...includes plenty of new teams.
Gone from the east -- the Montreal Alouettes, who lost their divisional semifinal game on Sunday. Montreal and Hamilton staged one of the most exciting professional football games that this blogger has seen in many years. The final score was 52-44, with the TiCats scoring the only points in overtime.
The Alouettes are not going to win a third-straight Grey Cup largely because their defense couldn't make a stop when it was needed. Yes, this team's offensive numbers might not favorably compare with the past two seasons, but the missing ingredient too often in 2011 was a key defensive stop that gave the ball back to the offense. On Sunday, examples of not making that big stop could be counted on two hands.
Yes, there are questions whether quarterback Anthony Calvillo will return next season (and earlier in the week he was maintaining he still wants to play); but the need to upgrade the defense is a real problem.
Next week, Hamilton moves on to face Winnipeg. The Blue Bombers were the league's doormat last season, but a fast start and a defense that led the CFL in sacks propelled Winnipeg to the top of the east.
The Blue Bombers sputtered down the stretch, but the guess here is that the week off and the home crowd will push Winnipeg past the up-and-down TiCats.
In the west, another perennial playoff contender is nowhere to be found. The Calgary Stampeders dropped their semifinal playoff game in Edmonton, losing to the Eskimos 33-19. The Stamps resembled the Alouettes this season -- seemingly good enough to go deep into the playoffs but maddeningly inconsistent.
Instead, Edmonton -- thought of as too young and inexperienced to make much of a dent this season -- showed a grittiness on Sunday that it showed throughout the regular season.
But next Sunday, the Esks have a tough test. They travel west to visit British Columbia, a team that began the season 0-5 and 1-6, before rolling off 10 wins in its final 11 games. The guess here is that the Lions will use the same ingredients that Winnipeg will -- a week off and a home crowd -- to earn a spot in the Grey Cup, which will be played Nov. 27.