They’ll have to make CFL history to do it but the winless Hamilton Tiger-Cats still have a chance to make the playoffs this season.
Sixteen teams have started the CFL season with an 0-7 record and not a single one made the post-season. A pair have made it after going 1-7, including the Montreal Alouettes in 2014. The 1969 B.C. Lions started 1-10 and still got there with a 5-11 record.
Working in the Ticats favour is a truly abysmal state of the East Division, which is now 2-17 against the West. The Saskatchewan Roughriders are last in the West with three wins – the same number as East leaders Montreal and Toronto.
The flip side is that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who beat the Ticats 39-12 last Saturday, have a two-game lead in the crossover, which allows the fourth-place team in the West to make the playoffs if it has a better record than the third-place East team. In other words, Hamilton likely needs to finish second in the East to make the post-season.
Hamilton has had one of the toughest schedules in the CFL this season, with six of their first seven coming against the West, a tough Calgary-Edmonton road trip and a run of contests away from Tim Hortons Field. The upside is that, despite their record, they still have a chance to make up the ground.
The Ticats will play six of their remaining 11 games at home, while the Alouettes (5) and Redblacks (4) will spend more time on the road. Hamilton also has a game in hand against Ottawa and Toronto, who have already played eight contests this season.
The Tabbies also have seven games against divisional opponents, the most of any East team: they can still win the season series against any club in the division.
Their next three games will be key. They host Ottawa on Friday at Tim Hortons Field, enjoy their second bye week of the season, then take on the Argonauts in the Labour Day Classic. A trip to Ottawa on Sept. 9 finishes a three-game stretch against the East.
“They’re critical,” head coach Kent Austin said Monday. “It’s pretty obvious to everybody that we’ve got to get on track immediately and the guys know that.”
A trio of victories would put the Ticats right back into the thick of the East Division playoff race while a continuation of their winless streak would all but end their season. The Labour Day match up has added importance, given that the Argonauts will take the season series – and therefore the playoff tie-breaker – with a victory.
The schedule-makers haven’t done the Ticats any favours in the second-half, either. Starting on Labour Day, they’ll play three games in 12 days and four in 19 – a tough run for a team already struggling with injuries. Road trips to B.C. – the last of the four aforementioned contests – and Winnipeg as well as a home date with the Calgary Stampeders remain as well.
The odds are not in Hamilton’s favour. The website sportsclubstats.com which measures post-seasons odds in several professional sports, currently puts the Ticats’ playoff chances at a dismal 3.4 per cent.
That’s not good. But it’s not zero and that means there’s hope.