Over or under: can the Winnipeg Blue Bombers reach 13 wins or more in 2024?

Photo: Reuben Polansky/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

For the second straight season, the over-under for Winnipeg’s regular season win total is the highest in the CFL at .

The Blue Bombers hit the over last year with a record of 14-4 and bettors seem confident in their chances of doing so again with most of the money coming in on the over thus far. It’s easy to understand why so many people are bullish on the club given that its veteran core from last season remains mostly intact, they’re virtually unbeatable at home, and they’ve qualified for four straight Grey Cups.

Before we start speculating regarding the upcoming season, let’s look back at some of the games that could have gone either way in 2023.

Winnipeg lost to the Ottawa Redblacks in Week 6 by a score of 31-28 despite holding a 25-15 lead at the three-minute warning. Zach Collaros threw a pick-six to Brandin Dandridge before Dustin Crum, making his first career CFL start, led back-to-back touchdown drives to win it in overtime. Clearly, this is a game the Blue Bombers never should have lost.

The team also dropped their Week 15 matchup in Hamilton by a score of 29-23 as Collaros threw three interceptions and Tyreik McAllister returned a rare missed convert attempt from Sergio Castillo for a 127-yard score, creating a four-point swing in favour of the Tiger-Cats. Again, this feels like a game Winnipeg should have won.

As is life in the ever-unpredictable CFL, the Blue Bombers also won at least one game they probably should have lost.

Winnipeg was down 22-0 in Edmonton in Week 10 when Dru Brown took over from an injured Zach Collaros. The young quarterback immediately went on a tear, throwing for 307 yards and four touchdowns in a little under 40 minutes of work to secure a 38-29 victory. No disrespect to Collaros, who had a rare off day, but the club almost surely would have lost had Brown not gotten into the game and had the performance of a lifetime.

It should also be noted that Toronto rested Chad Kelly when they visited Princess Auto Stadium in Week 17, a game the Blue Bombers won 31-21 despite trailing into the late stages of the fourth quarter against Cameron Dukes, who was making his first career start. Toronto may also have lost had Kelly played, though there’s no denying the team was diminished without him.

Looking forward to this season, Winnipeg’s schedule is very similar to the one it played a year ago, albeit with minor changes due to decisions made at the league level.

 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, every team in the CFL played every other team twice — once on the road and once at home — accounting for 16 of 18 regular season games. The league has gone back to this system for the upcoming season, though the past three years have seen teams play more regional games to help reduce travel costs.

In 2023, Winnipeg played each of its West Division rivals three times while only facing Toronto and Ottawa once. In 2024, the Blue Bombers will play three games against B.C. and Saskatchewan, though their extra contests against Calgary and Edmonton have been swapped for second games against the Argonauts and Redblacks.

Let’s start with the Lions and Roughriders, since they account for one-third of Winnipeg’s schedule. The Blue Bombers won the season series against both teams 2-1 last year and it seems realistic they’ll do so again.

Winnipeg lost Jermarcus Hardrick, Jackson Jeffcoat, and Demerio Houston to free agency this off-season, but the Lions lost Mathieu Betts to the NFL and Keon Hatcher and T.J. Lee to injury. That feels like a pretty even trade, plus B.C. has to make two trips to Princess Auto Stadium where the Blue Bombers are a dominant 31-3 since 2019.

Saskatchewan improved this off-season and is always tough to beat at home, especially in the annual Labour Day Classic. It’s possible the new-look Roughriders could sweep their two home games against Winnipeg, but I still expect the Blue Bombers to win one plus the Banjo Bowl, which was a 51-6 blowout last year.

The challenge for Winnipeg is the extra games they’ve picked up against Toronto and Ottawa, particularly the former.

The Argonauts lost a ton of talent this off-season following a 16-2 campaign, though they remain formidable — even with Chad Kelly, the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, suspended for a minimum of nine games. Barring anything unforeseen, Kelly will miss his team’s home game against Winnipeg on July 27 but play when the Argonauts travel to Princess Auto Stadium on Oct. 11.

Strangely, Winnipeg’s record against the Redblacks can’t get any worse from last year as Ottawa swept the season series 1-0. That’s right: the Blue Bombers went winless against the four-win Redblacks and undefeated against the 16-win Argonauts. Go figure.

Still, there’s no denying that Ottawa will be better this season as Dru Brown, who threw nine touchdown passes for the Blue Bombers in 2023, is their new franchise quarterback. Winnipeg should win at least one — if not both — of their matchups against the Redblacks, though they’re hardly a free space on the bingo card.

Edmonton should be better with McLeod Bethel-Thompson under centre, though it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Blue Bombers swept their two-game season series. Calgary, a team that’s lost six straight regular season games against Winnipeg dating back to 2022, revamped its secondary while making minimal changes elsewhere on the roster. Another sweep from the Blue Bombers seems likely.

That just leaves the Montreal Alouettes, who upset Winnipeg in last year’s Grey Cup, and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who surprisingly retained Bo Levi Mitchell as their starting quarterback. The Alouettes might be tough to sweep again in the regular season, though it seems likely the Blue Bombers will be able to at least match their 1-1 record against Hamilton from last year.

Though the team still has an ultra-high ceiling, I predict that the Blue Bombers will narrowly reach the under in 2024, going 12-6. I see them dropping one game to each of B.C., Saskatchewan, Toronto, and Montreal, as well as one to Calgary or Edmonton and one to Ottawa or Hamilton.

The only real concern I have about Winnipeg is whether or not Zach Collaros will remain healthy. Eric Lofton will need to step up in place of Jermarcus Hardrick to secure the right side of the offensive line and Collaros will have to avoid taking big hits whenever possible.

Chris Streveler, who returned as the team’s backup quarterback following a four-year run in the NFL, is a phenomenal athlete and a dangerous offensive weapon, though he’s only 4-8 as a CFL starter. The 29-year-old is perfectly capable of starting a few games if Collaros is out short-term, though I’m skeptical he can lead the team to the Grey Cup if Collaros suffers a long-term injury.

The good news for fans in Bomberland is that 12-6 will likely still be good enough for the top spot in the West Division. All three of last year’s non-playoff teams have improved, while Winnipeg, B.C., and Toronto have regressed, creating more parity league-wide. I suspect we won’t see anyone win more than 12 games this year, unlike 2023 when the Blue Bombers and Argonauts accounted for 30 victories combined.

Editor’s note: please visit 3DownNation’s CFL betting page for all your betting needs this season. 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.