Breaking down the East Division playoff race

_GMY1526

Hamilton Tiger-Cats defensive back Mike Daly was watching Tuesday night’s game between the Ottawa Redblacks and the Toronto Argonauts when Argos receiver Chad Owens made a one-handed catch to score the winning touchdown and changed the dynamic of the East Division playoff race.

“It’s not often that I’m a fan of the Argos, but it certainly helped us, ” Daly said, laughing. “Plus, it was a pretty spectacular play.”

The Argonaut victory means there are now three teams – Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa – tied atop the East Division with eight wins (a Redblack win would have put them alone in first.) Here’s a look at how the rest of the season is shaping up:

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Record: 8-5
Expected wins: 10.2 (second unluckiest in the CFL)
Games remaining: 5 (vs. Saskatchewan, at Montreal, at B.C., vs. Ottawa, at Ottawa)
Remaining opponents winning percentage: .411 (9th most difficult in the CFL)

The Ticats are 0-4 in games decided by four points or less this season, which goes a long way to explaining the gap between their actual win-loss record and what Pythagorean expectation (which is calculated using points for and against) says their record should be.

That the team spent a good portion of the summer blowing teams out didn’t hurt either.

But the injury to quarterback Zach Collaros changed the conversation: they’ve gone from surefire Grey Cup contender to a giant question mark. How newly-minted starter Jeff Mathews performs down the stretch will be the determining factor in where the Ticats finish in the East.

While the home-and-home series against the Redblacks to end the season looms large, the Ticats have an opportunity to create a cushion against the CFL’s lesser lights, starting the this Friday against a two-win Saskatchewan team. On the flip side, Montreal has owned Hamilton this season and travelling to B.C. is never easy.

The Ticats need to get Mathews up to speed in time for the post-season – or at least to the point where he isn’t a turnover machine – and still have the division title very much within their grasp.

A first-round bye and a home playoff date would be significant step toward a third straight Grey Cup appearance.

Toronto Argonauts

Record: 8-5
Expected wins: 5.7 (luckiest in the CFL)
Games remaining: 5 (at Montreal, vs. Calgary, vs. Montreal, vs. B.C., vs. Winnipeg)
Remaining opponents winning percentage: .445 (7th most difficult in the CFL)

Unlike the Ticats, the Argos have been solid in close games as seven of their eight wins have come by 10 points or less. Their defence has surrendered 348 points, worst in the East and sixth in the CFL.

That said, quarterback Trevor Harris is a solid contender for the league’s Most Outstanding Player award, general manager Jim Barker has unearthed some talented American players and head coach Scott Milanovich has done a masterful job at getting his team to focus, despite a brutal travel schedule and a distinct lack of home-field advantage.

The Argos have four home dates remaining and under normal circumstances that would be a tremendous advantage. But at least one (and probably two) of those games is likely to be played at Tim Hortons Field, negating whatever positives the home side draws from the dreadful Rogers Centre.

Toronto has already lost the season series to Hamilton and so must get past the Ticats in the win column to win the division. They do, however, own the tiebreaker over Ottawa. In other words, a home playoff date is a very real possibility (for what that’s worth.)

Ottawa Redblacks

Record: 8-6
Expected wins: 6.4 (second-luckiest in the CFL)
Games remaining: 4 (vs. Winnipeg, at Winnipeg, at Hamilton, vs. Hamilton.)
Remaining opponents winning percentage: .451 (6th most difficult)

The Redblacks have felt like something of a mirage all season and not only are they 4-1 in games decided by four points or less, but they also have three wins when committing more turnovers than the opposition (something that’s happened just 12 times in the CFL all season.)

That said, quarterback Henry Burris has been almost exclusively “Good Hank” this season, putting together an MOP-calibre season at the age of 40. He’s also been remarkably durable and is apparently fine after taking a hard knock in the late stages of the loss to Toronto.

Toronto and Hamilton have a game in hand over the Redblacks but Ottawa does have the woeful Bombers twice more: if Winnipeg loses to B.C. on Saturday, they’ll be all but out of playoff contention in the West.

The best-case scenario for Ottawa sees a tight East race right to the final week of the season.

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