t seen since week two of the 2021 season. During that game, the Redblacks were dismantled by a Roughriders team that simply looked like the better team on the day. Cody Fajardo had a field day completing 30 of 35 passes for 321 yards adding another 9 carries for 47 yards and 1 touchdown on the day leading the team in passing and rushing on the day. The biggest factor for the victory? The pass rush, which produced 6 sacks on the day, helped cause the only interception thrown on the day. Matt Nichols was the quarterback on that day, the Redblacks are a completely different team, as are the Roughriders. In 2022, Saskatchewan managed just a 6-10 record. I believe that this is a winnable game for Ottawa in 2023.
Week Ten-Fourteen, Start of a slide
By week ten I expect injuries to start to take their toll on the team. Given the early bye week, to this point, Ottawa has hopefully had a decent ability to stay healthy and keep players on the field. However, they are now in their third game since the bye week, with just 15 days for guys to get healthy in between. With that being said in week ten facing the defending Grey Cup Champions, I believe Ottawa plays a hard-fought game but comes up short against the superior team in Toronto.
In weeks Eleven and Twelve Ottawa drew the Montreal Alouettes, and Edmonton Elks respectively. In these two match-ups, I believe the Redblacks will struggle to find victory, ultimately losing to the Alouettes and playing a close game with the Elks as well.
Week Thirteen and Fourteen
In week thirteen the ailing Redblacks finally hit their second bye week. This gives the players still nursing injuries a chance to get healthy to close out the season. With the bye week still sitting there at the end of the year, the team has a chance to go for broke during this stretch of the season. I expect this will result in more wins with the team airing more toward playing players that might have otherwise sat due to injury.
The following week they play the BC Lions. Depending on if Nathan Rourke returns, or Vernon Adams is the starter, the Lions have a solid squad and this should prove to be a tough game. The Redblacks will have to give the Lions everything they’ve got to pull out a win against BC in their house. Ultimately I expect the Redblacks to be sitting just above .500 at this point in the season.
Week Fifteen Offense Comes to Life
Closing in on the end of the season in week fifteen the Redblacks will face the Roughriders once again. They also face the Alouettes twice, and the Argonauts. I have the Redblacks coming out of this stretch at nothing worse than 2-2. I believe there is a chance they lost to the Alouettes on the road and the Argonauts. It wouldn’t be the most shocking thing in the world to see the Redblacks win all four of these games.
Final Week of the Season
I believe if everything pans out how I expect, this week 21 match-up won’t matter to the Redblacks and it will be a game where we see the back-ups play heavily heading into the playoffs. This in turn gives starters two weeks to get right before the playoffs. This could prove to be a huge benefit to the Redblacks in the long run when they enter the playoffs healthier than any other team in the league. Now obviously a lot can change from now until the season, but when I look at the schedule, I see a minimum of 9 wins for the Redblacks in 2023, and as many as 12. I believe we will be singing the praises of Bob Dyce in Ottawa after 2023 for reviving the Redblacks.
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