The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are coming off a disappointing 8-10 season but with plenty of changes made to both the roster and coaching staff, it seems unlikely that the club will have another losing season in 2023.
Bo Levi Mitchell is the new face of the franchise following a brilliant decade-long run with the Calgary Stampeders and, of the 24 players that started Hamilton’s final game a year ago, only 12 have returned for the upcoming season. Veteran linebacker Jameer Thurman, running back James Butler, underrated defender Casey Sayles, physical defensive back Chris Edwards, and mountainous offensive lineman Joel Figueroa are among those who were brought in to fill out the new lineup.
The Tabbies also welcomed back special teams coordinator Jeff Reinebold for a third go-around with the team and hired three-time Grey Cup champion Scott Milanovich as a senior assistant coach. Reinebold coached Brandon Banks and Frankie Williams to award-winning seasons in his previous stints with the team, while Milanovich won three Grey Cups in four years with Montreal (2009-10) and Toronto (2012).
In 2022, the Ticats won five of their final six regular season games, including an impressive 48-31 shellacking of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The season ended with a disappointing showing in the East Semi-Final against the Montreal Alouettes but Hamilton proved over the final six weeks of the year that they could play winning football.
Can that late-season success be replicated with a new cast of characters to the tune of double-digit wins in 2023?
Hamilton’s schedule starts with a challenge as the club has back-to-back road dates against the two reigning Grey Cup participants. The Ticats start off in Winnipeg against the Blue Bombers before a date with the archival Argos at BMO Field in their season-opener (Toronto has a bye in Week 1).
That’s not the say the whole schedule is tough. Things settle after that with a pair of winnable home games against the Alouettes and Redblacks before a road trip to Edmonton to take on the Elks. The Ticats don’t have to visit McMahon Stadium in Calgary where they traditionally struggle but they do have to play in Saskatchewan where they haven’t won since 2015. Hamilton is 0-5 at Mosaic Stadium since it opened in 2017 and 2-8 in their 10 trips to Regina.
Using last year’s win totals, the Tiger-Cats entering the 2023 season with the fifth-toughest schedule in the league and second-hardest in the East Division. The Ticats will also play four teams coming off a bye and have fewer days of rest than eight of their opponents in 2023. All of this appears to indicate the team will have another middling season in which they struggle to break the .500 barrier.
However, with Bo Levi Mitchell at the helm, this year is supposed to be different. So the question becomes: can the Tiger-Cats win more than the 10.5 games DraftKings has set as the team’s over/under total for the upcoming season?
Parsing through the team’s schedule, there’s a path to 11 wins for the black and gold despite some of the disadvantages laid out above. If Hamilton splits their four games against the Argos and wins at least two of three against the Redblacks and Alouettes, that would get them to 6-4. This means they would only have to win five of their eight remaining games against West Division opponents to reach the over on 10.5 wins.
To get to those five victories, the Ticats would likely have to beat the Stampeders in Hamilton, split their two games with the Blue Bombers and Lions, and win two of three against the Elks and Riders. This would get the team to 11-7 on the year and it doesn’t seem farfetched.
With that said, anything can happen in professional sports. The key factors in Hamilton’s ability to win 11 or more games are twofold: starting the season strong and Bo Levi Mitchell staying healthy.
The franchise has been a notoriously slow starter, finishing the first third of the season at or under .500 an incredible 17 times in the last 20 seasons. The Ticats also went nearly a dozen years between season-opening wins, losing their first regular season contest in every season from 2005 to 2015.
Mitchell’s health will also greatly influence Hamilton’s potential success. If they get the Mitchell that played in 84 of 90 regular season games between 2014 and 2018, they should win a lot of football games. If they get the player who got fought injuries in 2019 and 2021 before being benched in 2022, they’ll struggle to have a better record than they did a season ago.
Predicting the Tabbies to win double-digit games has been a fool’s errand for much of their history but with a revamped roster, including acquiring one of the winningest quarterbacks in CFL history, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats should eclipse their projected win total in 2023.
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