The Canadian Football League (CFL) is back. After a one-year hiatus, this exciting Canadian version of football kicks off on Sunday May 23rd, when the BC Lions take on the Calgary Stampeders in the pre-season. The regular season commences on June 11th when the Hamilton Tiger Cats meet Winnipeg Blue Bombers. While most Canadians know the sport well, the rest of the world is not quite as clued up on the CFL, most assuming that this is just a more northerly version of the NFL. But with several non-Canadian broadcasters set to air CFL games in 2021 (including Brazil and Mexico), we think it’s time to explore more about Canada’s own unique take on football.
How is the CFL season structured?
For the 2021 season, 9 teams will compete in the CFL. There is a 2-game, 3-week preseason, where teams warm up with exhibition games. This takes place in mid-June, before an 18-game, 21-week regular season consisting of a double round-robin lasting until early November. Finally, the top 6 teams take part in a play-off round, culminating in the Canadian Football League’s own version of the Superbowl – called the Grey Cup game – on the 22nd of November.
Are there differences between the Canadian and American versions of football?
There are subtle differences, yes. The main ones are that Canadian football is played on a wider and longer field, and Canadian teams also field one extra player (12 instead of 11) to make use of all that extra space. In the American game, teams have 4 downs to advance the ball 10 yards, while Canadian teams must do it with 3 downs. Canadian teams also have less time (just 20 seconds) to run a play after the referee whistles a play in. Crucially, in Canadian football, every game must end with a play, and this leads to rather more exciting endings if the team in the lead has the ball. Some experts have even stated that Canadian Football is a superior sport played with inferior players (since the pay is lower north of the border, very few NFL players make the move).
Are there any US teams in the CFL?
Not at the moment, no. There was an experiment in the mid-90’s where several US franchises entered the CFL, but it had mixed success. The Baltimore Stallions even won the Grey Cup in 1995, but low attendances (most US teams barely received 10,000 spectators per game) and a reliance on match day receipts meant that every expansion team ended up losing money. Right now, there are no plans to repeat the experiment, although Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has been making media claims that one day his XFL might join forces with the CFL.
So which teams do currently take part in the CFL?
The 9 teams who will take part in the 2021 CFL season are as follows: –
- BC Lions (Vancouver)
- Edmonton Football Team
- Calgary Stampeders
- Saskatchewan Roughriders
- Winnipeg Blue Bombers
- Hamilton Tiger-Cats
- Toronto Argonauts
- Ottawa Redblacks
- Montreal Alouettes
Several Canadian cities and provinces are lobbying to be part of a franchise expansion. A tenth team would allow for an easier fixture schedule, without any bye weeks. The most likely city to be next admitted to the CFL seems to be Halifax, Nova Scotia, with a team from the Maritimes to be called the Atlantic Schooners rumoured to be ready soon. They would need to build a large enough stadium first, though.
Can I bet on the CFL?
Yes, as the most popular summertime spectator sport in Canada, you can bet on every CFL game at any of the leading Canadian sportsbooks. Mr Green offered the best CFL betting odds in the 2019 season, so will hopefully have excellent value for Canada’s sports betting fans in 2021. Remember that you can bet on each individual game, as well as outright futures contracts on who will end up winning the Grey Cup in November. You can even bet on in-play markets (so-called live betting) where you can place wagers on events within the game.
Which teams are the favorites to win the Grey Cup in 2021?
As of the 1st of April, the bookies seem to be making the Hamilton Tiger-Cats the favorite to lift the trophy in November, with CFL Vegas Odds placing them at +300, with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers second favorites at +450. In descending order then come the Calgary Stampeders, Saskatchewan Rough Riders, Toronto Argonauts, BC Lions, Edmonton, Montreal, and finally the Ottawa Redblacks on +1400. The thing is, none of these teams have played competitively for the best part of 2 years, so the sportsbooks aren’t privy to the form data which they normally use. There definitely seems to be a unique opportunity for sharp-eyed sports betting fans to take on the bookies and win in 2021.
But what are the chances of completing the CFL 2021 season?
The Grey Cup game is almost 8 months away – and given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, what are the chances of the game being given the go ahead? While a lot can change between now (April 2021) and then, the chances of a complete CFL season are looking pretty good. Canada is currently experiencing a third wave, with Ontario entering a 4-week lockdown. Assuming that Canada’s most populous province comes out of that by the beginning of March, then the Argonauts should be good to compete. What’s more, Canada is slowly starting to roll out vaccines, with 9.1% of the population receiving its first dose. The country should reach herd immunity by the time of the Grey Cup. But even if it doesn’t, the success of the NBA bubble in 2020 bodes well for the CFL to complete a full season, assuming that all precautions are taken. Some are even talking about limited attendances allowed in stadia towards the later stages. That will be particularly important to CFL teams, given their reliance on gate receipts.
There is no doubt that Canadian football is one of the most thrilling (and most underrated) sports in the world, and it’s great to see it return in 2021. And we are sure that experienced CFL fans and newcomers to the game alike will be hoping the season can be completed, and we see a great 108th Grey Cup game on 22nd November.