Here’s how the numbers work out over the last 15 years in The CFL.
You really don’t want to be in 3rd place in the East once the playoffs begin. Over the last 15 years, or since 1999, the 3rd place team in The East has never won two consecutive road games to make it to the Championship game. In fact, they’ve only been able to win the Eastern Division Semi-Final 1/3rd of the time - or 5 out of the last 15 attempts.
The numbers are slightly better in The West with the 3rd place team winning the Semi-Final 6 times over that same period. And contrary to the East’s “One & Done? track-record, the 3rd place team out West has gone on to win both the Divisional Final AND subsequently claim the Grey Cup in two of those years! So, if you’re a betting man, when 3rd place goes on to win The West, wager LARGE that they bring home The Cup - They're 2 For 2!i
So, it’s obviously better to have home field advantage for the semi-finals. But exactly how much is it worth to be #1 in your division, thus receiving a bye as well as hosting the divisional final, versus being #2 and having to play the week before & being required to travel for the right to represent your division in the Grey Cup?
In The East, the 2nd place team has won the Division Final 40% of the time - or 6 in the last 15 attempts. In 3 of those years, they’ve also gone on to win the Grey Cup. The numbers are exactly the same in The West. 6 times has the visiting #2 seed beat the #1 host and 3 of those times has the 2nd place team in The West gone on to win & hoist The Grey Cup.
So, clinching 1st Place & Top Spot in your division is worth something, especially in The East. First place in The East wins their Divisional Final 60% of the time or 9 in the last 15.
Yet it doesn't appear to result in any more Grey Cup victories. The #1 seed in the East has gone on to win The Grey Cup 3 times in the last 15, which happens to be the same as the #2 Team in The East.
In the West, the #1 seed in The West has won their divisional final 7 of the last 15 times and gone on to win the Grey Cup 4 times.
So while it’s clear that having some form of home field advantage in the playoffs does have a certain value in getting to the Grey Cup, It’s not entirely clear that being #1 is necessary in clinching the league’s Championship Trophy. It’s only resulted in 1 additional victory over the last 15 years in The Path To The Grey Cup.