The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were the best football team in Canada in 2019.
No, they did not win the Grey Cup — that honour went to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers — but like the 2016 Calgary Stampeders before them, a championship game loss does not take away from the fact that the Ticats were head and shoulders above everyone else in the CFL when we last saw games played.
As we sit on the precipice of the first CFL action in 620 days, I am ready to make the boldest of bold claims: I think the Hamilton Tiger-Cats can go undefeated in 2021.
It might sound crazy — we have seen exactly one undefeated season and that was before the CFL technically existed, when the 1948 Calgary Stampeders went 12-0 and won the Grey Cup — but hear me out. I know we have seen plenty of ultra-talented teams, like the aforementioned 2016 Stamps, fail to scale this mountain, but there are a few reasons to believe the 2021 version of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats can run the table.
We start at quarterback, where the Ticats have the best one-two punch in the game with recently minted starter Jeremiah Masoli and backup Dane Evans giving the team plenty of options at the game’s most important position. Masoli is a former runner-up for M.O.P. and had the Ticats off to a hot start before he was injured in 2019, while Evans guided the Ticats to a 9-2 record and a Grey Cup berth after taking over for the injured incumbent.
The Ticats also have a bevy of offensive weapons, from reigning M.O.P. Brandon Banks to jack-of-all-trades Bralon Addison to breakout 2019 rookie Jaelin Acklin who are all back for more in 2021. The rich got richer when the Ticats added 2017 Grey Cup M.V.P. DeVier Posey to an already stacked receiving unit. Add in 2021 No. 1 overall pick Jake Burt, speedster Don Jackson and breakout candidate Sean Thomas-Erlington, and you have the makings of a potent offence.
Defensively, the Ticats feature the league’s best defensive line, with Ted Laurent and Dylan Wynn forming the best duo of interior lineman in the CFL. Wynn finished fourth in the CFL in sacks in 2019 as a defensive tackle. Wynn was second on the team behind Ja’Gared Davis, himself one of the best pass rushers, if not the best, in the league. The fourth horseman is the underrated, but extremely talented, Julian Howsare. If football games are won in the trenches, you are going to find few teams able to win that war as well as the Ticats.
Outside the fearsome foursome, the team also boasts runner-up for Most Outstanding Defensive Player Simoni Lawrence and a cadre of elite-level defensive backs like Cariel Brooks, Ciante Evans and Tunde Adeleke. Throw in Mr. Do-It-All Frankie Williams who is great on defence and just so happens to be the league’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player, and the recipe for success gets even spicier.
Also working in the Ticats’ favour is their schedule. No schedule is easy in the CFL, but even before injuries started wreaking havoc on teams, Hamilton’s schedule was hardly a murderers’ row. Trips to Winnipeg and Saskatchewan to start the year seemed daunting, but without Andrew Harris for the former and too-many-Riders-to-list being injured for the latter, those games aren’t as formidable as they seemed when the schedule was released.
The lone game of the 14 the Tabbies will play in 2021 that carries even the slightest bit of doubt is their Week 7 showdown in Hamilton against the Calgary Stampeders. The Red and White have been a thorn in the side of the black and gold for over a decade.
The Ticats haven’t tasted victory at McMahon Stadium in Calgary since a 41-34 victory on July 4, 2004. That was three Spider-Man franchises ago! Hamilton also notched their first victory of any kind over the Stamps since 2011 when they beat Calgary at Tim Hortons Field in 2019.
Bo Levi Mitchell, who missed the 2019 clash in Hamilton, has never lost to the Ticats, so if there is a game to worry about ruining the perfect season, it would be the one between these two teams taking place on September 17 at Tim Hortons Field. But if the Ticats leave that game without a loss on their record, their path to perfection is far from perilous.
Hamilton also retained all their coordinators from the team that went 15-3. Led by head coach Orlondo Steinauer, who had one of the best debut seasons from a head coach in league history, the staff boasts an offensive super mind in Tommy Condell, a solid defensive coordinator in Mark Washington, and a special teams guru in Jeff Reinebold.
The returning players, of which there are many, know what the coaches expect of them, and continuity in a coaching staff can be just as important as continuity on the field.
Predicting a team to go undefeated is pretty bold and maybe even a little arrogant, but these Ticats are that good and worthy of that type of confidence. They lost three times in 18 games in 2019 by a combined 13 points, and their largest margin of defeat (excluding the Grey Cup) was seven points. That team was very good in 2019 and this one has the ability to be even better.
The 2021 season will be like no other, from the shortened schedule to uncertainty after a year off to the lack of pre-season games, but looking at all the ingredients the Ticats are cooking with — a favourable schedule, a loaded roster, and a home Grey Cup as an end goal — I don’t know if any team has ever had a better shot at finishing a season unblemished quite like the 2021 Hamilton Tiger-Cats.