Can the Winnipeg Blue Bombers match last year’s 15-win season?

Photo: David Mahussier/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers won a franchise-record 15 regular season games last season and the team appears capable of potentially recreating that level of success in 2023.

Not only did the club bring back almost its entire veteran-laden roster from a year ago but Winnipeg also added all-star receiver Kenny Lawler and kicker Sergio Castillo, both of whom won the Grey Cup with the team in 2021. Lawler has since wasted no time reestablishing himself as the No. 1 receiver in Bomberland, catching a 67-yard touchdown pass from Zach Collaros in the team’s preseason victory over the Edmonton Elks.

Despite the big-name additions, winning 15 games remains an awfully tall order. The Calgary Stampeders, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and Montreal Alouettes are the only other clubs to record 15-win seasons over the past 25 years. Only one team has ever eclipsed that total as the Edmonton Football Team won 16 regular season games in 1989.

Before we start speculating regarding the upcoming season, let’s look back at how Winnipeg won 15 games in 2022.

The club beat the Ottawa Redblacks 19-17 in the opening game of the regular season despite being generally outplayed. Were it not for Ottawa’s poor clock management and some late-game heroics by Dru Brown after Zach Collaros was removed by the injury spotter, Winnipeg’s record-setting season would have started with a loss. This wasn’t the only game the team won by a razor-thin margin, either.

In Week 4, Toronto Argonauts’ kicker Boris Bede missed a convert attempt that would have sent the game to overtime. In Week 7, Winnipeg completed only seven passes yet managed to beat the Edmonton Elks on the road. In Week 13, Winnipeg needed Marc Liegghio to kick a 55-yard field goal late to beat the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the annual Labour Day Classic.

That’s not to say any of these victories were illegitimate. Great teams find ways to win even when they’re not at their best and it’s clear that Winnipeg, the CFL’s most veteran-laden club, has a knack for winning close contests. The team also lost two games they probably should have won.

In Week 10, the Blue Bombers lost to the Montreal Alouettes after Liegghio missed a 32-yard field goal that would have won the game. He also missed a 37-yard field goal in overtime, giving the Als a 20-17 victory. In Week 19, Winnipeg rested a handful of starters against the B.C. Lions and Brown threw two pick-sixes, helping B.C. win 40-32. Had the Blue Bombers played the game at full strength, they likely would have won.

Winnipeg’s schedule for the 2023 season is relatively favourable. The club has only one dreaded short week, which will occur when they visit the Ottawa Redblacks on July 15 before hosting the Edmonton Elks on July 20. The Elks have improved since last year when they won only four games but still aren’t world-beaters. Even on four days of rest, Winnipeg should be able to beat them at home.

The Blue Bombers will also benefit from several opponents having to play on short weeks. The Saskatchewan Roughriders will play on only four days of rest when they host Winnipeg in Week 2, as will the B.C. Lions when they play in Winnipeg in Week 3. The Lions will be on a short week again when they visit IG Field in Week 9, as will the Montreal Alouettes when they play in Winnipeg in Week 12.

Another advantage for the Blue Bombers is that they will only have to face the Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts once. The game will also be played at home, not at BMO Field where the club has oddly struggled in recent years. Having two games against Montreal could also be considered an advantage considering the Als have started the season at the bottom of 3DownNation‘s power rankings.

It’s inevitable that Winnipeg will have at least one off-game in 2023. Every team does. The club’s defence was miserable in a 48-31 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats last season, which marked the only time the club lost by more than a one-score margin.

However, considering all the factors at play, it seems likely that Winnipeg will finish atop the West Division again in 2023. Can the club reach 15 wins again? That seems less likely, though certainly not impossible.

Fortunately for bettors, the Blue Bombers don’t have to win 15 games to hit the over on their season-long betting line. DraftKings has set the over-under for Winnipeg’s regular season wins at 12.5 and it seems likely that the team can reach at least 13 wins.

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If Winnipeg can win two-of-three meetings against the Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions, that would put them at 4-2. If the club can win five-of-six meetings against the Elks and Riders, that would get them to 9-3. This would mean they only have to go 4-2 against the East Division to reach 13 wins on the season, which certainly seems possible.

Again, this is all hypothetical. One injury can derail a team, though a roster like Winnipeg’s should be able to withstand a setback or two. This team has gone 26-6 over the last two regular season, so it seems reasonable to think they could go 13-5 in 2023.

Editor’s note: please visit our CFL betting page for all your betting needs this season. Please note that you must be at least 19 years of age to legally wager on sports in Ontario.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.