CFL division semifinal picks: Eskimos, Bombers look good for away games

Justin Dunk joins Tim & Sid to preview the CFL’s East and West semi-finals.

Three teams enter the division semifinal Sunday with momentum on their side. Edmonton, Winnipeg and BC all won the last time they stepped on a football field. That kicked off November—the league’s most important month—on a positive note.

The Eskimos and Bombers have lengthy trips to meet their opponents, but one enters enemy territory as a favourite and the other an underdog.

Edmonton Eskimos (10-8) @ Hamilton Tiger-Cats (7-11)

Hamilton has been ravaged by injuries, but one key piece has healed and is ready to return for the playoffs. Canadian safety Courtney Stephen comes back to provide a playmaker on the back end and help the Ticats’ ratio. It’s too bad Stephen can’t be in two places at once.

That’s because the Ticats are planning to start a player at weak-side cornerback who has not played in a game that had meaning since November 2015. Cleshawn Page was cut by the Tiger-Cats in training camp and the team re-signed him on October 10. Paige does know Hamilton’s defence as he played in four games for Orlondo Steinauer last season.

Derel Walker and Adarius Bowman start at boundary receiver and slotback respectively for Edmonton. That’s the league’s top receiving tandem—both are West Division All-Stars and they are the second pair of teammates ever in CFL history to record 100 receptions in a season—and they will see a lot of matchups on a cover man who was on the street for a large chunk of the year.

Let’s side with the two most productive receivers in the CFL this season.

Line: Eskimos -3
Pick: Edmonton

Winnipeg Blue Bombers (11-7) @ BC Lions (12-6)

The Blue Bombers swept the regular season series 2–0 with BC when the teams played a home-and-home set in Weeks 16 and 17. Winnipeg won those games by a grand total of five points. A major factor in these wins was Mike O’Shea’s group’s ability to generate turnovers (9-2 takeaway difference in those meetings), an area the Bombers have excelled in all year long.

Winnipeg leads the league with 59 takeaways, leading directly to a CFL-best 149 points—opponents pay for turnovers against the Bombers. Thirty interceptions leads all nine clubs by a wide margin; no other team had more than 17. Seven Peg defenders had multiple pick-offs with Maurice Leggett and T.J. Heath pacing all individuals league-wide with seven each. Add to that the fact that rookie West Division All-Star safety Taylor Loffler has four interceptions and four forced fumbles on big hits with receivers being exposed across the middle. It’s a dangerous secondary to pass against.

BC quarterback Jonathon Jennings topped the three-down circuit with 15 interceptions, even though half his games were played in perfect conditions at BC Place, and a third of those came against Winnipeg. The young Lions pivot has played at a high level in his first full campaign as a starter, but he’s been prone to making some poor decisions.

Winnipeg’s no-fly zone can zoom into action and change the complexion of a contest in an instant. That ability makes the Blue Bombers a live dog. Taking the points is an extra bonus—sprinkle on the money line too.

Line: Lions -4.5
Pick: Winnipeg

Overall record against the spread: 46-34-1

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