Sports

Argonauts must be wary of cross-over threat as they mount late-season run

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols (15) celebrates his touchdown against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the second half of CFL Banjo Bowl action in Winnipeg Saturday, September 10, 2016. Nichols and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will try to accomplish something no other CFL team has this season: Beat the Calgary Stampeders at home. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols (15) celebrates his touchdown against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during the second half of CFL Banjo Bowl action in Winnipeg Saturday, September 10, 2016. Nichols and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will try to accomplish something no other CFL team has this season: Beat the Calgary Stampeders at home. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

The Toronto Argonauts have two big reasons to catch the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for second in the East Division.

First of all, they'd secure home-field advantage for the conference semifinal, although Toronto is just 2-5 this year at BMO Field. But a second-place finish would eliminate the threat of being dispatched from the playoff picture by the CFL's cross-over rule.

If the fourth-place finisher in one division has more points than the third-place team in the other, then the fourth-place squad assumes the No. 3 playoff seed in the alternate conference. And if the playoffs began today, that would definitely be the case.

Toronto (5-8) holds down third in the East but defending Grey Cup-champion Edmonton (6-7) is fourth in the West Division. And with both teams having five regular-season contests remaining, the Argos have ground to make up in order to clinch a post-season berth.

Drew Willy will make his first start for Toronto when it visits the Montreal Alouettes (3-9) on Sunday. Willy, obtained from Winnipeg earlier this month, was 16-of-24 passing for 153 yards and a TD in relief of starter Dan LeFevour in Friday's 29-12 road loss to Ottawa.

LeFevour made three straight starts for Toronto, compiling a 1-2 record. He threw for 672 yards with five touchdowns over that span but also had five interceptions replacing injured incumbent Ricky Ray (ribs, deflated lung).

The Argos definitely need a spark, having lost six of their last seven games. Despite that, they're just two points behind second-place Hamilton and three points back of first-place Ottawa (6-5-1), the only East Division team with a winning record.

The Als will have a new head coach when they face the Argos. Jacques Chapdelaine makes his first appearance as the club's head coach, replacing Jim Popp, who remains the full-time GM.

Montreal has lost four straight but is just four points behind third-place Toronto. However, the Alouettes are just 1-5 at home while the Argos are 3-3 on the road.

Pick — Toronto.

 

Edmonton Eskimos versus Winnipeg Blue Bombers (Friday night)

Winnipeg (8-5) lost 36-34 last week to Calgary to end its seven-game win streak. But the Bombers rallied impressively from a 30-7 deficit to take a 34-33 lead with 20 seconds left before Rene Parades' game-winning 52-yard field goal. Matt Nichols threw for 287 yards with two TDs and an interception while Timothy Flanders ran for 95 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Edmonton beat B.C. 27-23 last week as Shakir Bell ran for 108 yards and a TD and Adarius Bowman had six catches for 121 yards and a touchdown.

Pick — Winnipeg.

 

Calgary Stampeders versus Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Saturday afternoon)

Calgary (CFL-best 11-1-1 record) has won 10 straight and is on a 12-game unbeaten streak. But the Stampeders will play for the first time since the tragic shooting death of defensive back Mylan Hicks on Sunday. The Stampeders are unbeaten against East teams (2-0-1) but have struggled recently putting opponents away. Hamilton head coach Kent Austin will watch from the spotter's booth after being fined $10,000 and banned from the sidelines for one game by the CFL after making contact with an official last weekend.

Pick — Calgary. 

 

Ottawa Redblacks versus B.C. Lions (Saturday night)

Home field hasn't always been an advantage for B.C. (8-4), which is just 3-2 at B.C. Place Stadium compared to 5-2 on the road. The Lions boast the CFL's top rushing attack (106.9 yards per game) and receiver Emmanuel Arceneaux had seven catches for 164 yards and two TDs in last week's loss to Edmonton. Ottawa counters with the league's top aerial game (343.9 yards per contest) but has allowed 36 sacks, second-most in the CFL. The Lions boast a defence that's registered 39 sacks, second only to Winnipeg (41).

Pick — B.C.

 

Last week: 2-2

Overall: 34-22-1.