How the East will be won… again

The East Division is once again in turmoil. We have had coaching changes in two cities, an injured quarterback threatens to wreck the tail end of the defending champion’s season and it seems like the Argos take one step forward and two steps back on a weekly basis.

But one team is going to win this division and host the East Final, while another is going to finish second and host the East Semi Final against the fourth-place West Division team (I’m not even hedging my bets here; 4th in the West will once again have a better record that first and second in the East). But who will it be?

Last year, when the East was also a logjam of mediocrity, I decided to put on my prognosticator cap and see if I could predict the outcome of the 2016 turtle derby. The results were a mixed bag. I correctly picked the two teams that would make the playoffs, Hamilton and Ottawa, but got their records and their order of finish wrong. I did, however, nail the Als finishing third at 7-11 and the Argos finishing in last. So, not bad. Not perfect, but not that far off either.

Let’s see if I can do better this year.

Ottawa Redblacks
Current record: 4-7-1
Remaining schedule: at Montreal at Winnipeg, vs. Saskatchewan, at B.C., at Saskatchewan, vs. Hamilton
Remaining strength of schedule: .460
Toughness rank: 2

Ottawa’s season rest almost solely on when Trevor Harris returns from his shoulder injury. Without him, the Redblacks have to rely on Drew Tate (*gulp*) to pilot an offense that can be pretty deadly when it is playing at its best (it sports the league leaders in passing yards, passing touchdowns and receiving yards). If Harris returns earlier than expected, he has been put on the 6-game injured list and is expected to be out 2-6 weeks, Ottawa will remain the favourites to win the division. The only way the Redblacks’ season will go belly up is if Harris is lost for the remainder of the season. That would mean Ottawa would have to be all in on Drew Tate and you never go all in on Drew Tate.

Ottawa’s home futility, they are an abysmal 4-10-2 at home since the start of last season, won’t play much of a factor as they have just two home games remaining this season, though that season-ending date with the Ticats at TD Place could loom large in the race for first place.

Prediction: 6-11-1, 1st

Toronto Argonauts
Current record: 4-7
Remaining schedule: vs. Edmonton, vs. Montreal, at Hamilton, vs. Saskatchewan, at Edmonton, vs. Winnipeg, at B.C.
Remaining strength of schedule: .507
Toughness rank: 1

The Argos have the toughest remaining schedule, with five of their remaining seven games coming against the vastly superior West Division. But Toronto also plays four of their final seven at home, tied with Hamilton for the most home games remaining among East Division teams. Toronto is probably the most talented team in the East, but they have been all this season and have looked awful for long stretches. They are as confounding a team to figure out as any. If they put it all together, they can probably go a decent run, but with that daunting schedule, it doesn’t look likely.

Predictions: 6-12, 3rd (losing season series to Hamilton)

Montreal Alouettes
Current record: 3-8
Remaining schedule: vs. Ottawa, at Toronto, at Calgary, vs. Edmonton, vs. Hamilton, at Saskatchewan, at Hamilton
Remaining strength of schedule: .440
Toughness rank: 3

The Als are seemingly trying to wrest the title of biggest train wreck away from the Tiger-Cats (who themselves took the crown from the Saskatchewan Roughriders) now that they have fired their head coach and defensive coordinator just four days before they host the Ottawa Redblacks in a pivotal East Division showdown. At least the Ticats had the good sense to make their big coaching changes during a bye week.

Will the changes in Montreal spark a resurgence like it has done in Hamilton? Probably not. An offense that wasn’t working will now see Anthony Calvillo call the plays. Ask any Als fan how that went the last time. The Als are a mess and have been for a long time. This could be an ugly end to the season for Als fans.

Prediction: 4-14, 4th

Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Current record: 2-8
Remaining schedule: vs. Saskatchewan, at B.C., vs. Toronto, at Winnipeg, vs. Calgary, at Montreal, at Ottawa, vs. Montreal
Remaining strength of schedule: .425
Toughness rank: 4

Pros in Hamilton’s favour: they have the easiest schedule left of the four East teams.

Cons against Hamilton: they have to play four West teams, including Winnipeg and Calgary back-to-back, in their next five games.

The Ticats post-season hopes could rest on the outcome of their game this week against Saskatchewan. If they can beat the Riders, they have a shot to win six or seven games with four more East teams on the docket. If they lose to Saskatchewan, the Ticats chances go down significantly. The Ticats game at Tim Hortons Field against the Argos on Sept. 30 could be what ultimately decides each teams’ playoff fate.

Prediction: 6-12, 2nd (winning season series with Toronto)

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.