It feels a little early to be talking about the playoffs, but the fact is the outcome of Monday’s game against the Toronto Argonauts could have a bearing on whether the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are still playing football in mid-November.
For the Tiger-Cats, Labour Day marks the first of two back-to-back games against the Argos, who they also face again in October. Overall, six of their last nine games are against other East Division teams, including three against Toronto.
With Hamilton sitting in second place heading into the Classic, just two points up on the third-place Argos, a win would mean both an early lead in the season series as well as a more comfortable cushion in the standings.
It also gives them a head-to-head advantage over Toronto, which is crucial in the event of a West Division crossover and a season-ending tie.
The Tiger-Cats, who are coming off a character-building comeback against the Edmonton Eskimos, have the upper hand on paper — going into Week 12, their offence is second-best in the league in the air and third-best on the ground, and their defence is among the stingiest.
There is an exception, though. At 126.6 per game, Hamilton is allowing more opposition rush yards than anyone in the CFL.
That should be good news for McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who is 2-1 since taking over as Toronto’s starting quarterback in Week 8, and running back James Wilder Jr., whose 494 running yards are fourth-most in the league.
Another thing Hamilton has on its side is history, with four straight wins on Labour Day and a 33-13-1 record all-time. What’s more – and this is key for a team that hasn’t exactly thrived at home this year – they have yet to lose a Classic at Tim Hortons Field.
Key roster notes for Hamilton:
Receiver Jalen Saunders is expected back after missing last week’s win over Edmonton. Defensive back Frankie Williams also returns, which will help with both Richard Leonard and receiver Chris Williams out with injuries (the latter is done for the season after tearing his Achilles against the Eskimos). Landon Rice, meanwhile, will be back on the O-line after being signed by the Tiger-Cats early this week. He started the season with Hamilton and was sent to Montreal (and later released) as part of the Johnny Manziel deal in July.
Key roster notes for Toronto:
Free-agent receiver Duron Carter, who was signed by the Argonauts early this week, won’t play Monday, according to head coach Marc Trestman. And defensive back Cassius Vaughan is out for the rest of the season after tearing his Achilles in last week’s loss to Montreal. Running back Anthony Coombs, who has only played in only two games this campaign, re-injured himself against the Alouettes and is expected to be sidelined as well. On the plus side, Toronto will likely have national defensive back Matt Black at their disposal, which should help with several DBs, including Vaughan, on the six-game injured list.
Numbers to crunch on:
2012: The last year in which the Argos came out on top of the Tiger-Cats on Labour Day weekend (45-31 at home). They went on to win their 16th Grey Cup later that season.
2: The number of hours, roughly, last year’s Classic, in which Hamilton earned its first win of the season, was delayed while Tim Hortons Field was drenched by torrential downpour.
24-22: The final score in that contest, which the Tiger-Cats won after kicker Lirim Hajrullahu, then an Argonaut, missed a 37-yard field goal attempt inside the final minute.
14: The point deficit from which Hamilton rallied in last week’s 25-24 win over the Edmonton Eskimos. Hajrullahu, who now boots balls for the Tiger-Cats, completed the comeback with a field goal from the 29-yard line as time ran out.
25: The number of games decided in the last three minutes this CFL campaign, which, in its first 11 weeks, had yet to see a contest go to overtime. Strangely, just 21 games have been decided by 10 points or less — the same number that have been decided by 11 or more.
1: The number of votes the Tiger-Cats received in a CFL midseason poll, which asked members of the media to predict this year’s Grey Cup winner. Of the 50 respondents, eight did, however, pick Hamilton to win the East Division.
1-1: Hamilton’s record against other East Division teams so far this season. The Tiger-Cats, who play six of their last nine games against divisional rivals, lost to Ottawa 21-5 in Week 7 before rebounding to beat Montreal 50-11 in Week 8.