With the playoffs set to begin in just over a month, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have two likely post-season routes: going through a western gauntlet or the crossover. They could miss the playoffs too.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are currently in third place in the West Division. Looking ahead, it appears as if the Bombers matchup against the Edmonton Eskimos in Week 21 could settle who gets third in the West (more on that later).
Second Place out of Reach
The Saskatchewan Roughriders improved to 10-5 on the season after Monday’s late comeback win over the Edmonton Eskimos.
If the Riders had lost to the Eskimos, Saturday’s Riders-Bombers game would have some major playoff seeding implications. But with the Riders owning the tiebreaker over Winnipeg, Saskatchewan essentially has second place in the West Division locked up.
The Riders just need to win one of their last three games to finish second, and the Bombers would need to go 3-0 too if they were to leapfrog Saskatchewan. It’s unlikely, and Saskatchewan will most likely host the Western Semi-final.
A Race for Third?
The Bombers, the Eskimos, and the B.C. Lions all have a realistic shot at third place in the West Division. The Bombers have the inside track, possessing 16 points in comparison to the Eskimos and Lions’ 14.
Finishing third may not be all that rewarding though.
Third place in the West would warrant a trip to Regina, followed by a trip to Calgary. And that’s just to get to the Grey Cup.
The Calgary Stampeders are the CFL’s best home team. Sitting at 7-1 on the season at home, McMahon Stadium isn’t usually a place where visitors leave happy.
The Riders are 5-3 at home in 2018. But it’s fair to say a fluky loss to the Alouettes misportrays the Riders’ home record – Mosaic Stadium isn’t friendly to visitors either.
Calgary and Saskatchewan arguably have the league’s best defences too. They sit one and two in average rushing yards against and are both in the top three for average net offence against. Come November when the weather gets brutal in the West, defence often prevails.
Ahh, the crossover. Statistics indicate that this route is not how you even reach the Grey Cup game, never mind win it.
The crossover has come into effect 10 times in CFL history. All 10 times, the team crossing over has failed to even reach the Grey Cup game.
Beating two adequate teams while being on the road for consecutive weeks is no easy task. But there’s a legitimate case it could be the easier option this season, especially for the Bombers.
Going through the East would have the crossover team travel to Hamilton, and if they win to Ottawa.
The Bombers lost in Hamilton in Week 3 this season, but Winnipeg had Chris Streveler at quarterback who showed a ton of growing pains. On the other hand, as a Blue Bomber Matt Nichols has started three games versus the Tiger-Cats from start to finish. He’s 3-0 in those games, completing 67% of his passes for 693 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Winnipeg defeated the Ottawa Redblacks 40-32 (OT) last week, and have come away on top during their last three visits to TD Place Stadium.
The Bombers are 3-4 on the road in 2018 but are outscoring opponents 207-154 during those games too.
Playoff Spot Not Guaranteed
Winnipeg has yet to clinch a playoff birth and are only two points from the basement of the West.
One of the Bombers, Eskimos or Lions will miss the playoffs. Their remaining schedules and their opponents combined win percentage are as follows:
Winnipeg: vs. SSK, vs. CGY, @ EDM (.659)
Edmonton: vs. OTT, @ B.C., vs. WPG (.535)
B.C.: vs. CGY, vs. EDM, @ SSK, vs. CGY (.707)
If the Lions drop their next three games, which is reasonable, and fall out of the playoff race and the Bombers and Eskimos each split their next two games, or are within two points of each other going into Week 21, an interesting question will follow.
During their Week 21 matchup, would the loser of Winnipeg-Edmonton be better off than the winner?
The loser would crossover and have a playoff schedule of at Hamilton and at Ottawa, while the winner would stay in the West and have a playoff schedule of at Saskatchewan and at Calgary.
The Last Word
I’ve been sitting on this take for a few weeks now: I think Winnipeg would be better off crossing over. But the Bombers may be in a position in Week 21 where the loser of their game with the Eskimos determines who stays in the West, and who crosses over. Thinking either Mike O’Shea or Jason Maas would intentionally lose that game is foolish.
Winning two in a row out East is tough, but beating Saskatchewan and Calgary on the road back-to-back isn’t any easier. I’m aware that beating either Saskatchewan or Calgary will almost have to happen one way or another. Going through the East ensures you’ll only have to beat one of those two juggernauts. And anything can happen once you reach the Grey Cup, just ask Ottawa or Toronto.
Although history doesn’t support this argument, logic does.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images