Coming off a 1-1 weekend (still far below .500 overall), it might seem a good time to stretch out and try for another upset in the East.
The host Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10-8) will defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (8-10, 1-0 in playoffs), in the East Division Final on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. ET) at Canad Inns Stadium.
This pick seems relatively simple based on a simple idea: The Tiger-Cats have a relationship problem with the Bombers. As in, Winnipeg isn't a good match for Hamilton, therefore the latter has little chance of a consummation.
Not much to choose offensively
Winnipeg knew coming into this season it could be difficult at times to move the ball and score points, and things have turned out that way. The Bombers are below the Cats in most offensive categories (and that's not easy given how toothless the black and gold have been at times), but for rushing.
Quarterback Buck Pierce is expected to be back in the huddle on Sunday, though he won't be bringing any startling numbers with him.
First off, he had the second highest interception rating in the league. He has a nice completion percentage, but finishing drives has been a problem.
And he might go down again the first quarter, bringing in replacement Alex Brink, whose numbers are quite similar - i.e., not brilliant. Together, the two came up with the second worst quarterbacking numbers in the league this year, just ahead of the (sigh) Toronto Argonauts.
Take a look at yards from scrimmage, where running backs pretty much hold sway, and you have to go all the way down to 12th before the first Bomber appears, receiver Terrence Edwards, at 1,124 yards.
A-ha, you say (and we say with you). That's a fact, but after Fred Reid went down, a new runner appeared in the form of Chris Garrett, and though he only carried the ball just 92 times, he piled up 576 yards and a sparkling 6.3 per carry.
Winnipeg is not that great at throwing the ball, worse than the Cats, despite the complaints about Hamilton's quarterbacking. And it turns the ball over. A lot.
Good thing for the Bombers their opponents this week couldn't pick a pass off if it hit them in the hands - we know this because they did it so many times this season - amassing just 10 interceptions.
On the other side of the ball we have the Tiger-Cats attack, one that kicked the bejeesus out of the Alouettes at the Big We No Longer Owe Anything, last Sunday.
Do not be fooled, ladies and gentlemen. An Als defence that was held together through so many injuries by string, paper clips and gum finally, and perhaps inevitably, collapsed entirely.
No comparison on defence
Lost in the joy of last Sunday's semifinal win over Montreal was this salient fact about the Tiger-Cats' defence: It played like a piece of junk (you are excepted, Jamall Johnson).
These type of high-scoring games tend to take on a life of their own and it's bombs away dream babies and all, but let's get real here and point out Anthony Calvillo threw for 513 yards against the Kitties, in addition to the Larks adding almost 100 on the ground.
That's 600 big ones. The defensive backfield was running around like the Stanford Band there at times.
Winnipeg's defence has held steady through a year of up-and-down offence, and while it does not have the Swaggerville thing going on anymore (and thank you for that, because it was stupid), it is as solid a group as you'll find in the CFL.
It also matches up perfectly with the Cats.
The Bombers pick off a lot of passes and are No. 1 against the aerial attack overall (DB Ian Logan is back from his appendectomy, so they'll be at full strength). Hamilton throws a lot of picks and isn't that great travelling by air.
Kevin Glenn is going to have a lot of defenders in his face all day, as Big Blue and their league- leading 55 sacks will be coming like an old time express from the Lakehead.
On the ground, Winnipeg's defence is third best, but Hamilton has struggled running the ball, this past Sunday aside.
So, it looks pretty much set, doesn't it? Really, what could go wrong?
1. Hamilton has two guys who can turn a game around on one play, Avon Cobourne and Marcus Thigpen. Both broke the hearts of Alouettes' fans on Sunday by slashing for huge gains.
Thigpen is an excellent kick returner and a number jumping off the stat sheet shows the Bombers punted a league-high 143 times in 2011. That may mean a lot of potential chances for Marcus to do something scary.
2. The Cats can sack quarterbacks too, led by Justin Hickman (13, tied for 1st), and did so with abandon against the Bombers, piling up 10 of them in three games. Buck Pierce's protection could collapse, and that could negate a lot of good things.
Stevie Baggs, by the way, will likely be back in the lineup after being a late healthy scratch off the defensive line because of ratio issues elsewhere. Those look to be solved and Baggs plus Hickman makes things even more of a challenge.
3. Anyone who has watched this league for long (43 years here), knows that teams get on these runs in the playoffs where they suddenly believe anything is possible. Hamilton could be riding a high that won't have worn off yet by Sunday.
Still, in front of those wonderful nutcases at Canad Inns Stadium on Sunday, in what looks to be around -10 C with the wind chill and a 25-kilometre wind (freakin' cold), it says here it's Winnipeg's day.
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