The Montreal Alouettes (12-7) will look to avoid a repeat of last year’s CFL East Final result when they step onto the field against the record-tying 16-2 Toronto Argonauts at BMO Field this Saturday afternoon. At stake is a bid to Grey Cup 110 in Hamilton.
The 18-time CFL champion Argos are trying to return to the big game for the second consecutive season—something the 150-year franchise hasn’t accomplished since the glory days of Toronto’s 1996 and 1997 seasons.
The Alouettes’ last Grey Cup appearance came in 2010 when they prevailed over the Roughriders in Edmonton.
Toronto is hosting the East final for a third straight season. Saturday’s crowd is on pace to be a near sellout and will represent the team’s largest-attended home game at BMO Field.
2023 CFL East Final Capsule
THE SCHEDULE: Saturday, 3 p.m. ET / 12 noon. PT at BMO Field.
THE LINE: The Argos sit as 10.5-point favourites on FanDuel. The point total is set at 50.5
AT STAKE: The winner goes to the Grey Cup in Hamilton on Nov. 19.
THE SEASON SERIES: Toronto took the regular season series 3-0. The Boatmen bested Montreal at BMO Field 39-10 in Week 14. However, the other two meetings saw both contests come down to the wire. An Argos 35-27 victory back in Week 6 and a 23-20 Toronto rally on September 15th.
The two games Toronto played against the Als in Montreal were arguably the most challenging of their sixteen victories during the 2023 regular season. The last meeting between the long-time East rivals saw the Alouettes up 20-13 with a chance to go up two scores in Argos territory. But a missed field goal kept Toronto’s hopes alive for a late rally.
CFL 2023 East Final Injury Report/Depth Charts
For Montreal, five players won’t be available for the game, including wide receivers Kaion Julien-Grant (shoulder) and Chandler Worthy (ankle), defensive back Zach Lindley (head), defensive lineman Marcus Valdez (ankle) and Pier-Olivier Lestage (knee).
Receiver Jake Harty (knee) was limited in practice during the week but will be available on Saturday.
There are two changes to Montreal’s lineup from the Semi-Final. DB Tyrell Richards and OL Jesse Gibbon are active to provide depth.
The Argonauts will be without seven players for the game on Saturday, including wide receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. (hip), who remains out of action, defensive backs Maurice Carnell IV (knee), Robert Priester (groin) and running back Dan Adeboboye (ankle). With KGJ out at WR, Richie Sindani gets the call to provide depth.
Back in practice for the Double Blue this week were All-Star DB Robertson Daniel and OL Dariusz Bladek after extended absences. However, both standout players are sitting out the East Final in what could be Toronto’s final game of the season.
At their respective positions, the Argos are riding with only two backups in the secondary and on the offensive line.
One player who is returning to action after an extended absence is RB Andrew Harris, who will be in tandem with A.J. Ouellette.
THREE EAST FINAL MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Alouettes offence vs. Argonauts defence
In their three head-to-head meetings with Toronto this year. Montreal’s ground game was held firmly in check. The Alouettes averaged only 60 yards per game against the Argos defence. For the season, the Argonauts allowed the fewest rush yards per game (83.6).
Slowing the game down is a key for Jason Maas’s offence. Cody Fajardo can help aid that strategy, extending drives by converting first downs with his legs.
Montreal has to find balance in their offensive attack against Toronto. Mainly because they are facing an Argos defensive attack that feasts on second and long situations. The Boatmen registered 68 sacks in 18 games. An inability to run the ball, control the clock, and create favorable conversion situations through the air will play right into the hands of Corey Mace’s aggressive unit.
Toronto will look to get out in front early and lean on their crowd and elite pass rush to seize control of the day. The Argos’ ability to make their opponents one-handed has been a recipe for success all season long.
Argonauts offence vs. Montreal’s defence
Chad Kelly and Toronto get a lot of bang for their buck when they do pass the football. The Argos balanced attack saw them with the second-fewest pass attempts in the CFL. But they make it count with big plays down the field when they pass. The Argos were second in the league in average gain per pass (9.9) and in thirty-plus-yard completions (35).
Chad Kelly habitually beat the blitz and man coverage during the regular season. Montreal witnessed that firsthand in their matchups with Toronto. Especially when the games hung in the balance. The Als are looking to reverse that trend on Saturday.
Toronto allowed only 19 sacks all season. The Als are in a pick-your-poison scenario against Ryan Dinwiddie’s offence. They must choose between playing safe to prevent the big play or risking it all to get to Kelly before he can unload for chunk plays in the secondary.
The Argonauts offence needs to come out the blocks strong. Doing so will help them maintain their two-headed style of play so that they can lean on their ground attack. The Alouettes were tied for last in the league defensively in opponents’ average yards gained per rush (5.7). It’s an area that Toronto can exploit with their well-rested backfield led by A.J. Ouellette.
Winning The Field Position Game
Obtaining the short field has been one of the secret ingredients to Toronto’s success this year. The combination of excellent punting, Boris Bede’s booming kickoffs, and Javon Leake’s lethal returns have consistently disadvantaged opposing teams.
Toronto was first in the league in average field position, starting their drives at the 41-yard line. It’s those hidden yards accumulated through a game that accumulatively make a difference in the final outcome.
Montreal is first in the league in opponents’ punt return average at 9.6. They must continue that efficiency against an Argos team that springs Javon Leake for long returns. Conversely, Montreal can even the odds and playing field by making some big plays of their own, shifting momentum and field position.
For now, the weather forecast at BMO Field seems mild. Especially considering the time of the year. However, BMO’s playing surface, particularly the wind conditions, can be a pivotal factor. The forecast calls for Winds NNW at 10 to 15 km/h. How, when, and where the winds blow can change each team’s approach during the course of the game.
CFL 2023 East Final: Montreal Alouettes @ Toronto Argonauts Prediction
The last time the Toronto Argonauts faced a pressure situation was two months ago against Montreal when they clinched everything for the playoffs. Since the Argos 23-20 narrow win over the Als in September, it’s been smooth sailing for them for nearly two months. Toronto has played loose and confident with nothing to lose.
On Saturday, facing a do-or-die dilemma, the Double Blue have all the pressure in the world to make their historical season count. There will be pressure on Toronto to turn it on and advance to the Grey Cup. Something the last and only other 16-2 team in CFL history couldn’t do when 1989’s Edmonton team fell short in the playoffs.
Montreal is peaking at the right time, similar to what Toronto did a year ago. The Alouettes have gotten progressively better as the season has progressed. Their key pickups of Shawn Lemon and Darnell Sankey feel eerily similar to that of the Argos landing Ryan Hunter in midstream of last season.
I expect a close game in the East Final. However, The oddsmakers see this differently. They have Toronto as a two-score favorite. Perhaps the prognosticators are using the Argos 39-10 home conquest of Montreal earlier this year as a strong frame of reference.
Toronto is the better overall team than Montreal. But in a one-game playoff setting, being the better team for one day is what matters.
The Alouettes are 0-7 this season against Toronto, Winnipeg, and B.C. They are undefeated against everyone else in the league. Montreal is due for a breakthrough, and it would come at the perfect time.
I have wrestled with this prediction all week. On one hand, everything seems perfectly lined up for Toronto to return to the Grey Cup. However, going two months without playing in a pressurized environment and beating a team four times in one season is exceedingly challenging. I’m calling for the upset in this one. I think Montreal tops Toronto to get to the Grey Cup.
Montreal Alouettes 29 Toronto Argonauts 27
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