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CFL Previews - Week 20 - Playoffs - Nov. 10From The Sports Network
By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
MONTREAL ALOUETTES (8-10) AT HAMILTON TIGER-CATS (10-8)
DATE & TIME: Sunday, Nov. 10, 1 p.m. ET
GAME NOTES: Despite having a losing record, the Montreal Alouettes find themselves in the 101st Grey Cup Playoffs, pitted against the Hamilton Tiger- Cats in the East Division Semifinal at Alumni Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
This time last year, the Alouettes were the cream of the crop in the division, sporting an 11-7 mark, but plenty has happened to Montreal in 2013 to keep the squad from reprising their role as the best in the East. In addition to firing first-year head coach Dan Hawkins after only a few weeks, the Als also lost the services of one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history in Anthony Calvillo.
There were several other injuries and hurdles to overcome in order for Montreal to get at least this far, not the least of which was winning four of the last six games on the schedule. Granted, the team did benefit from Winnipeg being simply awful in its own division, as well as Edmonton fumbling along over in the West.
In 2012, this division had only two representatives in Montreal and Toronto, the latter being the eventual champion, with both the Blue Bombers and Tiger- Cats sitting at home with 6-12 records. But this time around Hamilton, which was a dismal 1-8 on the road a year ago, returned to respectability with four wins in nine away outings and an overall mark of 10-8.
However, the start to the new campaign was not entirely encouraging, as the 'Cats won just one of five games coming out of the gate. A three-game win streak brought the group back around, as did four wins in the last five games of the regular season
While he may not have been around to finish every game for the Tiger-Cats this season, the good news for the offense is that Henry Burris was one of only two quarterbacks in the league to start all 19 games for their respective clubs, and the other (Mike Reilly) failed to make the Edmonton Eskimos very good.
Burris came up just 73 passing yards short of 5,000 on the season as he led the CFL in that category. He managed to complete 65.8 percent of his attempts and tie for the second-most aerial majors with 24, but at the same time he was guilty of throwing the most interceptions (19), something the Montreal defense will have to focus on.
As luck would have it, the Alouettes have one of the top pass defenders in the league this year in Geoff Tisdale who led the CFL in interceptions with seven, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Not that far behind Tisdale was Jerald Brown who had five picks of his own. Montreal matched Saskatchewan for the most interceptions with 24 this year, yet the Als still ended up with a minus-three in turnover margin.
Unlike the 'Cats who had the luxury of fielding the same signal caller one week to the next, Montreal had a total of four different starters at the position, the most in the league. As it stands, it appears as though the job has been handed over to former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith who has been the starter in each of the last three outings. The Ohio State product has had marginal success lately with nine passing touchdowns and a pair of majors on the ground, but at the same time he has tossed five INTs and averaged a mere 2.5 yards per rushing attempt.
While Hamilton was watching from afar last season, Montreal hosted the Argonauts in the division finals and ended up on the wrong side of a 27-20 decision, allowing Toronto to move on to the Grey Cup where it shocked Calgary, 35-22, at Rogers Centre.
These teams faced each other a total of three times during the regular season, with Hamilton posting two victories, including a narrow 27-24 final in the most recent encounter two weeks ago at home.
The winner this time around will be back in action next weekend, clashing with Toronto for the right to compete in the championship game against a representative from the West Division on Nov. 24 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
From a historical standpoint, both of these teams have appeared in the Grey Cup title tilt a total of 18 times, with Hamilton taking the honors on eight occasions and Montreal raising the trophy seven times. The Als last won it all in 2010 with a 21-18 triumph over Saskatchewan, the team's second straight championship and the third appearance in as many years in the final game.
Unfortunately for the 'Cats, their last crowning moment came in 1999 when they defeated the Calgary Stampeders, 32-21, at BC Place.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Hamilton 28, Montreal 24.
