Wednesday 5 October 2011

Battle for First in the East

This has been a CFL season like no other, and the race to see who will get the coveted bye week in the East Division is starting to get really tight.

Three teams are in the mix for first in the East, with Montreal and Winnipeg sporting identical 8-5 records and Hamilton lurking not far back at 7-6. All three of these teams still have a chance to claim what might be the biggest advantage in professional sports: a first-round playoff bye.

The bye will allow one team to rest up while the other two beat each other up. The bye could be especially important this season, as teams are so tightly bunched that any slight advantage could be the difference between going to the Grey Cup and watching it.

Each team has five games remaining, so let's look at each team's last five games and try to figure out how all this will pan out.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Remaining Games: vs. Winnipeg, at Montreal, vs. BC, at Saskatchewan, at Toronto

That's not an easy schedule, but not a killer one either. The Cats are at home for two, with one road game (Toronto) being a de facto home game. Looking at the opponents, the Cats could go 5-0 down the stretch, but that would mean beating the Als in Montreal, which is not easy. The absolute worst finish would be 1-4, because Hamilton will not lose to the Argos. I actually believe they will finish the season 4-1, with the lone loss being to the Alouettes in Montreal. A lot will depend on Friday's game against the Bombers; win that, and I think 4-1 is possible. BC won't be an easy win, but the home-crowd advantage should give the Cats the slight edge -- and I say that knowing full well that BC has won their past two trips to Ivor Wynne Stadium. Both the Riders and Argos will be playing for nothing the last two weeks of the season, so as long as Hamilton brings a B+ game, they should win both of those.

Best-Case Scenario: 12-6
Worst-Case Scenario: 8-10
Likeliest Scenario: 11-7

Montreal Alouettes
Remaining Games: vs. Toronto, vs. Hamilton, at Winnipeg, vs. Calgary, at BC

Montreal has the most fortuitous remaining schedule, with three home games, but their two road games are killers. The Als could finish 5-0, but they could just as easily drop to 1-4. The Als will no doubt beat the Argos this week; that is a given. Noting short of a miracle will see Toronto beat Montreal. I have already stated that I believe Montreal will beat Hamilton, but this is far from a sure thing. After that, the road gets considerably tougher. Winnipeg will avenge their earlier home loss to the Als. Winnipeg may have beaten them last week had they had a healthy Buck Pierce, but they won't lose a second game to Montreal in Winnipeg. The final two games will be even tougher ,as I suspect that both BC and Calgary will be battling with each other, and potentially Edmonton, for a first-round bye. It won't be easy for Montreal, but their path to first is probably the least challenging.

Best-Case Scenario: 13-5
Worst-Case Scenario: 9-9
Likeliest Scenario: 11-7

Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Remaining Games: at Hamilton, at Edmonton, vs. Montreal, vs. Toronto, at Calgary

Winnipeg looks to have the toughest road to first, with dates at Hamilton, Edmonton and Calgary, and one final matchup with Montreal. Winnipeg's only gimme is the Week 18 game against Toronto. The Argos already beat the Bombers once; they won't do so a second time. I have already stated that I think the Cats will take the Bombers this week and that the Bombers will take out the Als. With the way Edmonton is playing right now, Winnipeg should be able to go into Commonwealth and secure a win. It's the final week against Calgary that is tricky. Will either team have anything to play for? Will starters be rested by one or both teams? I'll guess based on both teams needing a win, and I'll take the Stamps to pull one out at home.

Best-Case Scenario: 12-6
Worst-Case Scenario: 9-9
Likeliest Scenario: 11-7

Under the Best-Case Scenario, the Als get the bye, with Hamilton traveling to Winnipeg for the East Division Semi-Final. Under the Worst-Case Scenario, Winnipeg would host the East Final, while Hamilton would travel to Montreal for the East Semi. Under the Likeliest Scenario, all three finish with identical 11-7 records, but the tiebreaker would go to Winnipeg for first (based on winning the season series over both Hamilton and Montreal), Montreal for second (based on winning the tiebreaker with Hamilton) and Hamilton in third.

I may be right, I may be wrong, but in any event, it sure looks like the final five weeks of the season are going to have a lot of intrigue.

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