And then there were four.
After the dust settled last Sunday, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Saskatchewan Roughriders were left standing, completing the field for the CFL division finals on Dec. 5. The Tiger-Cats will make the short trip to Toronto to play the Argonauts at BMO Field, while the Roughriders pack their bags for a frosty visit to Winnipeg to take on the league-best Blue Bombers.
The winners of these matchups will square off in the 108th Grey Cup championship game in Hamilton on Dec. 12.
— CFL (@CFL) November 29, 2021
- Winnipeg -120
- Toronto +400
- Hamilton +400
- Saskatchewan +500
Odds courtesy: PlayNow – BCLC
Not surprisingly, oddsmakers still have Winnipeg far out in front of the pack to win the Grey Cup. It’s notable that Hamilton now has the same odds as Toronto after being +600 at some sportsbooks last week. Should the Tiger-Cats slip past the Argos this week, they’ll enjoy home-field advantage at Tim Hortons Field in the Grey Cup. The Roughriders are still longshots after grinding out an overtime victory last week over the Calgary Stampeders.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats @ Toronto Argonauts (-1, O/U 45.5)
Season head-to-head record: Argos won season series 3-1 (2-1-1 ATS, 2-2 O/U)
Week 5: HAM 32 – TOR 19 in the Labour Day Classic
Week 6: TOR 17 – HAM 16 in Toronto
Week 10: TOR 24 – HAM 23 in Hamilton
Week 15: TOR 31 – HAM 12 in Toronto
Why Hamilton can win
Hamilton’s defense was outright nasty last week against the Montreal Alouettes, forcing five turnovers and piling up six sacks, while limiting the league’s leading rusher, William Stanback, to just 46 yards on 16 carries. The Ticats defense was also effective earlier this season against the Argos, holding them to just 36 combined points in the first two matchups.
Big play by the Tiger-Cats (-4.5) defence!
— Spreads.ca (@SpreadsC) November 28, 2021
However, the Argos made a switch at quarterback, promoting McLeod Bethel-Thompson to starter for the final two matchups with Hamilton, and he responded by completing 72.3 % of this passes for 638 yards and three touchdowns in that pair of games.
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and the Hamilton offense have been inconsistent this season, partially due to health issues with key personnel throughout the year. Receiver Brandon Banks, the 2019 Most Outstanding Player in the CFL, suffered a rib injury in Week 5 and hasn’t seemed able to get back to an elite level ever since. The former Washington Redskins wideout has just 44 receptions for 474 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games this year. In 2019, Banks hauled in 112 passes for 1,550 yards and 13 touchdowns in 16 contests. He also played a key role on special teams as a returner. If Hamilton is to have any hope of winning this one, Banks will have to find a way to break out of his current funk and be the gamebreaker the Ticats desperately need.
Why Toronto can win
BMO Field has been a fortress for the Argos this season. The team is 6-1 at home, with its only loss coming in a meaningless season finale in Week 16, when Toronto elected to rest many of its starters. History is also on Toronto’s side: The Argonauts are 31-15-1 (.670 winning percentage) all-time at home in the playoffs, and home teams in the Eastern Final are 33-13 (.717 winning percentage) since 1973. Not only does Toronto have Hamilton’s number by taking the last three meetings, but it also has had an extra week to rest up and plan for the Eastern Final by earning the first-round bye.
The Argos will get a major boost on offense this week, as receiver Eric Rogers is expected to play for the first time since mid-September, when he suffered a hamstring injury. The Ticats are great at stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback, but if their defense has a weakness, it’s in the secondary. Rogers, who went off for 97 yards and a touchdown in Week 7 before sustaining the injury, will give Bethel-Thompson the playmaker he needs to possibly exploit this flaw.
