Lions @ Alouettes – Thursday Live on TSN HD || GET TICKETS

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The Lions and Als will open the 2011 CFL season this Thursday as Montreal kicks off its second-straight title defence and BC sets out to prove new no. 1 quarterback Travis Lulay is for real.

Lulay’s level of importance to the Lions is evident both on the field and off the field. BC has more than its share of established stars in guys like receiver Geroy Simon and Canadian defensive end Brent Johnson, but it’s now Lulay’s turn to make a difference in Vancouver.

The reality is that the Lions will live or die on the arm of their young star this season – and for the foreseeable future.

Montreal will counter with a quarterback some of you may have heard of – Anthony Calvillo.

Calvillo is coming off a standard 2010 season that saw the future Hall of Famer put up close to 5,000 yards despite missing three games with a rib injury. He’s also been named the East Division’s top player three years in a row, winning the league-wide award in 2008 and 2009. Yeah, pretty standard for A.C.

Montreal’s streak of futility over nine-straight seasons at BC is the stuff of legends – but it’s also worth noting that the Lions have done their share of winning in La Belle Province as well. In fact, the Lions have swept the Montreal season series three times since 2001, and have always given the Als a run on the road.

It’ll be up to a crew of veteran Alouette defenders to try and finally turn the tide – after all, Montreal almost always puts up points. But after a less-than-impressive 57-20 pre-season closing loss at Hamilton last week, the challenge is firmly up to the defence to contain Lulay, Simon et al.

Thursday’s opener will set the tone for a long season that could very well see these squads meeting at Vancouver’s newly-renovated BC Place stadium for the Grey Cup on Nov. 27.

Blue Bombers @ Tiger-Cats – Friday  Live on TSN HD || GET TICKETS

A pair of wild cards will face off in the 2011 debut of TSN Friday Night Football.

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Winnipeg had a topsy-turvy 2010 season that saw the Bombers lose a total of nine games by four points or less and is hoping quarterback Buck Pierce can stay healthy and lead them to a ton of wins. The Bombers were actually a lot better than their 4-14 record last season would let on. If Pierce can stay on his feet for a whole season, Winnipeg will be a tough game every time. They might not be ready for a title run, but they’re certainly good enough to go .500 or better.

Hamilton, on the other hand, looks like a team poised to make a run at a championship.
The Ticats made probably the biggest off-season pickup in 2009 Grey Cup MVP running back Avon Cobourne, and have all the pieces in place to not only give the Alouettes a run in the East, but to push any team to the brink.

Hamilton looks like a team that is designed to win now.

Argonauts @ Stampeders – Friday  Live on TSN HD || GET TICKETS

Henry Burris is the kind of quarterback you want to high five when he’s on your

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team and knock out when he’s suiting up against you. The Stamps’ pivot was the 2010 league MOP and has led Calgary to three-straight winning seasons, as well as the 2008 Grey Cup title.

Burris can beat you with his arm and his feet, but usually, all it takes to drive the opposition crazy is the smile that simply never leaves his face. How would you feel to see a guy smiling just as big after a 30-yard touchdown pass as he is two minutes after throwing a pick? Simply put, nothing fazes him and that gets into the other team’s heads.

Fortunately for Toronto, their GM/Head Coach Jim Barker knows a thing or two about Burris, having been a big part of Smiling Hank’s arrival and first few years in Calgary.

Barker is also not shy to pull anything and everything out of his bag of tricks at any point, so you can be sure he’ll throw some defensive wrinkles at the Calgary offence. The Stamps will score points – that’s inevitable. The question is how few.

Eskimos @ Roughriders – Sunday Live on TSN HD || GET TICKETS

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are one of those sports enigmas wrapped in

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mystery, shrouded in wonderment.

They’re the smallest market in the CFL with the biggest fan base maybe in all of North America – the math just doesn’t add up. Everyone, it seems, has a story of being on a Caribbean cruise and seeing some random guy wearing a green cap with the familiar white S on it.

Having a great fan base doesn’t always translate onto the field, but lately, it seems like it’s all coming together for the Riders. They’ve been a model of consistency over the last half-decade and have three West Division titles and one Grey Cup to show for it.  They also have the best young quarterback in the CFL in Darian Durant and a crew of receivers any team would die for.

On the other hand, the Eskimos are the quintessential re-building project. They’ve basically blown up their roster after missing the playoffs in 2010, but they have an exciting team of young talents that could surprise. Oh, and speaking of good quarterbacks, they happen to have Ricky Ray under centre.

Don’t be surprised if the new-look Eskies give the veteran Riders quite the run on Sunday.