Ahead of the new NFL season, we look at how the CFL match up with their NFL counterparts.
Since the outset of the Canadian Football League (CFL) in 1958, interest in football has grown and expanded throughout the country. At one time, the CFL hoped to expand into the United States, with the launch of some American CFL teams in the early 90s. However, since the sport reverted to the all-Canadian format in 1996, it has evolved to have its own distinct story, entirely separate from the National Football League (NFL). The annual chronology of the Grey Cup is a fascinating story followed by many fans from across the country.
While each of the nine CFL teams has its unique flair, characteristics, and storied history, they share distinct parallels with certain teams in the NFL. This interplay helps to provide fans with a rich football story that transcends the national boundaries of the sport. Whether it’s through similar strategies, histories, or team cultures, these connections reflect what football is: a sport that encourages unity and competition simultaneously. In this article NFL odds site Betway explore these fascinating parallels, exploring how each CFL team can find a counterpart south of the border.
BC Lions NFL Counterpart: The Seattle Seahawks
We’ll start off the comparisons with an easy one: The BC Lions naturally share many similarities with the Seattle Seahawks.
The BC Lions are an established institution in British Columbia: They played their first season in 1954 and have played every season since, making them the oldest professional sports franchise in the province. Though the Seattle Seahawks didn’t first hit the field until over 20 years later, in 1976, they are the oldest continuously operating professional sports team in the state of Washington.
The Lions hold the second-longest playoff streak in CFL history, making the postseason for 20 consecutive seasons from 1997 to 2016. This record is basically untouchable by any NFL team, based sheerly on the number of teams in the league. However, the Seahawks are no stranger to postseason play themselves, having clocked two separate five-year runs of consecutively making it into the playoffs.
These are the only two professional football teams located in the Pacific Northwest, and they actually only play about three hours apart from one another, the closest physically of any team comparisons we’re making today. There are many fans of both teams located in Seattle and Vancouver and other northwestern locations like Montana, Alberta, and Oregon, which is another thing that draws them together.
Montreal Alouettes NFL Counterpart: New England Patriots
The Montreal Alouettes are a strong team. They’ve been around, in different incarnations, since the mid-20th century, with each new formation of the team making a name for itself in the league. We pin the New England Patriots as being their closest twin in the NFL.
We all know it’s difficult to stack up against the New England Patriots, especially considering their record in the Brady-Belichick era. The almost two-decade-long period from 2000-2019 is widely regarded as one of the greatest football dynasties in history, with the Pats going to the Super Bowl 11 times and winning six. While the Montreal Alouettes have never achieved the same level of success, they have certainly gone through comparable periods of dominance, primarily through recent franchise history. In the 2000s alone, the Alouettes took home three Grey Cups, bringing the franchise total to seven. The Alouettes also hold the CFL’s longest active playoff streak, from 1996 to 2014.
The Patriots are a storied franchise with an exciting history, but it is clear that the most well-known point in their history is the Brady era. Tom Brady led the Patriots through their almost 20-year period of league dominance, breaking virtually every quarterback record in the book, including most career passing yards, completions, and touchdown passes. In the same period that the NFL had Brady, the CFL had Anthony Calvillo leading the Montreal Alouettes. Calvillo is widely regarded as one of the outstanding quarterbacks in history and is one of only nine quarterbacks in football history to have completed over 400 touchdown passes (Brady is another). Calvillo was actually professional football’s all-time passing yards leader from 2011 to 2020 but was passed by Drew Brees in the 2020 season. Each of these teams had quarterbacks that will go down in football history as two of the greatest of all time, which is something not every football franchise can say.
Toronto Argonauts NFL Counterpart: Green Bay Packers
The Argos and the Packers are two outstanding football teams with fascinating and unique histories, and yet many parallels can be drawn between them.
Founded in 1873, the Toronto Argonauts are the oldest professional sports team in North America, still using its original name and the oldest-surviving team in the modern-day CFL and East Division. Just south of the border, the Green Bay Packers are also an exceptionally old team, being founded in 1919. They are the oldest continuous football franchise that has never moved or changed its name and the third-oldest team in the NFL.
The Toronto Argonauts are the most widely decorated CFL team, having won the Grey Cup a record 18 times and appearing in the final 24 times. This is partly because they’ve been around since day one of the Canadian Football League. However, the Argos are simply a strong team. They hold the best winning percentage in the championship game (75 per cent) and have the longest active winning streak in championships in which they have appeared, at seven. The Green Bay Packers also holds the league record in championship wins, with nine pre-Super Bowl NFL titles and four Super Bowl victories. In fact, the Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach that brought the Packers to their first two Super Bowls.
