3DownNation CFL picks: Ticats, Stampeders look to pull unlikely semi-final upsets

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym/RFB Sport Photography

The 2023 CFL playoffs are finally upon us and the records have been wiped clean. The Grey Cup is ripe for the taking for any team that can get hot at the right time, which is music to the ears of a couple of sub-.500 teams taking on the role of underdog on Semi-Final Saturday.

The race for the 3DownNation picks crown is just as open, with a massive log jam at the top. Just Brendan McGuire has been mathematically eliminated from taking home the straight-up title, while he, Justin Dunk, Josh Smith, Ben Grant, John Hodge and Andrew Hoskins have been ruled out against-the-spread.

If you think you have the chops to match our experts, try 3DownNation’s new Pick’em game. It’s free to play with a $50 Amazon gift card up for grabs each game. All residents of Canada and the U.S. are eligible to participate, excluding Quebec.

Photo courtesy: Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Saturday, November 4: Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Montreal Alouettes — 3:00 p.m. EDT

Pinch me, this feels like deja vu. Not only is this a rematch of last year’s Eastern Semi-Final, these two teams also faced off last week in the regular-season finale — a 22-20 win by Montreal. The Alouettes easily swept the three-game season series between the two teams and remain undefeated against sub-.500 opponents, but this should be a distinctly different Ticats team than what they are used to. Orlondo Steinauer is intent on rolling with a two-quarterback system through the playoffs and it won’t be franchise pivot Bo Levi Mitchell serving as the lead-off hitter. Instead, veteran backup Matthew Shiltz has been tapped to start and figure out the stingy Als’ defence. Offensively, Montreal offers more of the same with the conservative Cody Fajardo under centre and could see their ground game suffer without top offensive lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage.

DUNK: Grey Cup or bust means there’s all kinds of pressure on Hamilton to perform. Two QB systems aren’t sustainable long-term but the Tabbies have made it work under Orlondo Steinauer in the past.

Straight-up: TICATS. Against the spread: TICATS.

HODGE: Montreal plays a low-risk, opportunistic style of football perfect for taking advantage of a lesser opponent in the playoffs. They’ll lose next week, but the Alouettes will get it done against Hamilton.

Straight-up: ALS. Against the spread: ALS.

ABBOTT: Hamilton is a boom-or-bust team with a pair of quarterbacks that are equally likely to create a big play as they are to make a big mistake. That’s not a sustainable model for success, but it could create some fireworks with the prospect of a home Grey Cup on the line.

Straight-up: TICATS. Against the spread: TICATS.

BALLANTINE: As a rule, Montreal has beaten everyone below them in the standings all season. This weekend proves to be the exception to the rule. 

Straight-up: TICATS. Against the spread: TICATS.

FILOSO: Jason Maas’ squad wins the games they should — that’s why they’ve beaten Hamilton every time they’ve played them this season. Saturday will be no different. 

Straight-up: ALS. Against the spread: ALS.

GASSON: It feels odd to bet against a team that hasn’t lost to a team below them in the standings all year but Hamilton did the smart thing instead of the safe thing. If Bo was starting, I’d bet on Montreal. 

Straight-up: TICATS. Against the spread: TICATS.

GRANT: The same solid Montreal team shows up each week, while Hamilton is all over the road. They have a gear Montreal doesn’t have, but they also burn out the clutch a lot. Fasten your seatbelts.

Straight-up: TICATS. Against the spread: TICATS.

HOSKINS: Montreal’s defence continues to dominate teams under .500. The home crowd helps them even more.  

Straight-up: ALS. Against the spread: ALS.

KLEIN: The Als’ success against sub-.500 teams continues in a close win. 

Straight-up: ALS. Against the spread: ALS.

MCGUIRE: The Alouettes were busy bragging about their 11-win season last weekend, while the Ticats were laser-focused on this playoff game. Tabbies in a romp.

Straight-up: TICATS. Against the spread: TICATS.

SMITH: The Als have spent all year beating up on teams with losing records. I don’t see why that would end with the last one they will face.

Straight-up: ALS. Against the spread: TICATS.

