With Winnipeg’s 35-24 victory over Montreal on Saturday afternoon, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats clinched first place and will host the East Final at Tim Hortons Field on Sunday, November 17.
The Ticats clinching the division crown and securing a first-round bye two days before Thanksgiving is uncharted territory for a team that will host the East Final this year for just the third time in the last 21 years (1998 and 2014 being the other two).
The only thing the Ticats have left to accomplish isn’t all that important — winning more than 12 games in a season for the first time in franchise history — because winning 13, 14 or 15 games won’t mean much if the team doesn’t find themselves in the big game in Calgary on the final Sunday of November.
So what should the Ticats do? Should it be full steam ahead? Should they start resting starters? Something else entirely?
I don’t think the Tabbies should start completely sitting guys starting this week against Ottawa. Despite the fact that a JV team could probably beat the current incarnation of the Redblacks, the Ticats need to play their proper roster.
Sitting guys or pulling guys a month out from their next meaningful game doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. If the game is a blowout, then you pull guys like you would in any blowout, but so long as the game is still reasonably competitive, the regulars need to be on the field.
Same goes for the following week against Montreal. Not only because three weeks out is too early to sit guys, but the Als could be the Ticats’ opponents in the East Final and a meaningless game against them could be a great way to figure out what you need to do against them in any potential playoff matchup. These two teams haven’t played since back-to-back meetings on June 28 and July 4, both teams have changed a lot since then.
The final game of the year against the Argos is the only week I would consider benching starters. You basically treat the game as a glorified preseason contest, holding certain players out and pulling starters throughout the game.
Dane Evans is a young quarterback who needs as many live reps as he can get before playing the biggest game of his professional career. He also needs to maintain the chemistry he has developed with the other skill-position players on the offence. Evans has played extremely well lately, but he can still play better, and the only way to continue his development is for him to be on the field.
With the season the Ticats have had, I understand the consternation among Ticats Nation not to see an important player lost to injury during a meaningless stretch of games, but sitting players with so much time left in the season just isn’t reasonable.
The Ticats will do what they think is best, but sitting players for over a month probably isn’t in the cards. I say keep it business as usual for the next two weeks and then play pre-season style in the final game.