What win leverage numbers reveal about the race for the West Division title

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Much of the playoff picture is virtually settled.

Hamilton hosts the East Final and Montreal the East Semi-Final. Montreal’s opponent is going to be Edmonton unless some very unlikely results let them tie the Roughriders in wins and force the Riders into the crossover via tie-breaking procedures.

On the other hand, the West playoff picture for seeding between Calgary, Saskatchewan, and Winnipeg remains in the balance thanks to Stampeder and Blue Bomber wins last weekend.

Today we will look at the West Division playoff picture in terms of win leverage.

We started three weeks ago with a simple explanation of CFL Elo Ratings and other ranking methods in It’s Elo not ELO. Two weeks ago I added win total charts in Ticats lucky number 13. The Tiger-Cats were on a bye last week but can be expected to defeat Ottawa this week to reach 13.

Last week, we discussed the questions of the Lions’ chances to make the playoffs (they are over) and how a Rider win would virtually lock down the West Final in Playoff pretenders and contenders.

You will find updated CFL Elo Rating charts, odds, rankings, and win total charts throughout the piece.

Win Leverage: The difference in odds between a team losing versus winning their weekly game.

For example, below is a win leverage chart for the West Final bye for Week 19. There are two games that directly influence this result: SSK at B.C. and WPG at CGY.

The line in between the pale sections is the odds each team currently has to win the West. The Stampeders are at about 56 percent, the Riders 38 percent, and the Blue Bombers six percent.

If the Stampeders win, then they gain 18 percent. However, if they lose, then they are 28 percent less likely to host the West Final.

The Riders need to win despite their opponent, the B.C. Lions, not being a direct competitor.

Winnipeg would appear to have the smallest leverage loss as the result of winning or losing versus Calgary. However, this is primarily because their odds are the lowest to begin with.

This win leverage chart is not as informative as it could be. There are four possible results of the two games that each heavily influence the likelihood any of the three teams host the West Final. For example, if the Riders lose and the Stampeders win, then the actual gain for the Stampeders would be larger than what was shown in the previous chart.

The Riders at Lions game is first so we’ll consider that game as having two possible results. If the Riders win then we’ll look at the win leverage of game two in the first chart that follows. If the Riders lose, then the second chart shows us the win leverage of game two.

If the Riders win their odds to host the West Final swing to being, at least temporarily, better than either the Stampders or the Bombers. In fact, their win virtually eliminates the Blue Bombers, due to the Riders holding the tie breaker. A Stampeders win would move them back ahead of the Riders. However, a Stampeders loss would drop them to just above 20 percent, while the Riders would be above 70 percent.

If the Riders lose, their chance to host the West final takes a severe hit, falling to around 15 percent. A Stampeder win with a Riders loss would put Calgary over 90 percent odds at hosting the West Final. A Stampeder loss would level the odds. More importantly, since that loss means a Winnipeg win, it would also push the Blue Bombers to their best odds of above 30 percent at hosting the West Final.

Win Total Charts

Hamilton should win this week over Ottawa and reach 13 wins. This keeps them on track to reach at least 14 wins. 3Down contributor Ryan Ballantine has a bet that the Stampeders will reach 12 wins, otherwise he will have to use a sippy cup all Grey Cup weekend. Currently, these odds for franchise Elo Rating sit at around 63 percent. The Stampeders have a margin of one loss in three games remaining. Two or three losses mean a sippy cup.

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

Hamilton continues to lead despite the bye. Calgary returns to second after beating Saskatchewan. Edmonton and Montreal are now considered rather evenly matched. However, this is because Edmonton has fallen, while Montreal has risen throughout the season. Ottawa and Toronto are matched as the worst teams in the league, while B.C.’s late surge (mostly due to direct wins over Ottawa and Toronto) has helped separate them as being a tier better.

What is different in CFL season Elo Rating charts?

Hamilton maintains their extended lead as the following group of three tightens. Montreal drops back into competition with Edmonton. The B.C. Lions, Toronto Argonauts, and Ottawa Redblacks form the final three, each progressively worse than the others.

Divisional Finishes

All playoff teams are decided, with the crossover being Edmonton. There is a minute chance (below five percent) that Saskatchewan finishes in the crossover spot. Edmonton would have to win both games in the head-to-head match up and the Riders would need to lose this week to B.C. without Mike Reilly.

Playoffs Odds

For playoff odds we can drop Ottawa, Toronto, and B.C.

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.

Calgary now leads the race in the West. Winnipeg is the likely semi-final visitor but certainly not eliminated from the discussion for the West Final.

As always, the benefit of hosting the West Final and being only one game away from the Grey Cup always helps a divisional leaders odds.

Grey Cup Matchups

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

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

The Stampeders have returned to their slim lead over the Riders to take the lead in Grey Cup match-up combination expectations.

A Grey Cup featuring only West division teams sits at nine percent odds as a Montreal loss decreased the odds that they are expected to win the East Final.

Strength of Schedule

Winnipeg still maintains the hardest strength of schedule. Of playoff teams, Hamilton has the easiest, followed by Montreal. Edmonton has the second hardest strength of schedule, followed by Saskatchewan, and finally Calgary.


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 than 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.

The Stampeders RPI has recovered after losses to Montreal with a big win versus the Riders.

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

1. Hamilton

2. Calgary; Winnipeg; Saskatchewan

3. Montreal

4. Edmonton

5. B.C.

6. Toronto

7. 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