The Saskatchewan Roughriders (9-5) find themselves four points back of first with two crucial divisional matchups against the Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers ahead before a date at McMahon Stadium with the Calgary Stampeders October 20th. The Saskatchewan Roughriders final stretch proves to be no easy task. However, it’s hard not to look ahead at that matchup and get excited for what it potentially means. The Roughriders are winners of six of their last seven games finishing up their final matchup against an Eastern Division opponent this past Sunday. A 34-29 victory over the Montreal Alouettes helped the Riders finish with a record 5-3 against Eastern opponents. Two of their most notable losses came at the hands of the Ottawa Redblacks.
A Look Ahead
Thanksgiving Monday could give the Roughriders and their fans a little extra to be thankful for. With a win over the struggling Eskimos and a Bombers loss, the Riders would clinch a playoff spot. Edmonton is trying to right the ship after appearing to have a stranglehold on second in the West mid-season. The Eskimos falling 30-3 at home against the Bombers doesn’t invite much confidence for this group going forward. However, any team with Mike Reilly under center should be taken seriously, regardless of recent performances. Reilly leads the league in passing yards with 4,383 and is currently second in passing touchdowns with 27. His favourite target, Duke Williams, leads the league in receiving yards (1,337) and receiving touchdowns (10).
After a favourable 5-3 start, the Bombers have found themselves in a tailspin themselves going 2-4 since. At 7-7, the Bombers are in the middle of a dogfight for their playoff lives along with the Eskimos (7-7) and BC Lions (6-7). Three of these four teams will make the playoffs. One of which will be crossing over into the East to visit either the Hamilton Tiger-Cats or the Ottawa Redblacks. Nichols has maintained his starting job since standing on shaky ground post-Banjo Bowl, posting an 80% completion rate against Edmonton last week. For all their flaws, the Bombers will be another difficult test for this Roughriders squad that continues to squeeze out victories.
Finally, the matchup that is sure to be circled on many fans’ calendars is the tilt on October 20th against the surging Stampeders. There is still an outside chance this game will have implications on first place in the West. However, the Riders have a number of factors working against them. The first being that the Stampeders are currently four games up on the Roughriders with a game in hand. Moreover, Calgary’s next two games are far more favourable than what the Riders are up against. While Saskatchewan will be playing the two aforementioned playoff-hungry teams, Calgary will be travelling to the 3-11 Alouettes and then host the hot and cold Lions a week later. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to suggest that Calgary could be 13-2 going into Week 19’s matchup. Even if the Riders go 2-0 as well, that still places them at 11-5 with just one game to play.
The Last Word
The Roughriders, however, have a slight advantage thanks in part to those who put together the 2018 CFL schedule. The Riders have their third and final bye on the last weekend of the regular season (Week 21). Regardless if the Riders finish second, third, or crossover to the East, they will have a bye week to prepare for whoever they match up against. There has been plenty of debate surrounding the benefits of bye weeks heading into the playoffs. Some view it as an opportunity to get a head-start in preparation on their opponent while others see it as the resting team developing “rust”. First place being out of reach may be of benefit for the Roughriders. If they were able to miraculously leapfrog the Stampeders, they would have two weeks off before the West Final. This is something Ottawa fans feared last season though it never came to fruition.
It’s difficult to not look ahead and get excited for all the potential playoff scenarios that exist for Saskatchewan. However, it starts with Monday’s game against a desperate Eskimos football club. If the Riders don’t respond with the same sense of urgency, as if their season is on the line (and it mathematically still is) then these scenarios become a lot less fun in the weeks to come.
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