First place in the East would make a big difference for Ticats

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats won the 2015 East Semi-Final in dramatic fashion, Justin Medlock booting a 47-yard field goal with zeros on the clock to give the home side a 25-22 victory over the Toronto Argonauts and sending the Tim Hortons Field faithful into a celebratory frenzy.

It may have also cost the Ticats a third straight trip to the Grey Cup.

Both star defensive end Eric Norwood and leading receiver Terrell Sinkfield were injured in the victory and would be unable to play the following week in Ottawa. Sinkfield’s replacement, the now-departed Kealoha Pilares, had three catches for 15 yards and provided none of the big play dynamic.

Norwood suffered a torn ACL versus Toronto and would never play another snap for Hamilton. His replacement, Canadian Arnaud Gascon-Nadon, dropped a sure-fire interception late in the fourth quarter that would have given the Ticats a golden opportunity to win the game. On the very next play, Henry Burris hit Greg Ellingson on the miracle play that sent them to the championship game and ended Hamilton’s season.

Does Norwood make that play? Does the offence get a little extra spark if Sinkfield is in the line up? Would a frenzied home crowd at Tim Hortons Field have made a difference? Maybe. Probably.

But here’s what we do know: winning the East Division and earning a first round bye matters. A lot.

In the last ten seasons, seven of the eventual CFL champions won their division and enjoyed both a week off and home field advantage in a division final. Six of the last ten Grey Cup games have also been a match up of the two first place teams. Translation: finishing first increases your odds of taking home some hardware.

With their remarkable win in Ottawa on Friday, the Ticats not only clinched a playoff spot but also kept their first-place hopes alive. Hamilton hosts Edmonton this Friday, then finishes the regular season with another home date against Montreal. The Esks still have a remote chance of finishing second in the West and so still have something to play for while the Alouettes have been eliminated from post-season contention (though are still pesky, as their win over Saskatchewan last Saturday showed.)

The Redblacks, meanwhile, have a home-and-home set with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who are vying for top spot in the West. But a loss by Hamilton on Friday followed by an Ottawa victory on Saturday would hand the Redblacks the East crown for the second straight year.

And despite the numbers, the Ticats’ personal history says that might not be a bad thing. In their three Grey Cup championships since 1972, the team finished first in the East only once – before the iconic home field victory in ’72. They finished second before winning titles in 1986 and 1999. while six other first-place finishes (1980, 1981, 1985, 1989, 1998, 2014) failed to produce championships.

Still, given the terrible injury situation plaguing the 2016 squad – not to mention their generally horrible luck – tempting fate by playing an extra game is likely best avoided. If nothing else, a guaranteed spot in the East Final beats the prospect of playing another depressing game of ‘what if?’

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