NEWS
08/04/2011 05:45 EDT | Updated 10/04/2011 05:12 EDT

Eskimos and Blue Bombers prepare for matchup of surprising division leaders

WINNIPEG - Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray knows it's a surprise to many that the Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers lead their CFL divisions.

After all, the undefeated Eskimos (5-0) missed last year's playoffs with a 7-11 mark, while the 4-1 Bombers finished last season with a league-low 4-14 record.

"If you probably asked people about this going into the off-season, I'm sure not a lot of people would have picked this to happen," Ray said after arriving in Winnipeg to prepare for Friday's game between the two teams.

"Just because, in our case, there was a ton of changes. You're kind of seeing two different teams. Winnipeg, the same coach, a lot of the same players. Us, we had a complete turnover.

"Two different ways to get to this point, and just the good thing is we're both playing well."

The nine-year quarterback thinks the last time he was on a team that opened 5-0 was in junior college.

The game pits Edmonton's powerhouse offence against a Blue Bomber defence that's allowed the fewest yards net offence (1,469), the fewest points (97) and is tops with 21 quarterback sacks.

However, Winnipeg's defence will be without 11-year defensive tackle Doug Brown, who's sitting because of a foot injury. It's the first time Brown has missed a game since meningitis sidelined him for the first two games of the 2009 season.

Brown said there's either something torn or broken in one of his feet and he's not sure if he'll miss more than one game.

"I've always prided myself on trying to be a durable player," said Brown, who last missed a game because of injury when he had an eye injury in 2007.

"It makes my skin crawl that I'm not able to participate out there, especially with our old defensive co-ordinator (Edmonton head coach Kavis Reed) showing up here."

Bomber quarterback Buck Pierce said it'd be nice to defeat the Eskimos and "set a tone this early that we can play football here in Winnipeg."

He said the turnarounds for the clubs show the parity in the league.

"The CFL's a funny league," Pierce said. "There's so much parity in this league and so much turnover. Week to week, I don't think there's a bad football team in this whole league."

Pierce is going to have to spark a Bomber offence that's scored the fewest touchdowns (nine). He's thrown for 1,032 yards, with six TDs against four interceptions.

On the flipside, Ray leads the league's passers with 1,492 yards and is tops with a 118.1 efficiency rating. He's tossed 10 TDs and only one interception and was named the CFL's top player in July.

Eskimo Fred Stamps leads all receivers with 578 yards off 30 catches, including five for touchdowns. Running back Jerome Messam was Canadian player of the month. He leads the Esks with 274 yards on 55 carries, including a pair of TDs.

Edmonton's defence is no slouch, either. It's allowed the fewest yards rushing (437) and is second in points allowed (99).

Bomber defensive end Odell Willis, named the league's top defensive player for July, is revved up for the clash.

"You've got the best defence, the best offence. You've got the best team in the east, you've got the best team in the west," said Willis, who leads the league with seven sacks.

"What else you want? We've got a sold-out crowd. Swaggerville is going to be crazy tomorrow night. I can't even wait to play. I'm sweating right now."

Willis was wearing the letters and words RIP Coach Harris on one of his T-shirt sleeves, a tribute to defensive line coach Richard Harris, who died last week after a sudden heart attack in his office.

Brown's injury will cause a hole on defence, but Willis said players are paid to fill in. Don Oramasionswu is expected to see more playing time.

Winnipeg's defence will also see the return from injury of middle linebacker Joe Lobendahn and defensive back Deon Beasley.

Some notable changes to Edmonton's lineup include the addition of receiver Reggie McNeal and running back Daniel Porter, who goes on for the released Arkee Whitlock. Kick returner Brandon James will also miss the game.

"We can't get complacent," Stamps said. "We haven't really done anything. It's only five games. There's 13 games left so we've got to keep fighting."