Playoff pretenders and contenders: What Elo ratings tell us about the Lions and Riders

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

There are two questions focused on in the latest numbers-based analysis: how good does B.C. have to be to make the playoffs? And what does a Rider win in Calgary mean for playoff race for West Final host?

I gave a simple explanation of CFL Elo Ratings and other ranking methods two weeks ago in It’s Elo not ELO. Last week introduced win total charts in Ticats lucky number 13.

You will find updated CFL Elo Rating charts, odds, rankings, and win total charts as you go along.

Let’s tackle our pair of inquiries.

1. What does B.C. have to do to make the playoffs?

Currently Edmonton’s magic number is one win, or one B.C. loss, to eliminate the Lions from the playoffs.

How good does that mean B.C. has to be to make the playoffs?

The simple answer is perfect. B.C. needs to win at Edmonton Saturday evening and then win their hosting of the Riders and Stampeders. The Lions need the Eskimos to lose to Saskatchewan in back-to-back games to end the season.

It is a plausible scenario. B.C. is on a winning streak aided by weak competition and three home games in their last four outings. If the resurgence continues and Bryan Burnham maintains MOP form at receiver, then the Lions could do their own part. At the same time, if the Eskimos remain without Trevor Harris, then two losses for Edmonton to the Riders would not be unexpected.

That said, at this time franchise Elo Rating has Edmonton with 98 percent odds to make the playoffs.

So. How good does B.C. have to play, i.e. how favoured must the Lions be and the Eskimos not be, in each game for the Lions to have a better chance to make the playoffs than Edmonton?

The answer is the Lions need to be 87.5 percent favourites in their remaining games. And the Eskimos 12.5 percent underdogs in their remaining games for the Lions to have better odds to make the playoffs.

What does that mean in context of the 2019 CFL season?

Right now, a franchise Elo Rating match-up of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats visiting the Ottawa Redblacks has Hamilton as a 87.5 percent favourite in the game.

Therefore, in context, expecting the Lions to make the playoffs requires you to expect B.C. to win as confidently as you’d expect the Tiger-Cats to win versus the Redblacks. At the same time, you have to expect the Eskimos to lose as confidently as you would the Redblacks in that equation.

2. What does a Rider win in Calgary mean for the playoff race for West Final host and associated bye?

The Riders are currently favoured to take first in the West and the associated playoff bye with 64 percent odds under franchise Elo Ratings.

Saskatchewan will be in Calgary Friday night for a big re-match. The Stamps took the Week 4 match-up with a 27-point win. The Riders would need to win by four converted touchdowns to take the tie break.

A Rider win, below the tie break threshold, would make the Riders odds of taking the No. 1 spot in the West 94 percent. This is 30 percentage points of gain from beating Calgary. They would not obtain the head to head tie break advantage. However, they’d have a very strong hold on the hosting of the West Final. Two games versus Edmonton are valued as much easier for the Riders going forward in comparison to Calgary with the Bombers back to back and a final week visit to B.C.

If the Riders won by four converted touchdowns, then the odds to host the West Final rise even further to 98.8 percent. A two-game lead would force the Stampeders to need to win out their remaining three games and for the Riders to lose both games versus Edmonton.

A loss in Calgary would drop the Riders to 40 percent odds and put the Stampeders at 54 percent odds to host the West Final.

In conclusion, a loss for the Riders to the Stampeders would put the West Final back into contention, while a win would virtually wrap up the race in the Riders favour.

Win Total Charts

Hamilton won, as expected, over the weekend (they were 71 percent favourites). This keeps them on track to reach 14 wins with 88 percent odds and a good expectation of 15 wins. Remaining games against Toronto and Ottawa (and a third versus Montreal) feature heavily in that expectation.

What are the ‘stories’ from the CFL franchise Elo Rating charts?

Hamilton leads with an expected win versus Edmonton at home. Calgary out of a bye loses to Montreal on the road to fall below the Riders. Montreal moves past Edmonton, while B.C. continues their late-season ascent.

What is different in CFL season Elo Rating charts?

Hamilton extends their lead and Riders overtake Calgary. Montreal enters the top pack of playoff competitors as Winnipeg slips to the bottom, second last in that group.

Divisional Finishes

The crossover expectation is currently at 99.8 percent. Edmonton lost as expected in Hamilton.

Toronto is out of the playoffs. The continued expectation is that the participants in the playoffs will not include B.C. in the West nor Ottawa in the East. Ottawa has 0.15 percent shot at the playoffs. B.C.’s odds rise from 0.7 percent to 2.1 percent.

We know Calgary, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Montreal are in the playoffs as confirmed by the league.

B.C. has a one-game margin to make playoffs, they need Edmonton to lose all their games and to win all of their own. If one game doesn’t go B.C.’s way, an Edmonton win or a loss of their own, then their playoffs hopes are done.

Ottawa can technically still catch a playoff spot. They need Edmonton to not win any games and to win all of theirs. Then they could take the tie break and stop the crossover.

Hamilton is almost guaranteed to be first in the East (99.9 percent) and host the East Final after a bye.

As was said last week, Montreal should be preparing to host the Edmonton in the East Semi-Final (99.9 percent) as they crossover from the West (95 percent).

Playoffs Odds

Hamilton is the favourite to make the Grey Cup (80 percent). This is an accumulation of factors such as having the bye and then playing the weaker two of the other five playoff teams.

Things are still close out West. Saskatchewan now leads the race in the West as Winnipeg slips further into a more likely semi-final visitor. Saskatchewan now has the inside chance at first in the West at 64 percent.

As always, the benefit of hosting the West Final and being only one game away from the Grey Cup always helps a division-leading team’s odds.

Grey Cup Matchups

Hamilton features heavily given how expected it is that they would make it out of the East over Montreal and Edmonton.

Hamilton is in the Grey Cup in 80 percent of the matchups with the most likely competitors being Saskatchewan, Calgary or Winnipeg based on their current standings’ expectations.

Saskatchewan has passed the Stampeders to take the lead in Grey Cup match-up combination expectations.

A Grey Cup featuring only West divisional teams fell to 2.3 percent odds as Montreal increased the expectation that it would win the semi-final match-up at home.

Strength of Schedule

Winnipeg still maintains the hardest strength of schedule. Of playoff teams, Hamilton has the easiest, followed by Montreal. Calgary and Edmonton have roughly the same future schedule while in the West the Riders have the easiest schedule.


Saskatchewan’s Markov Chain ranking still stands out. Season Elo Rating and RPI, which are based more on winning rather than score, have the Riders ranked stronger in the Markov Chain. The Markov Chain method is all about points for and against opponents. The implication is that the Riders win, but the margin of victory has not been convincing relative to their opponents in those games.

In comparison, the Stampeders have a weak RPI. This implies the Stampeders have losses (particularly two to Montreal) to teams with unconvincing win-loss ratios. However, their Markov Chain ranking implies their score lines have not been bad in those games. Both losses to Montreal were in close games the Stampeders could or should have won depending on your point of view.

The implied tiers from the average of the season ranking methods are:

1. Hamilton

2. Calgary; Saskatchewan; Winnipeg; Montreal

4. Edmonton; B.C.

6. Toronto; Ottawa

Hudson is a Ph.D. graduate and instructor in computer science at the University of Calgary. He is a fan of football in all its forms