Nichols will be the Edmonton Eskimos' starter Sunday when they host the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Division semifinal. Nichols got the nod Wednesday ahead of incumbent Mike Reilly, who reportedly suffered a broken bone in his foot during a 37-3 win over the B.C. Lions on Nov. 1.
Reilly threw briefly at Wednesday's practice but by all accounts didn't do anything that required foot movement. Not an encouraging sign for the 2014 West Division all-star, who led Edmonton to all 12 of its wins this season.
The Eskimos say Reilly will be available to play Sunday.
Nichols is 0-5 in five career CFL starts. The five-year veteran has spent his entire pro career with Edmonton and sports a 60.7 completion percentage (142-of-234 passes) with 1,014 yards, 11 TDs and eight interceptions. He has rushed for 117 yards (4.5-yard average) and three TDs.
No. 3 quarterback Pat White's status also remains unclear. He's following concussion protocol and Wednesday the Eskimos signed former Winnipeg Blue Bomber Justin Goltz.
Nichols does have some familiarity with the Riders. He started Saturday's 24-17 loss to Saskatchewan, completing 30-of-42 passes for 261 yards while scoring a TD but was intercepted twice.
Nichols will assume control of a potent Edmonton offence that led the CFL in yards (363.8 per game) and was second in scoring (27.3 points). Adarius Bowman (112 catches, 1,456 yards, six TD) was the league's top receiver while running back John White (team-high 852 yards rushing, 6.9-yard average per carry) returns after not playing against Saskatchewan.
Protecting Nichols will be crucial as Saskatchewan had a CFL-leading 61 sacks. The Riders are balanced up front with John Chick (league-best 15 sacks), Tearrius George and Canadian Ricky Foley (both 12 apiece).
Saskatchewan has its own quarterback question.
Incumbent Darian Durant has been cleared to practice after missing eight starts with an elbow injury. Veteran Kerry Joseph started last weekend and ran for a touchdown but completed just 5-of-16 passes for 71 yards. He has a 48.3 per cent completion average and thrown more interceptions (five) than touchdowns (four) since rejoining the Riders.
Edmonton's defence was first in 13 of the league's 25 categories, including points allowed (18.3 per game), yards (279.4) and passing yards (206.7). The unit was also second in sacks (55), touchdowns (28) and fewest rushing yards (96 per game).
Edmonton's rush defence is important because Saskatchewan is a better running team (No. 3, 132.2 yards per game) than passing (last, 195.6 yards).
Although Joseph provides experience, Durant is the Riders' offensive leader and his return would provide a huge psychological boost. But with two months between starts, it's questionable whether Durant could quickly regain the form he displayed in last year's Grey Cup run, either as a starter or coming off the bench.
And then there's Chris Jones, Edmonton's first-year head coach. A defensive guru, Jones is unconventional and not afraid to gamble. That element of the unexpected can be a momentum shifter — for either team.
With both teams having quarterback issues, this could easily become a close defensive battle. In that case, a slight edge to the home team.
Pick — Edmonton.
B.C. Lions versus Montreal Alouettes, 1 p.m. ET, on Sunday.
The Lions (9-9) don't look primed to become the fourth straight CFL squad to win the Grey Cup on home soil. B.C. lost its final two regular-season games by a whopping 70-19 margin.
But the Lions were 5-3 versus East Division teams and 1-1 against Montreal (9-9). Their victory was a 41-5 decision at B.C. Place on July 19 with Troy Smith as the Alouettes' starter.
The former Heisman Trophy winner was eventually supplanted by Jonathan Crompton and later released. Crompton is 8-2 as the starter, helping lead Montreal into the playoffs after a dismal 1-7 start to the season.
Despite his record, Crompton hasn't been outstanding. He has a 58.1 per cent completion average with 11 TDs and eight interceptions and hasn't cracked the 300-yard passing plateau this season.
But supported by a stout defence (league-best 47 takeaways), Crompton has usually done enough to win. That wasn't the case Saturday when Hamilton beat Montreal 29-15 at Tim Hortons Field to clinch first in the East and home field for the division final Nov. 23.
Montreal was 6-3 at home but 3-7 versus West Division teams. However, the Alouettes aren't a dome team having to travel across the country to play outdoors in November.
B.C. put veteran Travis Lulay on its 46-man roster, allowing him to resume practising. The MVP of the Lions' 2011 Grey Cup win, Lulay re-injured his right shoulder Sept. 5 in a win over Ottawa.
It was Lulay's first start in almost a year after returning from a right shoulder injury that sidelined him last season. Lulay's status for Sunday's game remains unclear but the expectation is Kevin Glenn, the CFL's second-leading passer this season with 3,918 yards, will be the starter.
Two keys for B.C. will be establishing the run to give Glenn time in the passing game, and stopping Montreal's rushing attack and getting to Crompton so he can't look downfield for big-play receivers Duron Carter and S.J. Green. Montreal's offensive line allowed only 31 sacks this season — second-fewest in the CFL — but Hamilton was able to continually get to Crompton last weekend.
Weather could be a huge factor Sunday and if passing becomes difficult that would hurt B.C. (fourth overall, 246.3 yards per game) more than Montreal (second-last, 210.2 yards). Both defences are solid (Lions ranked third, Alouettes at No. 4) but before last weekend's game, the Als had allowed 74 points over a six-game win streak.
Pick — Montreal.
Last week: 2-2.
Regular-season record: 55-26.