After 21 weeks, the march to the Grey Cup officially begins on Sunday. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Saskatchewan Roughriders will enjoy a bye as the remaining four playoff teams compete for the right to meet them next week.
Let’s get right to the picks.
Edmonton Eskimos (8-10) at Montreal Alouettes (10-8)
Point Spread: Alouettes -1.5
Moneyline: Eskimos (2.04), Alouettes (1.80)
Weather: 6C (feels like 2C), 60% chance mixed rain/snow, 24km/h wind
Season Total Points For: Edmonton (406), Montreal (479)
Season Total Points Against: Edmonton (400), Montreal (485)
It’s a matchup of franchises that entered the 2019 CFL campaign with polar opposite expectations.
Edmonton brought in franchise quarterback Trevor Harris and a plethora of new offensive weapons with contending for first place in the West on their minds. But all didn’t go according to plan. The Eskimos could never seem to defeat a team with a winning record, and ended up with the crossover playoff berth. However, they did overcome a multi-week injury to Harris, who is now healthy and well rested.
In May, the league took control of the Alouettes, who were riddled with question marks on the field that included the continuation of their decade-long search for a star signal-caller. Then the head coach was fired days before the start of the season, and the GM a month after that.
Out of the rubble rose the dynamic combination of QB Vernon Adams Jr. and interim HC Khari Jones. Montreal caught lightning in a bottle and rode that to second place in the East and a home playoff date.
The two clubs split their season series (Week 1 and 6) with the visitors coming up short both times. Historically the Alouettes own a spectacular 26-9 playoff record in la belle province compared to the Eskimos being 20-30 on the road.
Weather conditions will be wet, but mild for November and manageable wind, which means the Eskimos’ superior passing attack shouldn’t be hindered.
Edmonton’s uncanny ability to come up short in clutch situations is a big concern. I’m feeling that the wildcard playmaking of Vernon Adams Jr.’s legs will be the difference as the Als win by three or less.
PICK: Alouettes (win and cover)
Winnipeg Blue Bombers (11-7) at Calgary Stampeders (12-6)
Point Spread: Stampeders -5.5
Moneyline: Blue Bombers (2.95), Stampeders (1.43)
Weather: -11C (feels like -16C), 70% chance of snow (2-4cm), 12km/hr wind
Season Total Points For: Winnipeg (508), Calgary (482)
Season Total Points Against: Winnipeg (409), Calgary (407)
Each club survived quarterback adversity throughout 2019.
Winnipeg lost starter Matt Nichols, grinded with backup Chris Streveler, and traded for Zach Collaros, who won his only start in Week 20 against Calgary. Meanwhile, the Stampeders were without perennial all-star gunslinger Bo Levi Mitchell for seven games as Nick Arbuckle kept the team in the hunt for top spot in the division.
Mitchell finished the year strong as he chucked 10 touchdowns over his last four contests and passed for over 300 yards in five of the last seven. The concussion and overall injury history paired with rust for Collaros is a real concern as he looks to accomplish the ultimate comeback story.
The Blue Bombers must find a way to break through a Stamps run defense that allowed the second fewest yards-per-carry in order to avoid putting all the pressure on Collaros’s arm. Trouble for Winnipeg is that their stud RB Andrew Harris hasn’t scored a touchdown in three match-ups versus Calgary this season. Winnipeg’s ace in the whole, especially near the goal line, is inserting the versatile Streveler.
Where a balanced offence is key for the Bombers, the Stampeders are fine airing the ball out with their plethora of receiving weapons. Leading the way is Reggie Begelton who thrived in his trio of head-to-head battles against Winnipeg to the tune of three total TDs, 230 yards and 12 receptions.
The season series went to the Blue Bombers 2-1, with the host team emerging victorious every time. The total points scored over the three encounters averaged 59. Of the two QBs, Mitchell possesses the better playoff record (5-1) compared to Collaros at 1-1.
Weather conditions shouldn’t affect the West semi too much. It’ll be cold, but the wind speed and snow accumulation is expected to be low. This lines up for a scenario where Calgary can stay in their comfort zone and let Mitchell rip it.
PICK: Stampeders (win), Blue Bombers (cover the spread)