The 2017 CFL season is nearly upon us, and bettors come in with plenty of questions. Can the Ottawa Redblacks repeat as CFL champions following last year's thrilling Grey Cup finish? Can the Calgary Stampeders overcome the sting of a crushing defeat in last year's title game? Can the Toronto Argonauts defy the odds and win their 17th Grey Cup title?
Here's a look at all nine teams heading into this week's season openers, along with their odds of winning the CFL championship (odds courtesy Sports Interaction):
Calgary Stampeders (+275)
The Stampeders remain the team to beat in the CFL's West Division, returning the majority of a roster that ploughed through the regular-season en route to a league-best 15-2-1 record and a 13-5 mark against the spread. While the offense - led by All-Star quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell - was the focal point (league-best 586 points scored), the Calgary defense was just as elite, surrendering a CFL-low 369 points - 85 fewer than the next closest teams. Barring a collapse, Calgary should have little trouble rolling through the division and once again contending for a spot in the Grey Cup.
BC Lions (+500)
The Lions underwent a significant defensive overhaul in the offseason despite boasting one of the league's best units in 2016. Yet, while there are undoubtedly upgrades at every key defensive position, the loss of linebacker Adam Bighill to the NFL's New Orleans Saints looms large, as no other player on the roster is considered a strong replacement on the weak side. The Lions posted a 13-5 ATS mark in 2016, along with a 9-9-0 O/U record; with the defense in flux heading into the season, bettors shouldn't be surprised to see more of an Over lean in the Lions' 2017 O/U ledger.
Edmonton Eskimos (+550)
Second-year head coach Jason Maas can't stop talking about how deep this team is - he says he "slept like a baby" after the final cutdown day, having struggled with who to release right up to the final hour. The largest area of optimism appears to be focused on the defensive line, which surrendered 155 more points while recording eight fewer interceptions and 15 fewer sacks in 2016 than it did the year before. Edmonton finished 9-9-0 ATS and 10-8-0 O/U last season, and will be looking to eliminate the sour taste of a double-digit loss to Ottawa in last year's East final.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats (+700)
Every team in the East Division showed some flaws in 2016 - yes, even the Grey Cup-champion Redblacks. For the Tiger-Cats, it was a porous defense that was one of only three units in the entire league to surrender more than 500 points in the regular season. Quarterback Zach Collaros is the focal point of the offense, but has yet to play an entire CFL season; on defense, John Chick is coming off a sensational 14-sack campaign but is 34 entering the season. The TiCats went just 6-12 ATS last season while boasting an 8-9-1 O/U mark; if Collaros can't stay healthy, it could be another dismal season in Hamilton.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers (+700)
This is absolutely a "show-me" season for the Blue Bombers, who captured their first playoff berth in six years last season thanks to an 11-7 record and a defense that allowed the third-fewest points in the CFL. Winnipeg had a largely uneventful offseason, opting to add depth pieces to both the offense and defense rather than making a splash as it had done in 2016. The Blue Bombers, who went 10-8 SU and 10-7-1 O/U in 2016, have worse odds than two teams that finished behind them last season, but ended 2016 with wins in 10 of their final 13 regular-season games before losing a one-point heartbreaker to BC in the division semifinal.
Saskatchewan Roughriders (+700)
It was a particularly bad time to be the worst team in the West, as the Roughriders were the only unit in the division to finish below .500; not surprisingly, a 1-9 mark against other West teams was Saskatchewan's biggest downfall. This season has already started on a dour note, with former NFL quarterback and marquee offseason addition Vince Young having been released after suffering a torn hamstring earlier this month. It's a significant blow to a team that needs to find an offensive spark after finishing with a league-low 350 points in 2016. Saskatchewan went 9-9 ATS and 8-10 O/U last season.
Ottawa Redblacks (+750)
Talk about not having love for the defending champions - or perhaps, oddsmakers realize just how improbable the Redblacks' run to the title actually was. Ottawa was the best of a very bad bunch of East teams, winning the division despite finishing below .500 and then catching a little magic en route to the first Grey Cup championship in franchise history. And then there's the schedule, which has led some to wonder if the Redblacks made enemies of the CFL schedule maker; they'll open with back-to-back games against Calgary, play three games in a 10-day span in mid-July - two away from Ottawa - and don't have a bye until Week 18.
Montreal Alouettes (+800)
The Alouettes are one of the more intriguing teams heading into the season, primarily due to their unsettled quarterback situation. Darian Durant is the starting signal caller for now, but Montreal has reportedly been kicking the tires on former NFL quarterback Josh Freeman. Regardless of who takes the snaps for the Als, the focus will be on improving a lackluster offense that produced just 383 points in 2016. Montreal went 9-9 ATS and 7-10-1 O/U last season; a better showing at quarterback might turn some of those Unders into Overs this season, provided the defense is as stout as it was a season ago.
Toronto Argonauts (+1,200)
Last season was monumentally disappointing for the Argos, who tied Saskatchewan for the worst record in the league while allowing the most points (568) and scoring the second-fewest (383). Mark Trestman was brought in to help turn around the moribund team, and his impact will almost certainly be felt primarily on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Ricky Ray is 37 and played just nine games last season, but is one of the league's top QBs when healthy - and could face significant competition from backup Drew Willy. Still, the Argos won't improve upon last year's 5-13-0 ATS mark if they can't stop opposing teams from scoring.