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CFL 2023: Toronto Argonauts (12-1) @ Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-4) Week 17 Preview/Prediction

The scheduling of Week 17’s Grey Cup 109 rematch between the defending league champion Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers was supposed to be a high-water moment in the 2023 CFL regular season. But with the 12-1 Argos in cruise control. Friday’s showdown of the league’s top two teams has lost its luster.

CFL 2023 Week 17 Preview: Toronto Argonauts (12-1) @ Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-4), Friday, September 29th, 8 PM EDT, IG Field, TSN/CFL+

With the exception of Week 18’s, all-or-nothing West showdown between B.C. and Winnipeg. Friday night’s game between last year’s Grey Cup participants WAS the most enticing contest on the 2023 slate. Perhaps it should’ve been scheduled in the league’s opening week instead.

While both the Argos and Bombers are predictably leading their divisions heading into October. Many did not foresee the possibility of a Toronto team having nothing to play for with five weeks remaining in the regular season.

The 12-1 Boatmen are off to the best regular season start of their 150-year existence. As a result, to the 12-win victors goes the spoils. The Toronto Argonauts, with everything clinched, are opting not to play their best hand against a Winnipeg team; they could potentially meet again for the ultimate prize in Canadian Football on Sunday, November 19th.

On Friday night. Two potential 2023 M.O.P.s won’t be squaring off head-to-head as Chad Kelly, who is undefeated this season when starting and finishing a game, takes a seat on the bench and watches Zach Collaros from the sidelines.

The Argonauts are better now than they were last season. The team that surprised the CFL world by denying a dynasty last November is vastly improved from 2022. So this would’ve made for an intriguing Grey Cup rematch.

But the matchup of Winnipeg at its best versus Toronto at its best will have to wait. It took 72 years for the two historic franchises to meet for a CFL championship last year. Maybe the wait this time with everything at stake again is only weeks away instead of decades.

Toronto Argonauts Week 17 Depth Chart/Injury Report

The big story for Double Blue is the switch-up at quarterback. Cameron Dukes, a small-school college player out of Lindsey Wilson Univeristy, is getting his first CFL start, with Chad Kelly listed as an emergency third-string QB on the game’s depth chart behind Bryan Scott.

On top of Kelly, The Argonauts will also be without several key players for this game, including linebacker Wynton McManis (ankle), cornerback Jamal Peters (knee), defensive lineman Shawn Oakman (healthy scratch), and wide receiver Cam Phillips (groin/six-game injured list).

Star RB A.J. Ouellette is back in the lineup at RB after sitting out last week’s game as a healthy inactive. However, it remains to be seen how much of a workload he gets versus Winnipeg.

In the secondary, jack-of-all-trades Robert Priester is back after missing several months of action. His presence could be needed in what is an inexperienced back end of the Boatmen’s defence.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers Week 17 Depth Chart/Injury Report

Coming off their bye week, Winnipeg is very healthy heading into Friday night. They will, however, be without Defensive back Desmond Lawrence (knee).

Keys To The Game For Toronto

The Argos are without key figures in their passing game. They are, however, dressing star running back A.J. Ouellette, who sat out last week as a healthy scratch against Hamilton. If Toronto wants to make life easier for Cameron Dukes, they need to run the football effectively. And by the same token, be able to play to Dukes’s skillset as a mobile passer-by simplifying his reads-off play action and by moving the pocket.

When it comes down to it, this is as challenging of an audition as any novice quarterback can have. Cameron Dukes is going to be facing a well-rested and hungry Bombers veteran defence on the road. Dukes needs to play calm and poised. Easier said than done, but a must in this setting.

Defensively, Corey Mace’s unit is probably going to take a very vanilla approach against arguably the league’s most balanced and explosive offensive attack. Regardless, the key will be limiting the big-play ability of the Bombers passing game.

The Argos are down multiple starters in their secondary. Even if they were healthy on the back end, matching up with the lethal trio of Kenny Lawler, Dalton Schoen, and Nic Demski would be an impossible task one-on-one—Toronto’s young and inexperienced secondary needs to keep everything in front of them.

Keys To The Game For Winnipeg

Toronto revealed their hand by folding their deck of cards before this game. That means that the Bombers don’t have to be exotic or complicated in their approach this week, especially on offence.

The pass-game matchups favor Winnipeg greatly. Toronto is without Jamal Peters, Robertson Daniel, and Dashaun Amos in their secondary. In their places, the Argos are trotting out talented but inexperienced players like Mason Pierce and Jamie Harry.

Defensively, the game plan is simple. Make life a living hell for Cameron Dukes. Force him into obvious passing situations, and then apply as much mental pressure as possible by sending a multitude of different blitzes.

The great thing is that Winnipeg can play that style because Chad Kelly isn’t in the lineup. It allows the Bombers to play a different style against Toronto than they would have otherwise.

In a game where the QB versus QB matchup is so lopsided. The one thing Winnipeg needs to avoid is having the Argonauts’ elite return game play a factor. Toronto leads the league in starting field position. You can make Cameron Dukes’ job even more challenging by eliminating short fields and containing the dangerous Javon Leake.

CFL Week 17 Toronto Argonauts @ Winnipeg Blue Bombers Prediction

Chances are, even if Toronto was at their best, beating Winnipeg at IG, with the Bombers coming off a loss and a bye, would’ve been a tall order. It would have served as the Argonauts’ stiffest challenge of the season.

One could argue that the Boatmen should have taken a different tact with so many games left in the regular season. But they are doing what they feel is in their own best interest, even if it comes with the team having to play four more regular season games after Friday night.

This line opened with Winnipeg as 2.5-point favorites at home. Thanks to the Kelly news, It has since climbed to 7.5 and rising. With the over/under set at 48.5.

How do you not bet on the Bombers here? They have everything to play for. Toronto has purposely thrown up the white flag for strategic purposes.

Prediction: Winnipeg Blue Bombers 39 Toronto Argonauts 18

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Mike Mitchell Reporter
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