Editor's Note: Nick Christenson is handicapping Canadian Football League games this entire season and making picks each week. What follows is Mr. Christenson's CFL predictions and picks for the first round of playoff games.
CFL Playoffs Round 1
We made it to the playoffs. The average total of every regular season game this year has been 44.2 points per game. The average total of every game excepting the first two weeks of the season is 45.5 points per game. I’m using this as the baseline for my totals.
Home field advantage in the CFL this year has been 1.8 points. In the first half of the year, HFA was -0.13 PPG, while in the second half it was 3.86 PPG, much more in line with historical averages. Was there some factor that caused home field advantage to actually be much higher in the second half of the year than the first half? I doubt it. The main value in looking at the first half and second half separately is in their comparison, showing just how volatile statistics can be in sports, and the dangers of ascribing too much significance to data based on small sample sizes. If after eight weeks we had jumped to the conclusion that HFA was 0 in the CFL this year, we would have made some bad bets in the back half of the season. My suspicion is that actual HFA in the CFL right now is approximately what it has been over the last 15 years or so, about 2.5 to 3 points per game. Note, though, that in the CFL as in almost all major sports, HFA has exhibited a measurable downward trend over the last 20 years. The reasons why that might be the case is a subject for a different article, though.
As I write this, CFL betting numbers are not widely available. (Come on, bookmakers, I know it’s a busy time of year for you, but add courage to your Christmas wish list and put numbers up already.) However, I thought I’d send these out with my numbers so that if lines and totals do move appreciably, folks can react to whatever market conditions are at any given moment.
Sunday, November 28, 1:00pm EST
Montreal Alouettes at Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Hamilton -4.5, Total: 45.5
The big variable in this game is Alouettes’ QB Trevor Harris. Does he make the Als better than they were at the beginning of the season with Vernon Adams under center? My handicapping is predicated on the assumption that it’s a close call, but it’s possible that now that he is familiar with the system and his receiving corps, Harris is a better option for Montreal. If so, this line might be just a little high. I made the line Hamilton -5.5 and the total 44.5, so I have no bet, and it’s unlikely numbers will move enough for me to want to bet.
Sunday, November 28, 4:00pm EST
Calgary Stampeders at Saskatchewan Roughriders
Saskatchewan -2.5, Total: 41.5
Calgary seems back in form, and they’ve made the playoffs every year since I’ve been actively handicapping the CFL. A lot of their recent success is due to QB Mitchell being healthier during the last half of the season and playing in stride, but I think an underrated piece of this is improvement and better coordination on Calgary’s offensive line over the course of this campaign. Earlier this year I expressed skepticism that Riders’ QB Cody Fajardo would repeat his 2019 numbers, and I felt it was unreasonable to put that expectation on him. He’s been alright this year, finishing the regular season 3rd in passing yardage, although he is only one of three QBs to play in more than eleven games. More pointedly, of quarterbacks who have at least 100 pass attempts this year, he’s 7th in passer rating, which isn’t great. I still think he deserves the starting job in Saskatchewan, it’s just that I don’t think Rider Nation should expect him to be the reincarnation of Ron Lancaster or anything. I made this line Saskatchewan -1.5 and the total 41.5, so I have no bet here either.
Nothing I want to bet on in the CFL this week. Maybe we’ll get lucky some books will misprice some second half numbers in one of this week’s games.
Nick Christenson has been using mathematical methods and computer modeling to as tools for successful sports betting for over 15 years. He lives and works out of Las Vegas, Nevada where, during rare off-seasons, he enjoys cooking, reading, and hiking.