Here’s the official, predictable answer as to whether the Hamilton Tiger-Cats would rather face the Edmonton Eskimos or the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the East Semi-Final, via Ticats head coach Kent Austin.
“They’re both good football teams and we’re going to have our work cut for us to have a chance to win,” he said.
Here’s what the answer should be: the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The Ticats playoff opponent won’t be determined until this weekend and Hamilton will have no influence over how it plays out. The Bombers are travelling to Ottawa to face a Redblacks team that plans to rest 10 starters while Edmonton hosts the generally hapless Toronto Argonauts.
If the Bombers win or both teams lose, the Ticats get the Eskimos. But an Edmonton victory and a Bombers loss brings Winnipeg to town.
Here are five reasons why that scenario – unlikely as it is – is the best one for Hamilton.
1. The Eskimos defensive line is a tough match up for Hamilton. The sack numbers may not show it – Edmonton is eighth in the CFL with 29 – but their front four is one of the most dominant in the league. Defensive tackles Almondo Sewell (an all-star) and Eddie Steele, along with ends Odell Willis and Marcus Howard, gave Hamilton fits in their win last Friday. The Ticats offensive line has been a patch job all season and ratio issues created by the injury to Andy Fantuz could force yet more changes.
2. The Edmonton receivers are really good. Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker are No. 1 and No. 2 in the league in receiving yards with more then 3,200 between them. That’s a problem for a Hamilton secondary that’s been ravaged by injury and will field a line up that hasn’t played together much (if at all.) Oh, and running back John White was just named a CFL player-of-the-month for October.
3. Mike Reilly is a better quarterback than Matt Nichols. Speaking of players-of-the-month, Reilly was one as well after throwing for 1,201 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception. Reilly leads the CFL in passing yards and is coming off a season in which led the Esks to a Grey Cup championship: he knows what to do at playoff time.
4. Winnipeg’s success has been largely dependent on turnovers. The Bombers lead the CFL in takeaways (56) and turnover ratio (plus-28) but haven’t been able to win games unless they have an advantage in that key metric: they are 10-1 when they win the turnover battle but winless when they don’t. That bodes well for the Ticats: Zach Collaros has thrown nine interceptions this season and isn’t typically a turnover machine.
5. The Bomber wins over Hamilton earlier this season don’t mean much. Winnipeg is 2-0 against the Ticats but both those victories came before Collaros returned to action and both had a further asterisk: Hamilton turned the ball over six times in the July 7 loss, then sat through a long rain delay before getting thrashed in August. Neither scenario is likely to repeat itself.
Then there’s this: Edmonton has won four of their last five and are playing their best football at the right time of year while Nichols threw three interceptions in a home loss to Ottawa last week that likely cost Winnipeg a home playoff game.
Plus, they’re the Bombers, the team that hasn’t won a Grey Cup since 1990, the longest continuous drought in the CFL. The Chicago Cubs may have proved that all streaks come to an end but the weight of history can be tough to carry around. Might as well bring it to Hamilton.