Speaking of Vince Lombardi, he coached the 1962 Green Bay Packers into a 13-1 regular season record and an NFL championship win over the Giants. The ‘62 Packers are widely regarded as one of, if not the greatest, teams in football history. Now, the Argos have been through many different teams in their over 100-year history as a franchise, but none have been quite as comparable to the ‘62 Packers as the current team. Coached by Ryan Dinwiddie, the 2023 Toronto Argonauts are currently sitting at 6-0. Will this be the year we see the Argos also turn out two championships in a row, like Lombardi’s Packers?
Both teams play on a Great Lake, with Green Bay being off Lake Michigan and Toronto being on Lake Ontario. Each team knows a thing or two about frigid Northern winters and playing football in the snow.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats NFL Counterpart: Dallas Cowboys
The Tiger-Cats, founded in 1950, and the Cowboys, established in 1960, are considered flagship franchises, boasting numerous league titles and championship appearances, and share many similarities.
Each of these teams is highly decorated, and yet in the last 20 years, they have not made as much of an impact as their fans may hope. The Tiger-Cats went through a ‘golden era,’ so to speak, in the 60s and early 70s, winning the Grey Cup in 1963, 1965, 1967, and 1972. The Cowboys also experienced a dominant era, winning the Super Bowl three separate times in the 1990s and winning their division championship almost every year through that decade. However, since 2000, neither of these teams has won their respective titles. The Tiger-Cats are the only CFL team not to win the Grey Cup in the 21st century. The Cowboys and Tiger-Cats of today have both appeared in the playoffs many times through the last 20 years but were ultimately unable to take home the trophy.
The Dallas Cowboys are the most valuable sports team in the world, currently valued at $8billion. While the Tiger-Cats are far from this number, they have recently received the highest valuation in CFL history, at over $50 million.
Saskatchewan Roughriders NFL Counterpart: Buffalo Bills
Both the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Buffalo Bills represent the heart of football and the importance of a loyal fanbase in strengthening a team. Some similarities can be seen between these two teams, making them counterparts of one another.
The first similarity that can be clocked between these teams is their fan bases’ passion. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are the most passionate fans in the league, ranked based on their average spending on the team, their social media engagement, and their physical commitment to the team. Physical commitment looks solely at weather conditions and how likely fans are willing to face freezing cold, rain and snow, which the Buffalo Bills fans know well. Buffalo is, by far, the snowiest city in the NFL, and yet Bills fans regularly sell out the stadium. The waiting list for season passes extends to 2026 as of the writing of this article. Bills fans are also consistently ranked as one of the most loyal fanbases in the NFL.
Each of these teams has experienced extended periods of competitive struggles. The Roughriders have had long stretches of years without winning the Grey Cup, and the Bills famously lost four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s. Ultimately, though, each of these droughts strengthened their fans’ resolve even more.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders recently moved from their historic Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field, which was their home since 1936, to a newly constructed Mosaic Stadium at REAL District. The Bills are also currently in the process of constructing a new version of their iconic Highmark Stadium, which will be located just a few hundred yards from the current stadium.
Ottawa Redblacks NFL Counterpart: Houston Texans
Hockey is undoubtedly the most popular sport in the capital city of Canada, but the Ottawa Redblacks have managed to carve out a very strong local following of their own and share some similarities with the Houston Texans.
The Ottawa Redblacks and the Houston Texans share a unique commonality as they are both among the youngest teams in their respective leagues. Each city, Ottawa and Houston, has a strong football history, but these new professional teams have added a fresh vibrancy to that storied history.
While the Texans are one of the only four NFL teams never to have competed in the Super Bowl, they have achieved moderate success for being such a new team, making the playoffs within a decade of their formation. Ottawa also never had a strong football record, seeing a 40-year championship draught through the Ottawa Rough Riders and Renegades periods. But, the RedBlacks have already proven themselves a strong contender, winning the Grey Cup only two years after their formation as a team.
Based on their locations, each of these teams has stricken up quite a rivalry with nearby teams. For each team, you might think their strongest feud would be against the other teams in the same province/state. Yet, this is not the case for either the RedBlacks or the Texans. For the Ottawa RedBlacks, the Montreal Alouettes are the biggest threat, with the annual Labour Day Classic game being the pinnacle of that rivalry. For the Houston Texans, their strongest rivalry is with the Tennessee Titans, as this team was formerly based in Houston (then known as the Houston Oilers). Each of these rivalries receives a lot of attention every season and are some of the most-anticipated games for fans.
