Heading into the ninth week of the CFL season, the Edmonton Eskimos are still undefeated while the Hamilton Tiger-Cats still can’t win no matter what changes they make. Big wins by the Blue Bombers and Roughriders’ resurgence tips the scales even more to the West.
Here’s how the league’s nine teams stack up based on recent form.
The Eskimos remain unbeaten and their last loss was in November against the Redblacks in the East Division Final. They revenged that loss going to Ottawa and pulling out a win despite their growing list of injured players. Edmonton Defensive lineman Almondo Sewell and Marcus Howard didn’t finish the game. The Eskimos are the epitome of how unbalanced the divisions are as they have now won 10 straight versus the East in the regular season.
Don’t panic just because the Calgary Stampeders aren’t on the top of the rankings. The Stampeders had the exact same record at this juncture of the season last year. Their plus-109 point differential is by far the best in the league. Most importantly, they’re undefeated within their division, the tougher circuit of the two. There is no indication that Calgary won’t be in the thick of things when the Grey Cup is decided in the fall.
Wins above replacement is for the most part a baseball stat. However, if it was applied to CFL football I’m not sure any one player in the league would be worth more than Justin Medlock. His special teams heroics have been the biggest storyline behind the Bombers’ strong start to the year. This week he kicked six field goals including a 57-yarder. The MOP at the halfway point of the season is a kicker.
It is hard to beat a good team twice, so the Lions loss to the Riders in the second leg of their home-and-home set shouldn’t be all that surprising. What was surprising and concerning was that after missing a month with a shoulder injury Jonathon Jennings had his worst performance as a Lion. Jennings finished 14-for-30 for 195 yards and four interceptions.
The Alouettes had their most impressive performance of the season getting a big win at home, jumping up to first place in the East. With a return match against Toronto, at BMO Field, Montreal can take an early strangle hold of the division. The 21-9 win wasn’t all positive though. With the game out of reach, Kyries Hebert launched at Argonauts quarterback Cody Fajardo as he was running down the sideline. The hit was so bad the normally mild-mannered Brandon Whitaker immediately tried to fight Hebert. Hebert lead with the crown of his helmet and jumped up to strike the six-foot-five Fajardo in the head. It was a dirty hit that was penalized at the time with an unnecessary roughness call. It should have been a match penalty and Hebert should be suspended after review from the league. The league has taken a stance publicly of prioritizing player safety. Given the blatant egregiousness of the play and Hebert’s history, it’s time the CFL sends a clear message to players and fans alike.
For the Saskatchewan Roughriders, it’s all about getting off to a fast start. The Riders scored 15 first-quarter points against B.C. They only had three points in the first quarter of their last three games combined. In two of those last three games they didn’t have a point in the first half. Against the Lions, they headed in to the half with 29 points. The Riders now move to 3-1 at home. With a bye week next they have ample time to fix their road issues before heading to Commonwealth Stadium to face the undefeated Eskimos in Week 10.
The Toronto Argonauts looked a lot like they did last year without Ricky Ray. Without Ray there is no consistent ability to sustain drives or a threat throwing the ball down field. Starting quarterback Jeff Matthews was benched at halftime after throwing for just 67 yards. Cody Fajardo was more of a threat with his legs, but wasn’t much better throwing. He only put up 75 yards in the air. Ray is being listed as day to day, but he didn’t throw during live reps at practice last week. Fajardo has moved up the depth chart, but the urgency to get Ray back healthy has increased.
Ottawa has just one win in eight games. In the understatement of the year, coach Rick Campbell said postgame after the loss to Edmonton, “We’re just not a good enough football team right now.” Ottawa hasn’t won since July 19 versus Montreal. The Redblacks had almost 200 less yards of net offence while possessing the ball for 13 less minutes than Edmonton at home. The Redblacks are one of the league’s great success stories, with just 1,500 tickets left for this year’s Grey Cup in the nation’s capital. The way they are playing, it doesn’t look like the home team is going to be in it.
Another game, another blow out for Hamilton. All but two of their seven losses have been by at least 17 points. Hamilton has only scored 130 points in their seven games and has been outscored by 143 points. The Tiger-Cats host the Redblacks on Friday night. With a win, they’d be behind Ottawa for the last playoff spot. However, with a loss they’d be even further off the pace with a bye in Week 10 and the Labour Day Classic against Toronto in Week 11. Leading in to a bye week is normally when major changes are made for struggling teams. Can Hamilton afford to go in to the Labour Day Classic winless? Kent Austin and company are hoping they won’t have to find out.