Bombers’ schedule decidedly mediocre

Bye weeks

The Bombers drew the dreaded week one bye in 2017, a necessary evil in the nine-team CFL.

All three teams with week one byes (Ottawa, 2014; B.C., 2015; Saskatchewan, 2016) have lost in week two since Ottawa re-entered the league in 2014. It’s worth noting that none of these teams turned out to be very good (posting a combined record of 14-40), but it’s clear week one byes are not an advantage.

As much as teams (and fans) hate it, one squad will inevitably have to live with the week one bye every season. CFL fans can only hope that the schedule makers continue to distribute the week one bye fairly to ensure each team only has it once every nine years (or until the Atlantic Sooners set sail, of course).

The Bombers’ other bye week, week thirteen, is nicely placed. It’s close enough to the end of the season for players to welcome the rest, but not so much that the club risks losing momentum heading into the playoffs. The question will be how healthy the Bombers can remain by week twelve’s Banjo Bowl after playing for eleven consecutive weeks.

Short weeks

Playing or preparing for a professional football game on just four days of rest is tough. Players are more prone to injury, practice time is greatly reduced, and coaches have less time to prepare for opponents when teams are forced to play twice in just six days. Determining how many short weeks each team has is key to determining the quality of each team’s schedule.

The chart below indicates how many times each team will have to play on a short week (centre column) and how many times they will play an opponent coming off a short week (right column).

Team Short Weeks Opponent Short Weeks
Toronto Argonauts 4 3
Ottawa Redblacks 4 4
Calgary Stampeders 3 2
Montreal Alouettes 3 3
Hamilton Tiger-Cats 3 0
Edmonton Eskimos 2 2
Winnipeg Blue Bombers 1 3
Saskatchewan Roughriders 1 2
B.C. Lions 1 1

As we can see, the Bombers have arguably the best schedule of any of the CFL’s nine teams when it comes to short weeks. Winnipeg will have to play twice in a span of five games just once this season: August 12 at Hamilton and August 17 versus Edmonton.

The Bombers also benefit from having three games against opponents that are coming off short weeks: July 13 vs. Toronto; August 24 at Montreal; and September 22 vs. Ottawa. While none of these games are divisional contests, it’s still a major advantage.

As an aside, you can’t help but feel bad for the Ticats. Three short weeks without a single opponent short week? That’s just cruel.

Three games in eleven days

Regrettably, the CFL schedule makers sometimes force teams to play consecutive short weeks. While I understand that creating the league’s schedule is an exceptionally complex undertaking, this is a practice I simply can’t support. Asking players to compete at a professional level while playing three times in just eleven days is simply unacceptable.

Fortunately for Winnipeg, the club doesn’t have to play three games in eleven days in 2017 (which, given that club has only one short week to begin with, should be obvious).

In case you’re curious, the two teams with consecutive short weeks in 2017 are Toronto (weeks five to seven) and Ottawa (weeks four and five, with two games during the latter).

Extra opponents

The CFL schedule is structured in such a way that sees every team play every other team twice: once at home and once away. This accounts for sixteen contests of each team’s eighteen-game schedule, leaving two remaining games to be played against divisional opponents.

The Bombers’ two extra games last season were nightmares. Winnipeg had to go to McMahon Stadium in Calgary twice — a venue where the Stampeders have lost just six games since 2012 — and dropped both contests. The Bombers also had to host Edmonton twice, a respectable squad the club hadn’t defeated at home in three seasons. Sticking to the trend, Winnipeg lost both games (though, ironically, the Bombers won their lone contests in Edmonton 30-23).

The teams Winnipeg will face three times in 2017 are the Riders and Lions. Saskatchewan is 8-28 over the past two seasons with Winnipeg winning four of the past five match-ups (including two of the last three in Regina). The Lions, meanwhile, were exceptionally evenly-matched with Winnipeg last season, with the club’s three meetings (playoffs included) being decided a combined six points. The Lions have since lost stars Adam Bighill and Alex Bazzie (among others) to the NFL, meaning the Bombers may be able to pull away from the Leos in 2017.

There’s no guarantee Winnipeg will fare well against its two 2017 extra opponents, but one thing’s for sure: the competition won’t be as daunting as it was a year ago.

Fan experience

The Bombers’ summer schedule is disappointing for the second consecutive season. Winnipeg has just one August home game in 2017 (as was the case in 2016), none in June, and just two in September.

This means the Bombers will host three regular season games in October, all of which could be played in subzero temperatures. Good weather is never guaranteed on the prairies, but it would nice if the club could get more home dates near the start of the season to maximize the odds of fans avoiding Investors Group Field due to the cold.

Top three games

Winnipeg at Saskatchewan, July 1

It’s fitting that the Bombers will be the first team to visit New Mosaic Stadium. Winnipeg won the final meeting between the Bombers and Riders at Old Mosaic — here’s hoping they can win the first in the new stadium.

Toronto at Winnipeg, July 13

Drew Willy returns to Bomberland in week four. The Argonauts may even have hired a head coach by then.

B.C. at Winnipeg, October 14

The Lions visit the Bombers for the first time since the 2016 West Semi-Final. If last season is any indication, this game will have huge playoff implications.

Conclusion

All in all, the Bombers’ schedule isn’t awful. The week one bye and a lack of summer games prevent this schedule from being a winner, but the lack of short weeks and favorable extra opponents still mean it’s decent.

If only we didn’t need to wait 144 days for it to start.

 

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