TOTALS STRAIGHT-UP: Hamilton 6, Montreal 5

TOTALS AGAINST THE SPREAD: Hamilton 7, Montreal 4

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/B.C. Lions

Saturday, November 4: Calgary Stampeders at B.C. Lions — 6:30 p.m. EDT

Same two teams as last year, near identical storylines. After the Stampeders stunned the Lions with a 41-16 blowout in Week 20, all the focus will be on Calgary’s vaunted running game led by Ka’Deem Carey. The same was true in 2022, only for Dave Dickenson to abandon his game plan early in the face of a dangerous B.C. aerial assault and place the burden on an overwhelmed Jake Maier, who had to be pulled in the fourth quarter. The Stamps are certain to be much more bullish on the ground in this game, but Vernon Adams Jr. and his star-studded receiving corps could still take it out of their hands — just as they did in the first two meetings between the teams this season. The Lions will also have their own boost to the ground game thanks to the return of Taquan Mizzell.

DUNK: Vernon Adams Jr. still needs to prove he can win in the playoffs. Dave Dickenson will have Calgary ready for an upset.

Straight-up: STAMPS. Against the spread: STAMPS.

HODGE: B.C. got punched in the mouth two weeks ago but won’t let that happen again as they look for a West Final rematch against Winnipeg. If Vernon Adams Jr. is on his game, this one doesn’t have to be close.

Straight-up: LIONS. Against the spread: LIONS.

ABBOTT: The Stampeders have a perfect game plan for how to beat the Lions, but they tipped their hand too early. With two weeks to dissect the Calgary defence on tape, Jordan Maksymic and Vernon Adams Jr. will ensure the point differential is too wide for the running game to matter.

Straight-up: LIONS. Against the spread: LIONS.

BALLANTINE: The Stampeders lineup that is headed to B.C. is the same one that beat the Lions by 25 two weeks ago when both teams needed a win. Look for Carey and Logan to run Calgary all the way to Winnipeg. 

Straight-up: STAMPS. Against the spread: STAMPS.

FILOSO: The Stamps’ 2023 season won’t be classified as a failure simply because they snuck into the playoffs, but there’s no magical run about to happen. This is a bad team versus a good one.

Straight-up: LIONS. Against the spread: LIONS.

GASSON: Calgary knows what they have to do to win. So does B.C. now. This will come down to who executes better. I think B.C. will find a way to stop the run. 

Straight-up: LIONS. Against the spread: LIONS.

GRANT: I’ve been trying to talk myself into thinking this will be a game, but regardless of what happened a few weeks ago, this isn’t your slightly older brother’s Stamps anymore. B.C. is a very good team and Calgary just isn’t.

Straight-up: LIONS. Against the spread: LIONS.

HOSKINS: The Stamps won a couple of weeks ago but B.C. is still the better team. 

Straight-up: LIONS. Against the spread: LIONS.

KLEIN: The Lions will learn from that upset a couple of weeks ago. The Stamps will do enough to keep it close but not enough to seal the deal.

Straight-up: LIONS. Against the spread: STAMPS.

MCGUIRE: This will depend on which VA shows up: Good Vernon Adams or bad Vernon Adams. Good VA is due for an appearance.

Straight-up: LIONS. Against the spread: LIONS.

SMITH: The Stamps got their big win in B.C. a couple of weeks ago. I see no reason to think a repeat of both of those performances will be in the cards for this one.

Straight-up: LIONS. Against the spread: LIONS.

TOTALS STRAIGHT-UP: B.C. 9, Calgary 2

TOTALS AGAINST THE SPREAD: B.C. 8, Calgary 3

Records to date (straight-up)

ABBOTT — 55-26
GASSON — 55-26
FILOSO — 55-26
HODGE — 55-26
DUNK — 53-28
GRANT — 52-29
SMITH — 52-29
KLEIN — 51-30
HOSKINS — 50-31
BALLANTINE — 50-31
MCGUIRE — 47-34

Records to date (against the spread)

FILOSO — 48-31-2
GASSON — 47-32-2
ABBOTT — 45-34-2
KLEIN — 43-36-2
BALLANTINE — 43-36-2
DUNK — 42-37-2
SMITH — 42-37-2
MCGUIRE — 42-37-2
GRANT — 41-38-2
HODGE — 41-38-2
HOSKINS — 38-41-2