Down to nitty-gritty time in CFL
Division playoff races heating up for stretch run
First place in East may come down to Als-Argos finale
The hectic tussle for playoff berths could be just the tonic the CFL needs to rejuvenate its sagging television ratings.
The drama of who will make the post-season and which teams will gain home-field advantage begins with tonight's battle between the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders in Vancouver.
It's the front half of a home-and-home clash between the West Division's top two teams.
The Lions have a clear edge in the rush to finish first. Not only do they hold a two-point lead over the second-place Stampeders, but they also have four games remaining to three for the Calgarians.
After the doubleheader with Calgary, the Lions play host to the woeful Hamilton Tiger-Cats, already eliminated from post-season action, and Winnipeg, currently in third place in the East.
The Stamps, on the other hand, play two of their last three games — tonight's match and their final contest — on the road, where they've lost five of seven.
That's why head coach Tom Higgins is anxious for his team to finish first, which would mean a West final at McMahon Stadium. Barring that, ending up in second would at least give the Stamps home field for the division semifinal.
"There is a home field advantage, no question about it," said Higgins. "We have found it very comforting to play at home and we haven't been as good on the road."
Higgins said because CFL teams, for the most part, are so close in talent, any advantage is welcomed, whether it be the backing of a partisan hometown crowd or something as simple as the players sleeping in their own beds rather than in a hotel room.
The Argonauts, who take on Edmonton at the Rogers Centre on Monday, are battling for first place in the East but head coach Mike Clemons said making the playoffs is his first goal. The Argos can clinch a post-season berth with a win.
But he adds there is an advantage to gaining a home date.
`I'm not really fussy. Get me to the playoffs and we've got a chance.'
Mike Clemons on whether he'd like his Argos to play on the road or at home in the playoffs
"It's important because it's hard to play on the road the whole time and win (the Grey Cup)," he said. "But ultimately, at this time of the year the team that executes best and most consistently is going to win the game regardless of whether you're at home or on the road.
"I'm not really fussy. Get me to the playoffs and we've got a chance."
The Stamps aren't assured even a second-place finish. Saskatchewan trails Calgary by four points and a game in hand on the Stamps.
The Riders, however, have a tough stretch run. They face consecutive games against Montreal, which is fighting Toronto for first in the East, and then meet the Boatmen in Toronto before finishing up in Edmonton.
The Eskies also can't be totally dismissed. They are four points back of the Riders and meet Saskatchewan in the final game of the regular season in Edmonton.
If the two teams were to finish deadlocked for third place, the Eskimos would gain that spot since they have already won two of the three meetings between the teams this season.
Even a fourth-place finish in the West wouldn't necessarily mean elimination from the Grey Cup hunt. If the West's No.4 team has a better record than the East's third-place team, it would head East for the division semifinal.
At the moment, the third team in the East is Winnipeg with 14 points, the same as Saskatchewan and four more than Edmonton.
The Bombers have only three games left and, after facing Hamilton next week (they have the bye this weekend), finish the schedule against Calgary and B.C.
Winnipeg, which trails Toronto and Montreal by just two points, could still finish first in the East, but the Argos and Alouettes will likely decide that race when they meet at the Rogers Centre on the final weekend of the regular season.
Oct. 6, 2006. 01:00 AM