BRITISH COLUMBIA LIONS (11-7) AT SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS (11-7)
DATE & TIME: Sunday, Nov. 10, 4:30 p.m. ET
GAME NOTES: The hottest team in the CFL coming out of the gate in 2013 finds itself competing in the West Division Semifinals on Sunday afternoon, as the Saskatchewan Roughriders entertain the British Columbia Lions at Mosaic Stadium.
Saskatchewan kicked off the campaign with five straight victories and wins in eight of its first nine games, but then the Riders hit more than a few stumbling blocks which included a four-game slide and back-to-back defeats to close out the regular season, which is why they are playing this weekend and not enjoying added time to prepare for the division final.
The Lions, who were immediately in chase mode as they tried to catch up to Saskatchewan, managed to produce a couple of three-game win streaks this year and also posted consecutive triumphs in the final weeks in order to match the Riders' record overall.
Last season, BC was the clear-cut, regular-season leader with a 13-5 record, winning the West Division by a game over Calgary, while the Roughriders finished two games below .500, but because the bottom teams in the East Division were worse than the rest of the teams in the league, Saskatchewan was given entrance into the postseason where it bowed to the Stampeders in the semifinals by a score of 36-30.
With Calgary advancing to the division finals in 2012, the Lions ended up having their hands full and eventually suffered a 34-29 loss at home.
With regard to success in the playoffs over the years, more specifically each team's response to playing in the Grey Cup, the Roughriders have had the worst luck of any active club in that title tilt over the years. Saskatchewan has appeared in a total of 18 Grey Cups, but taken home the prestigious trophy a mere three times. The last of those championships came in 2007 when the team topped Winnipeg at Rogers Centre, 23-19.
Saskatchewan has appeared in the championship game two times since winning it all, but in 2009 the Riders suffered a narrow 28-27 setback to Montreal and then a year later it was the same story versus the Alouettes, this time being a 21-18 final.
British Columbia has appeared in the fewest Grey Cup Championships of any of the current eight league members, only 10, but still the Lions have twice as many trophies as the Roughriders. It was just two years ago that the Lions posted a 34-23 win over Winnipeg in their home stadium, BC Place.
This year the challenge might be a bit bigger for the Lions, seeing as how they fielded their third different starting quarterback of the season in their final outing, a 26-7 victory over visiting Calgary on Nov. 1. In that contest, Buck Pierce took the field for the Lions, although so did Thomas DeMarco and Travis Lulay, even though there really was nothing left to play for with the playoff picture already set.
While there was some uncertainty at quarterback for the Lions this season, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise to find that the squad ranked next-to- last in the league with just 4,408 passing yards and produced an efficiency rating of 88.4.
Over on the other side, Darian Durant was one of the most reliable passers as far as durability was concerned, starting all but two games, one of which was the season finale. Durant may have had some trouble with overall accuracy at times, but in the final tally he still led the league with 31 passing TDs, against just 12 INTs.
In addition to having a solid passer orchestrating the offense for the Riders, the defense was also something to behold as it led the league in points allowed at 22.1 ppg.
In terms of their matchups during the 2013 regular season, these teams played a total of three times, all within a span of just five weeks between Sept. 22 and Oct. 19, with the Roughriders posting back-to-back victories after dropping the first encounter by a mere two points, 24-22. The latest triumph was a lopsided 35-14 final at home for a Saskatchewan team that scored 21 points in the second quarter and 31 in the first half in order to pull away for the comfortable victory.
The team that survives this battle will be back in action next week against Calgary in the West Division Finals, for the right to take part in the 101st Grey Cup at Mosaic Stadium later this month.
Both teams played well at home this season, the Lions posting eight wins in nine tries at BC Place, but on the road British Columbia managed to log only three victories in nine chances, something that could work in favor of Saskatchewan this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saskatchewan 29, British Columbia 24.
2013 Sports Network Predictions: 42-30; Last Week's Predictions: 2-2.
11/06 13:25:26 ET