There are obviously a lot of things that can happen before the 2011 Grey Cup, as we're still several months away from the start of the CFL season. Teams' rosters aren't completely set yet, and even the 2011 draft is still almost a month away. Still, the majority of free agents have found homes, and we should have a pretty good idea of what each team's 2011 roster is going to look like, so predictions at this point aren't completely ridiculous if they're based off teams' performances last year and offseason moves. Interestingly enough, though, the latest Las Vegas odds for the 2011 Grey Cup (as posted by Rob Vanstone) don't seem to have a lot of correlation to either, at least in reference to Saskatchewan.
The Roughriders are coming off back-to-back trips to the Grey Cup, both of which they narrowly lost to Montreal (by one point in 2009 and three points in 2010, a game they might have won with some different third-down playcalling). Their regular-season showing last year wasn't amazing (10 wins, eight losses, second in the West), but they still put up the third-best record in the league and won two playoff games in tough conditions to head to the big game. It's not like the Riders had a terrible offseason, either; their roster moves weren't as impressive as Montreal's, they do have a new coach (Greg Marshall, pictured above at his introductory press conference with former coach and current VP-football operations Ken Miller on his right and general manager Brendan Taman on his left) and they did lose top receiver Andy Fantuz to the NFL, but they still made some interesting acquisitions (including veteran offensive linemen George Hudson and Alex Gauthier) and their lineup still looks pretty strong on paper.
Moreover, it's not like the Riders have openly committed to a rebuilding season and a focus on youth or anything. In fact, the opposite's true; just this last week, Saskatchewan brought in another veteran in defensive tackle Dario Romero. The focus on older players could pay off in a league that often favours experience, and it certainly suggests the Riders are more focused on trying to win it all now rather than building to compete down the road. That's why it's so surprising that those aforementioned Vegas odds have the Riders picked as the seventh-most likely team to hoist the Grey Cup this fall, ahead of only rebuilding Winnipeg.
Vegas odds aren't everything, of course, but it's interesting that the sports books are so high on Calgary (3.50, or 7/2) and Montreal (4.00, or 4/1) and so low on Saskatchewan (8.50, or 17/2). You can make a decent case for both the Alouettes (defending Grey Cup champions, great offseason moves) and Stampeders (best regular-season record last year, best offence, best point differential) as highly-ranked teams, but those odds also favour Toronto (7.50, or 15/2), Hamilton (7.50, 15/2), B.C. (8.00, 8/1), and Edmonton (8.00, 8/1) over Saskatchewan. Edmonton didn't even make the playoffs last year despite a strong finish to the regular season, and their offseason moves seem to suggest they're trying to get younger quickly and build for the future. Although B.C. looked good with Travis Lulay at quarterback and almost took Saskatchewan down in the playoffs before being undone by a former Lion, it's worth keeping in mind that they were 8-10 in the regular season and barely made the postseason. Hamilton lost a playoff game at home to Toronto, who went on to get clobbered by Montreal in the East final, and both of those teams were only .500 in the regular season. That's not to say that those teams won't necessarily come out on top in 2011, as the CFL does often change substantially year to year; it's just tough to find anything at the moment that suggests they should be considered more likely to win than the Riders before the season starts. The odds ultimately aren't likely to affect Saskatchewan negatively (and they might even inspire them in Han Solo-esque fashion), so it's not like this is a crisis for the Riders; it's just notable that one set of outside odds thinks so little of their chances.
Of course, the above-reported odds aren't universal. A Esksfans.com poster reports that Saskatchewan's third (4/1 or 4.00, behind only Montreal and Calgary) in the odds at the Wynn sports book in Vegas, Sports Interaction has them third at 6.50 (or 13/2), scoresandodds.com also has the Riders third at 11/2 (5.50), and Bodog puts them third as well. Those odds seem much more reasonable than considering Saskatchewan as a 17/2 long shot. As mentioned above, there's still a lot that can happen before the 2011 Grey Cup, so it is entirely possible the Roughriders could implode and have a miserable season that makes those initial odds look justified, and it's also possible that Edmonton, B.C., Toronto and Hamilton could all wind up doing better than Saskatchewan this year. It just doesn't seem all that likely considering the information we have at the moment.