CFL SEMI-FINAL PICKS: It’s win or go home time

Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly (13) fakes a pass and holds the ball while under pressure from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats defence during the first-half of CFL football action in Hamilton on Friday, October 28, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

East Semi-Final
Edmonton Eskimos (10-8) at Hamilton Tiger-Cats (7-11)
Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton, 1 p.m.

The Edmonton Eskimos will have become road warriors to successfully defend their Grey Cup title.

Edmonton (10-8) begins its title defence Sunday afternoon visiting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Division semifinal. The Eskimos earned CFL crossover by compiling a better record than the third-place Montreal Alouettes (7-11).

Hamilton also had a 7-11 record but cemented second – and home field for the East semifinal – by winning the season series with Montreal.

A win Sunday will earn Edmonton a trip to Ottawa on Nov. 20 to face the Redblacks in the East Division final. The winner will advance to the Grey Cup game Nov. 27 at BMO Field in Toronto.

Edmonton comes in having won five of its last six games. Hamilton has dropped two straight and its last four home contests to stand 3-6 overall at Tim Hortons Field this season.

Hamilton is also 2-8 versus West Division teams. Edmonton was 5-4 on the road and 5-3 against East rivals.

This will mark the first-ever division playoff meeting between the two clubs although they’ve split their two Grey Cup appearances.

Dunk: Two teams trending in opposite directions. ESKIMOS
Smith: Kent Austin has never lost in the first round of the playoffs, and the Ticats have not lost a home playoff game since 2010. TICATS
Filoso: In what is sure to be a close game, I’ll take an Edmonton squad that isn’t nearly as beat up as the Ticats ESKIMOS
Edwards: Head says Edmonton, gut says Hamilton. Hope the gut (and the Tiger-Cats) aren’t just gastrointenstinal distress. TICATS
Hodge: Hamilton’s battered receiving corps and awful secondary make this game an easy pick. ESKIMOS
Busby: That Eskimos offence is just too explosive for this game to matter where it is played. ESKIMOS
Gasson: Edmonton is the favourite and rightfully so. The crossover is harder than it seems even if the West is better. Something hasn’t been right in Hamilton all year. ESKIMOS
Totals:

Adam Bighill, Ryan Phillips, Andrew Harris, Mike Edem

West Semi-Final
Winnipeg Blue Bombers (11-7) at B.C. Lions (12-6)
B.C. Place, Vancouver, 4:30 p.m.

The Winnipeg Bombers are back in the post-season for the first time since 2011 when they lost to the B.C. Lions Lions in the Grey Cup at B.C. Place Stadium. Neither team has won a playoff game since, and Winnipeg started this season 1-4 before ripping off seven straight victories to rekindle hope for a franchise that hasn’t won a title since 1990.

The Bombers feasted on mistakes in 2016, finishing a CFL-best plus-29 in the turnover ratio, bettering the Calgary Stampeders, who compiled a dominating 15-2-1 record and will host next weekend’s West final, by 10 in that category.

Winnipeg led the league in interceptions with 30 – Hamilton was next with 17 – and defensive touchdowns (five) to go along with 19 fumble recoveries and 10 turnovers on downs, often giving the Bombers’ offence a short field.

Winnipeg swept the season series with B.C. thanks to back-to-back wins in October and was on course to host Sunday’s matchup until a loss to Ottawa two weeks ago opened the door for the Lions, who finished on a three-game winning streak to clinch home field this weekend.

B.C. led the league in rushing, and Emmanuel Arceneaux and Bryan Burnham finished third and fourth in receiving yards in the CFL, with the former leading the league with 13 TDs. Winnipeg, meanwhile, had just one player in the top-15 in receiving (Weston Dressler) but has continued to find ways to win.

Dunk: Winnipeg gets the turnover machine cranked up in Vancouver. BOMBERS
Smith: Jennings, Arceneaux, Burnham, Johnson, Gore, Sinkfield, Elimimian, Bighill… I could go on, but I won’t. The Bombers have had a wonderful season, but it ends on Sunday. LIONS
Filoso: Winnipeg and Matt Nichols suddenly have a turnover problem. In the playoffs, that’s lethal. LIONS
Edwards: Wally Buono is the master. LIONS
Hodge: The Bombers will win this one if Jonathon Jennings continues to falter in late-game situations. Could happen… but I’m not counting on it. LIONS
Busby: Jennings and the Lions have a bright future, but they are probably sleeping on the Bombers, who have enough defence to win this one. BOMBERS
Gasson: This could be the game of the playoffs. I like Winnipeg’s ability to create turnovers. They need to take advantage when they do. BOMBERS.
TOTALS: LIONS 4 BOMBERS 3

Season records
Dunk: 51-29-1
Smith: 50-30-1
Filoso: 49-31-1
Edwards: 47-33-1
Hodge: 47-33-1
Busby: 44-36-1
Gasson: 40-40-1
Total: 328-232-7

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