He's baaack @EricDionRogers 😈
— y – Toronto Argonauts (@TorontoArgos) November 27, 2021
Saskatchewan Roughriders @ Winnipeg Blue Bombers (-8, O/U 45.5)
Season head-to-head record: Bombers 2-0 (2-0 ATS, 0-2 O/U)
Week 5: WPG 23 – SSK 8 in the Labour Day Classic
Week 6: WPG 33 – SSK 9 in the Banjo Bowl
Why Saskatchewan can win
It’s hard to imagine the Roughriders winning this game. Winnipeg dominated the season series and now the Riders will have to find a way to win on the road against the undisputed best team in the league. Additionally, the team has the off-field distraction of a disturbance at a Regina, Saskatchewan, restaurant involving defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy, who was detained by police for disturbing the peace after Sunday’s win over the Calgary Stampeders.
If there’s one bright spot for the Riders, it’s the hot boot of kicker Brett Lauther, who accounted for 12 of his team’s 33 points on Sunday, including the game-winning field goal in overtime. But everyone is talking about his textbook onside kick that swung momentum to the Riders in the second half. He finished the season with the second-highest kicking percentage (85.1%) and could play a key role again this Sunday. The long-range weather forecast is calling for temperatures of -7 degrees Celsius in Winnipeg with a chance of snow at kickoff, so points could be hard to come by.
— CFL (@CFL) November 28, 2021
Why Winnipeg can win
The Bombers outscored the Riders by a combined score of 56-17 during the regular season. Winnipeg is nightmarish on both sides of the ball, averaging a league-best 25.8 points per game while limiting opponents to 13.4 points, also the best mark in the CFL. Add in the fact this team was a perfect 7-0 at home during the regular season, and this matchup looks very lopsided.
One potential weakness is the team’s passing game, which ranked seventh in the league with an average of 245.6 yards through the air. Those passing numbers come with an asterisk, though, because Winnipeg enjoyed so many lopsided victories this season, limiting its need to throw the ball in the second half of many games. The Bombers stack up well at nearly every position against the Riders, as exhibited in the position-by-position breakdown below.
— CFL (@CFL) November 30, 2021
Betting stats of the week
The under is 6-0 in Hamilton’s last six games as an underdog. Additionally, the under is 7-1 in Hamilton’s last eight road games.
Line move to watch
Winnipeg opened -6 at some sportsbooks, but this quickly moved all the way to Bombers -8 within 24 hours. Bettors who like the Bombers in this matchup should lock in now, as more Winnipeg money will surely be pouring in leading up to Sunday. This line could push to Winnipeg -10 by kickoff.
Pick of the week
I’ll be taking the under 45.5 total in the Riders/Bombers game. Saskatchewan is going to struggle to score, it’s going to be frigid, and Winnipeg will dominate time of possession with its run game. Oh, and the under is 8-0 in the last eight meetings between these two teams.
UPDATE – Argos QB’s status in limbo
News broke Friday afternoon that Bethel-Thompson violated the CFL’s Covid-19 protocol by attending a Toronto Raptors basketball game Thursday evening. He was invited to the game by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to promote Sunday’s Eastern Final. MLSE owns both the Raptors and Argonauts franchises. There’s video evidence he was in attendance.
— brandon banks (@speedybanks87) December 3, 2021
The CFL’s Covid protocol states he must now quarantine for four days because he attended a large gathering and he requires two negative tests for the virus before taking the field again, putting his status for Sunday’s game into question. Technically, he shouldn’t be able to play, unless the CFL makes some kind of exemption.
Hearing @TorontoArgos QB MacLeod Bethel-Thompson has been sent home and is being held out of practice today because of attending the @Raptors game at his team’s request. It’s a violation of CFL Covid protocol, which states he must now quarantine 4 days. Game day is Sunday.#CFL
— Dave Naylor (@TSNDaveNaylor) December 3, 2021
This is a potentially huge gaffe from MLSE and the Argonauts. And as a result, some betting markets reacted quickly to the news, moving the line from Argonauts -1.5 to +1.5.
It’ll be interesting to see how the CFL handles this issue leading up to Sunday kickoff.
Photo by Bruce Fedyck/USA TODAY Sports.