Another chapter of the historic rivalry between the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats will be written in the CFL's East final on Sunday.
For the first time since 2013, the QEW rivals will battle with a berth to the Grey Cup on the line. Sunday's crowd is expected to be the biggest since the 2017 East final which sets the stage for a great atmosphere for a game that has more than enough drama and storylines leading up to it
Here's a preview of the game looking back at the regular season series and key matchups.
THE SCHEDULE: Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET / 9:30 a.m. PT at BMO Field.
THE LINE: OddsShark had the Argonauts listed as 1.5-point favourites on Oddsshark.com.
AT STAKE: The winner goes to Hamilton for the Grey Cup against the Blue Bombers or Roughriders on Dec. 12.
THE SEASON SERIES: The Argos took the season series against the Tiger-Cats 3-1. Hamilton took the Labour Day Classic in convincing fashion 32-19 before Toronto won the next two games by a combined score of 41-39.
Then with first place on the line in the East division, Toronto blew away Hamilton with a 31-12 victory that provided them with home-field advantage for Sunday's game.
PLAYOFF HISTORY: The Tiger-Cats are coming off an impressive 23-12 victory over the Montreal Alouettes and are hoping to reach the Grey Cup in consecutive seasons after losing to Winnipeg in 2019. Hamilton is looking to end their championship drought with their last title coming in 1999.
The Argos made their return to the post-season for the first time since the 2017 season. They went on to win the Grey Cup beating the Calgary Stampeders on a snowy night in Ottawa.
THE COACHES: Orlondo Steinauer (Hamilton) vs. Ryan Dinwiddie (Toronto)
Steinauer, a five-time all-star as a defensive back, was coach of the year in 2019 after cutting his coaching teeth as an assistant and defensive co-ordinator with Toronto, Hamilton and Fresno State University.
Dinwiddie was hired by the Argonauts in December of 2019 as the 45th head coach in team history. He had more time than most rookie head coaches had to prepare for their first season in charge. He led the Argos to first place in the East and an impressive 6-1 record at home and was named the East nominee for head coach of the year.
THE QUARTERBACKS: Jeremiah Masoli (Hamilton) vs. McLeod Bethel-Thompson/Antonio Pipkin (Toronto)
Masoli reclaimed the starting quarterback job after missing most of the 2019 season with a knee injury. It’s been an up-and-down season for Masoli, who dealt with a rib injury earlier in the campaign. In his 12regular season starts, he threw for 2,445 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Bethel-Thompson is expected to start for the Argos after earning the starting job over Nick Arbuckle during the regular season. He threw for 2,303 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He led Toronto to their three wins over Hamilton including an impressive performance on Thanksgiving Day where he had 388 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
If Bethel-Thompson doesn't clear CFL COVID protocols, Antonio Pipkin will be called on to start against the Tiger-Cats. Pipkin got the start in the regular season finale, with the Argos sitting most of their starters, completing 10-of-22 passes for 111 yards and an interception while rushing for 78 yards and a TD on nine carries. He also has experience as a starter in the CFL.
FOUR MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Tiger-Cats defensive line vs. Argonauts offensive line
Hamilton's defensive front was a force against Montreal registering six sacks and forcing three fumbles. Trevor Harris wasn't afforded a lot of time to throw in the pocket and also threw a costly interception.
The Argos offensive line will have their work cut out for them considering how the Tiger-Cats shut down William Standback. Toronto hasn't found as much success in the run game which means they will have to find a way to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands a lot quicker than before. They were able to do that in their last game against Hamilton as they only allowed one sack in that game.
On the flip side, the Argos defensive line is no slouch wither as they have seen the emergence of Shawn Oakman and Cordarro Law finally healthy and performing.
Argos receivers vs. Tiger-Cats secondary
There will be some questions as to who is throwing the ball for the Argos but there's no debating the talent they have at the receiver position. Eric Rogers will be making his return after suffering a hamstring injury and he provides much-needed stability and physicality.
Rogers has also built up a lot of trust in his head coach and quarterback as a big body that can make some tough catches in traffic. Before he got injured he had his best performance of the season with 97 yards and a touchdown against Saskatchewan.
He rejoins a group that has strong depth in DaVaris Daniels, Ottawa native Kurleigh Gittens Jr., Ricky Collins Jr. and Mississauga native Juwan Brescacin. The time off the Argos got with the bye to the East final allowed for some of their players to rest and get healthy.
Special teams vs. Weather
The forecast for Sunday's game is calling for snow and potential wind gusts up to 41 km/h. This is where special teams can play a big factor in a game where the weather is a factor whether it's by winning the field position battle or finding ways to put up points in tough conditions.
No kicker has been as consistent as Boris Bede this season making 28 of 33 field goals this season including six which came from 50 or more yards. It was a 51-yard field goal on the final play of the game that led Toronto to a comeback win in Hamilton on Thanksgiving Day.
For Hamilton, Michael Domagala showed that he could kick in snowy weather going three-for-three against Montreal. His longest kick came from 46 yards out so the Tiger-Cats are going to have to find a way to get their kicker in his optimal range.
Tiger-Cats vs. history of home-field advantage
The formula to getting to the Grey Cup has been quite simple for the East division.
Since 1973, home teams are 33-13 (a .717 winning percentage) and have won the last six matchups. Where Tiger-Cats can find some comfort is knowing that the last road team to win in the East final was back in 2013 when Hamilton upset Toronto at Rogers Centre.
Considering the Argonauts' success at BMO Field this season, and are 31-15-1 as the home team in the playoffs, the Tiger-Cats have their work cut out for them. At the same time, the crowd will likely be a hostile one with many expected to make the trip across the QEW.
THIS 'N THAT: Bethel-Thompson will have to produce a negative PCR test Saturday as well as a negative Rapid Antigen Test on Sunday after violating the CFL's COVID-19 protocol...Bralon Addison (hamstring, illness) missed three days of practice and is doubtful to play Sunday...Dexter McCoil, Charleston Hughes, Llevi Noel and Jeff Richards also have to pass the same tests as Bethel-Thompson in order to play Sunday after they violated protocols for attending a Toronto Raptors game...
PREDICTION: Argonauts 27, Tiger-Cats 24