Editor's Note: Nick Christenson is handicapping Canadian Football League games this season and making picks each week. What follows is Mr. Christenson's CFL predictions and picks for Week 11 – for the Friday and Saturday night games.
There are three games this week.
There’s zero question who the best team is in the league right now. It’s the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. They’re head and shoulders above the rest of the league at the moment, and they appear to be cruising to a Grey Cup appearance. But who’s the second best team? How do the other playoff contenders compare? This is much more difficult to evaluate.
Other sources who rate these teams seem to have installed Toronto as number 2 on the list. This makes some sense. They have the second best record in the league and are 1.5 games above Montreal on top of the East. However, they were dominated for most of the game last week at Hamilton before coming back late to squeak that one out. Sure, any road win in the CFL merits some credit, but Hamilton outgained them and beat them in yards per play. Would Toronto be rated number 2 if, instead, Bede missed that last minute FG, and they lost the game by 2, leaving both they and Hamilton with a 5-4 record? I doubt it, and it’s a very plausible scenario. Toronto has won a couple of very tight games this year, including their last three where they were outgained and beaten in yards per play in all of them. That’s some pretty decent luck, and I don’t think they’re as good as their record would indicate.
Saskatchewan is next up at 5-4, but while I had them ranked as a clear number 2 a couple of weeks ago, back to back losses to Calgary have brought them back to the pack. Still, right now they’re the number 2 ranked team based on point differential. On the other hand, they’re off this week and playing a Calgary team next week who’s on a roll and seems to have their number.
Despite being 4-5, Hamilton is number 4 in point differential at +15. Similarly, my least squares rating method has them power rated at number 2 in the league. Plus they should get some credit for having to deal with QB issues that Saskatchewan hasn’t. Given two teams with the same record or power rating, I’ll take the one who was injured while these games were played and is healthy now. At the same time, they’ve also lost their last two straight to conference opponents, with both games at home.
Calgary, also at 4-5, has been coming on lately after a poor start. Nonetheless, their point differential is still negative and the only team with a winning record they’ve beat is Saskatchewan (twice). If their offensive line continues to gel and Bo Levi Mitchell can play like the player he has been over the last few years, it’s clear they can contend.
Montreal and BC are both 4-4. BC’s point differential is near par, as one would expect from a .500 team, but Montreal’s number is significantly negative. Neither has a victory against a team with more wins than losses. Right now I project Montreal as the 3 seed in the East and BC as 4 in the West, but even a slight improvement in how they’re playing could move each of them up several spots.
The bottom line is that no matter what method I use to rank teams, I get Winnipeg as the clear number one, followed by Hamilton, Saskatchewan, Toronto, Calgary, and BC all very closely bunched up and not always in that order, but that’s how they average out. Then after a little drop we have Montreal, a significant drop, Edmonton, another significant drop, and Ottawa.
I expect the numbers 2 through 5 teams to continue to play very tight games and shuffle their rankings based on very arbitrary circumstances: last second field goals being missed or made, injuries, turnover margins, and the like. Some of these teams may separate from the pack, and the teams below the linestill all have a chance to get in the playoff hunt if they get their acts together and go on a run, but that’s how it looks to me right now.
Here's an update on this week's odds at SPREADS.CA, along with predictions and picks:
Friday, October 15, 9:00pm EDT
Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Edmonton Elks
Winnipeg -11.5, Total: 41.5
The Elks have decided to replace QB Trevor Harris with Taylor Cornelius while also giving some snaps to Dakota Prukop. Harris hasn’t been strong this year, but I don’t think QB play is the biggest problem with that team. However, it’s easy and visible to make a change here, and the team is under pressure to do something. I lower Edmonton’s power rating by a point with Cornelius rather than Harris. This is the third time these teams will play in a 5 week span. In week 7, Winnipeg won in Edmonton 37 to 22. Last week Winnipeg beat up on the Elks in Manitoba 30 to 3, and the game wasn’t even that close. All that said, the line feels a little high to me, but I’m not eager to step in front of the Blue Bomber juggernaut at this time. I think a total 41.5 is low, though. Just in the two games these teams have played, they’ve averaged 46 points per game, and like I said, I think last week’s game was unnaturally low scoring with Winnipeg going 1 for 4 in field goals and turning it over on downs at the literal one inch line. At 41.5 I’ll take the over in this game.
Saturday, October 16, 4:00pm EDT
Montreal Alouettes at Ottawa RedBlacks
Montreal -5.5, Total: 47
Both of these teams are coming off a short week, although for the RedBlacks, this is their second straight short week, and one has to expect this might take a toll. The Alouettes will be without QB Vernon Adams to be replaced by veteran backup Matthew Shiltz. Nonetheless, this does hurt the Als. I make them 2.5 to 3 points worse with Adams off the field. These teams met last week in Montreal with the Als as a 10 point favorite, but Ottawa covered, losing by 4. If you thought 10 was the right line last week at home, then Montreal -4ish is the right line this week, right? Plus some point deduction for replacing Adams with Shiltz, right? Maybe minus a couple of points for Ottawa’s rougher scheduling, right? Plus, the RedBlacks played them somewhat competitively on the road last week, right, so maybe that line was a little higher than it should be? So where does this week’s line of 5.5 come from? I see no way to argue that it’s not at least a little high. I’m not sure I want to bet Ottawa, but that’s the side I’d consider. I think this total is about right.
Saturday, October 16, 7:00pm EDT
Calgary Stampeders at British Columbia Lions
British Columbia -1, Total: 43.5
Looks like BC, Calgary, and Saskatchewan are fighting over playoff seeding in the West. Calgary is on a bit of a roll, winning two straight in a home and home against Saskatchewan. I thought last week’s game was the best QB Mitchell has looked all season. Maybe he has healed up the things that ailed him at the beginning of the season. I think this game is lined correctly. I think the total is a shade low, but not nearly enough to get me to bet it.
Bye: Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Toronto Argonauts
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.