Around The CFL: All eyes are on Winnipeg and Toronto

By: Andrew Bucholtz

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Playoff positioning is still up for grabs in the final week of the CFL season. 13-3-1 Calgary has secured first in the West Division, but 11-6 Winnipeg can secure second with a win Friday against Calgary or with 11-6 Edmonton losing to 10-7 Saskatchewan Saturday. A Winnipeg loss or tie and an Edmonton win puts the Eskimos second. If both teams tie, the Blue Bombers remain in second. Meanwhile, if the Roughriders beat Edmonton, they'll take third place and the Eskimos will cross over; otherwise, it will be Saskatchewan heading to the East..

Out east, the 8-9 Toronto Argonauts control their own destiny thanks to the 8-9-1 Ottawa Redblacks having a bye. A win or tie against 7-10 B.C. will give Toronto first place and a first-round bye. (A tie is enough thanks to the head-to-head record tiebreaker.) An Argonauts' loss to the Lions means the Redblacks get the bye and Toronto hosts the crossover team.

Here's a look at each of Week 20's games:

Montreal at Hamilton (7 p.m. Eastern Friday): There's nothing to play for besides pride and future jobs here, as the 5-12 Tiger-Cats and 3-14 Alouettes were eliminated long ago. However, some things still matter. Strong performances from any individual player could help bolster their case to stick around (or earn a better contract elsewhere in free agency), and management on both sides could use another victory; both Montreal GM Kavis Reed and Hamilton VP of football operations Kent Austin will face some offseason questions. Ticats' head coach June Jones is in a better spot, as the team's gone 5-4 since he took over, but a win could put an emphasis on that and make him an even more desirable figure to keep around. (Or possibly revitalize some interest in him elsewhere.) The other people this game particularly matters for are the quarterbacks; Montreal rookie Matt Shiltz will get another chance to show he belongs in the CFL in his first start (his 5-for-13 debut in relief last week wasn't great, but he's had some more practice reps now), and Hamilton's Jeremiah Masoli will try to bolster his case to remain the starter next year.

Winnipeg at Calgary (9:30 p.m. Eastern, Friday): The key question here may be the amount of effort the Stampeders put in. They have nothing to play for in the standings, but they're planning to play lots of starters in an attempt to fix mistakes from last week's 29-20 loss to Saskatchewan and head into their bye week on a good note. So don't presume they'll just roll over. But Winnipeg has much more motivation, and the Stampeders' hearts may not be totally in it. If Calgary plays at their best for the whole game, they'll likely take this one, but if they let up at all, the Bombers could seize that opportunity. It's going to be hard for Winnipeg without quarterback Matt Nichols, though, as backups Dominique Davis and Dan LeFevour weren't impressive in last week's 36-27 loss to the Lions. We'll see what head coach Mike O'Shea (pictured above) can do to compensate for the loss of Nichols.

Edmonton at Saskatchewan (7 p.m. Eastern, Saturday): Heading into this, the Eskimos will know if they still have a shot at second or not thanks to the Winnipeg-Calgary result. And if they don't, things could get very interesting. Second in the West is a somewhat-desirable prize; yes, it means the top-ranked Stampeders are lurking in the division final, but it means a home playoff game before that, with home-field advantage and with extra ticket sales. But third in the West seems like a booby prize, as fourth and the crossover berth means facing a 8-9-1 team and an at-best 9-9 team ahead of the Grey Cup instead of a 11- or 12-win Winnipeg or Edmonton team and a 13- or 14-win Calgary team. I've long argued that each team in a division should have the chance to choose to stay or go, and this could be a case in point of why that's needed. A Bombers' win means the Eskimos and Roughriders are both motivated to lose from a mathematical standpoint. They probably won't try to deliberately tank, but if they do, this could be a weird one.

Toronto at B.C. (10 p.m. Eastern, Saturday): This is another question of motivation, as the Lions theoretically have nothing to play for. However, at home, they'll be looking to end the season on a good note, and an 8-10 mark feels not too terrible (it would be a playoff record in the East). Plenty of B.C. players will be auditioning for continued jobs, and head coach/GM Wally Buono would probably like to minimize offseason questions about his job status. This is also a classic potential trap game for an Eastern team in B.C. Place; this game will be going long after midnight Eastern, and teams from that time zone don't have a great record under those circumstances. But the Argonauts have excellent motivation of their own, and they've been pretty impressive lately. That crucial bye's on the line, and if they go for it hard, they may be able to get it.