Betting picks for the CFL Eastern Semi-Final

Photo courtesy: Montreal Alouettes

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will look to punch their ticket to the East Final when they take on the Alouettes on Saturday afternoon at Percival Molson Stadium in Montreal. The Als enter the game as a 3.5-point favourite.

This is the third season in a row these two teams have met in the East Semi-Final, with the Ticats being victorious 23-12 at Tim Hortons Field in 2021 and the Als exacting a measure of revenge in 2022, winning 28-17.

These two teams also met three times this season, with the Alouettes winning all three, including last week’s regular-season finale 22-20 in Montreal and a pair of double-digit victories in Hamilton back in the summer.

It has been a tale of two seasons for the Tiger-Cats, with the team improving over the second half of the year both offensively and defensively. On the offensive front, the change at play-caller from Tommy Condell to Scott Milanovich saw the Ticats improve from 20 points per game over the first eight games to 24.8 over the final 10, which would have made them the fourth-highest scoring team for a full season. The defence also did its part, holding opponents to 23.7 points per game after allowing 28 per game over the first half of the season.

The Als have been a streaky team, rolling off win streaks of four and five games while also having losing streaks of three and four games. Montreal have feasted on teams under .500, going 11-0 in those games and winning by an average margin of victory of 13, but have struggled against the upper echelon, losing all seven combined games to Winnipeg, B.C. and Toronto, with just two of those losses coming by fewer than two scores.

The Hamilton-Montreal rivalry has been a one-sided one as of late, with the Tiger-Cats losing six in a row to the Alouettes dating back to last season. Three of those six defeats, including last season’s playoff loss, came by double digits. Noel Thorpe’s defence has also given the Tiger-Cats fits, as they have scored 20 or more points just twice in those six losses.

Alouettes’ quarterback Cody Fajardo has also been something of a Ticats killer, winning six of his last seven starts against the Black and Gold while completing 74.6 percent of his passes, averaging 285.8 yards per game through the air and accounting for 13 total touchdowns and four interceptions. He is 3-0 against them as the Alouettes starter, putting up 38 and 27 points against them in the two full games he played.

Tiger-Cats’ head coach Orlondo Steinauer revealed earlier in the week that the plan is to play both Bo Levi Mitchell and Matthew Shiltz against the Alouettes on Saturday, but has not revealed a starter. Mitchell has been hampered by injuries this season, playing in just six games and throwing for 1,031 yards, six touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Shiltz has dealt with his own injury troubles, missing seven games this season. The Tiger-Cats have successfully used a two-quarterback system before, most recently when both Jeremiah Masoli and Dane Evans helped the team reach the 2021 Grey Cup.

The Ticats have shown the ability to beat good teams this year, knocking off both the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and B.C. Lions but have struggled against their divisional foes, losing all seven to Toronto and Montreal. Last week’s 22-20 loss to the Als was the only game this year against those two that the Ticats lost by fewer than 13 points.

The recent struggles against the Alouettes make it nearly impossible to trust the Black and Gold to get the win in a hostile environment but I do believe they can cover the 3.5-points. This line opened at 2.5 and has risen a full point as faith in the Alouettes has increased. The half point is what I will hang my hat on, taking the Tiger-Cats to cover the spread but the Alouettes to win the game outright.

Playoff football usually means tightened defensive matchups with offences operating more conservatively in the hopes of not making a critical mistake. The per-game scoring average dipped a full point in last year’s playoffs and a similar occurrence should not be a surprise this year. The Tiger-Cats and Alouettes have combined for more than 48 points just twice in their last 10 meetings and I do not see that trend reversing in a pressure-packed playoff encounter. Take the under on total points.

Spread: Ticats +3.5 (-110)
Moneyline: Als (-170)
Total points: Under 48.5 (-110)

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.