Edmonton Elks NFL Counterpart: New York Giants
The Edmonton Elks are a team that has something to prove. Through their many years of history, they’ve achieved a lot of success but also have seen a lot of failures, which is something that their NFL counterpart, the New York Giants, can relate to.
The Elks achieved a lot of success through the 20th century, notably winning five Grey Cups in a row between 1978-82, which is an achievement no other team has been able to make. However, the team has severely slumped since their last Grey Cup win in 2015. They are currently on the longest home losing streak in North American men’s big four sports, with their recent loss to the BC Lions taking them to 21 losses at home in a row. The Giants have also done very well over the course of their history as a team, achieving four Super Bowl championships and many division championships. However, they also have a brutal loss record at home, holding one of the highest at-home loss ratios in the entire league.
Each of these teams is known around their leagues for their intense rivalries. For the Edmonton Elks, their strongest rival is the other Albertan CFL team, the Calgary Stampeders. The rivalry between these two cities predates even the founding of Alberta as a province when it was between the railroad and fur-trading routes. Their annual matchup is the most popular regular season game for each team. The New York Giants are marked by their rivalry with the Philadelphia Eagles. These two teams have played in the same division every year since 1933, giving the rivalry the chance to grow for over 75 years.
Calgary Stampeders NFL Counterpart: San Francisco 49ers
While the Stampeders and the 49ers have an international border and a couple of states between them, some similarities between the organizations make them coequals of the sport.
The Calgary Stampeders have been a CFL powerhouse since their establishment in 1945, with an impressive eight Grey Cup championships to their name. They have also won 20 Western Division titles. Likewise, the San Francisco 49ers, founded in 1946, are a consistently strong team, with five Super Bowl titles to their name. The San Francisco 49ers have won 21 Division championships, making them one of the most successful division competitors in the NFL and bringing them akin to Calgary’s record.
You can’t think about the San Francisco 49ers without recognizing the standout impact of individual players on the team. The franchise has been home to iconic players like Jerry Rice, Steve Young, and of course, Joe Montana, who is widely recognized as being one of, if not the greatest, quarterbacks of all time. Joe’s spirit and manner also brought international celebrity to the team for the first time, which is something that the Calgary Stampeders can relate to in Doug Flutie. Flutie was named the CFL’s most outstanding player a record six times and is known as one of the league’s all-time greatest players. He was also the first non-Canadian inductee into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
The Stampeders were formerly a community-owned sports team but were recently purchased and are now managed by the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Group. The 49ers are owned and co-chaired by Denise DeBartolo York, who formerly owned the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. Through 49ers Enterprises, York also recently purchased Leeds United FC. This note is worth mentioning simply because CSEG and York both own/chair multiple sports teams simultaneously and have owned their teams through significant periods of success.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers NFL Counterpart: Minnesota Vikings
Last but not least, we’ve come to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who share more qualities than their colour schemes (Winnipeg’s blue, white, and gold is often compared with Minnesota’s purple, blue, and gold) with their counterpart in the NFL, the Minnesota Vikings.
Winnipeg became the first CFL team in Western Canada to win a championship way back in 1935 when they won the 23rd Grey Cup. Since then, they’ve had a strong history of success and have the record for most Grey Cup appearances by any team at 27. Now, the Minnesota Vikings are one of the unfortunate NFL teams that have yet to win a Super Bowl, but they do have an impressive record of their own. At an all-time record of 524–451–11, they have the highest combined winning percentage among NFL franchises that have not won a Super Bowl. The team has also qualified for the playoffs, the third-most in the league, after the Cowboys and Steelers.
The current head coaches of both the Blue Bombers and the Vikings are former professional football players with Irish surnames. Kevin O’Connell, the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, had stints with the Patriots, Jets, Dolphins, and more, before retiring to turn to coaching. Mike O’Shea, the current head coach of the Blue Bombers, is a former linebacker who played with both the Argos and the Tiger-Cats and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
Drawing parallels between each CFL team and its NFL counterpart showcases the shared passion and competitiveness that can only be found in the world of football. From the Calgary Stampeders’ dominant legacy akin to the San Francisco 49ers’ historic achievements to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ storied history mirroring the Minnesota Vikings’ resolute presence in the NFL, the counterparts reveal a fusion of tradition, skill, and unwavering fan support. Despite the distinct nuances that differentiate the CFL and the NFL, these comparisons show just how alike we are to our neighbours down south in that we both love this sport and what our favourite teams stand for.