If you were told that the western version of the the late-summer showdown was for tops in the division, no one would have batted an eye. Edmonton and Calgary met in last year’s West Final, and both were considered likely cross paths in that game once again this season.
But in the East, while the Ticats were the early season favourites to get back to the Grey Cup for a third consecutive year, not many expected to the Argos to be battling for top spot, let alone share a record with the Ticats and the midway point of the 2015 season.
But while the Boatmen deserve credit for finishing the first half of the season tied with the Ticats for top spot in the East, it is hard to consider the two teams equals when you compare their résumés. Both took drastically different paths to get to 6-3 and those paths show why the Ticats are, at this point, the superior team.
On the scoreboard, the Ticats have scored 77 more points and given up 63 fewer points than the Argos. Hamilton is the league’s top-scoring team — Hamilton’s 315 points are 60 points more than the second-best team, the Calgary Stampeders, have scored — and have allowed the second-fewest total points and third-fewest points per game of any team in the CFL. The Argos, meanwhile, are tied for third-most points scored and sixth-most points surrendered. Also, the Ticats have a point differential of plus-133, while the Argos sit at minus-seven. The Ticats have simply been a more dominant team on both sides of the football.
And speaking of dominance, the Ticats have been that and then some. The Ticats are the only team to score 50 points in game, and they did it twice. Their lowest margin of victory in any game this season was 10, and their other wins have been by 26, 16, 30, 30 and 29 points. When they win, they dominate. Simple as that. Contrast that to the Argos, whose biggest win was their admittedly impressive 15-point, Week 1 beating of the Eskimos. Every other victory, including two against the 0-9 Saskatchewan Roughriders, have required the Argos to make some sort of comeback. They needed big second-half rallies to beat the 3-6 Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the 4-5 BC Lions and the 5-4 Ottawa Redblacks. While the Argos get top marks for being able to make those comebacks, they are not as impressive as the poundings the Ticats have put on opposing teams.
It is not just in victory where the Ticats have outclassed their provincial rivals, but also in defeat. While there is no prize for losing, the Ticats have, despite some admittedly terrible play, found themselves on the losing end of three games by a total of just eight points. The Argos, meanwhile, have only had one defeat by less than one score, their five-point, Week 3 loss to Calgary. The Argos have also been beaten by 16, courtesy of the Ticats back in early August, and 23, by the Eskimos last week. The Argos were down in all three of their losses and were unable to make the comeback. All three of their losses have come against what many would consider the league’s top three teams. While the Argos may be adept at making comebacks, it seems they are only capable of doing so against the league’s lesser lights, while Hamilton is a bounce or two away from turning their losses into wins.
If we look at common opponents, the discrepancy between the two become even wider. At the halfway point of the season, the Argos and Ticats have both played the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Saskatchewan Roughriders, BC Lions, Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders. Hamilton’s only blemish against those five is their opening-week loss to the Stampeders, while the Argos have lost to both the Stamps and Esks. Hamilton has blown out Winnipeg twice, BC and Edmonton once each, and defeated the Riders in Regina by 10 points. The Argos needed double overtime to beat the Riders in their first meeting, a fourth-quarter comeback to beat them in their second meeting, as well as the aforementioned fourth-quarter comebacks to beat the Lions and Bombers. Hamilton, by and large, crushed their common opponents with the Argos, while Toronto barely squeaked by. While the manner in which you win does not matter at the end of the season, it does help one come to a conclusion about which team is better than the other during the season.
None of this is meant to say that the Argos can’t win on Monday. Far from it. Nor is this meant to disparage the Argos in anyway. They deserve all the credit in the world for defying expectations, especially considering their long list of injuries, and finding themselves in the thick of things to start the second half of the season. But in a comparison, at the moment, between the two biter rivals, I do not see how anyone can say that, after nine games, the Argos are a better team than the Ticats.
These two may have arrived at Monday’s destination sporting identical records, but they took widely divergent paths to get here. Neither was the wrong way, but one was certainly more impressive than the other.