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 3.
CFL Week 3
I’m able to send this out earlier this week because books are starting to put out their CFL numbers a little earlier. That said, there’s still a fair amount of hesitancy on this. Some sites are listing numbers earlier in the week but not providing the ability to bet. Right now, the early game on Saturday is available to bet at only one Las Vegas book, with neither of the other two on the board anywhere. Nonetheless, there are benefits to getting my analysis out as early as possible, so I am doing so. Expect some more line movement.
In week 1, the games went 3-1 to the under. In week 2, it was a clean under sweep. This week, the average total on the board at the open was 45.5. The market seems to think that was too high, and the current consensus has totals down a point pretty much across the board. That’s the lowest I’ve seen in the CFL in 15 years, but the second highest scoring in a game so far this year has been 43. I certainly don’t expect scoring to stay this low, but at what point does this turn around? That point certainly wasn’t in week 2. My models and experience are telling me that the opening numbers this week are about right. Am I confident that my models are correct? Not in the slightest.
Right now, the West teams are 5-5, the East teams are 3-3. It’s not surprising that Saskatchewan and Winnipeg are atop the West, but Calgary hasn’t started a season 0-2 in, well, a really long time. Hamilton starts 0-2 headed into a week 3 bye as the only East team with a losing record. Ouch. I don’t think it’s anywhere close to curtains for the Ti-Cats, but this is not the start they wanted. We’ve only seen one game from each, but no doubt Montreal and Ottawa have outperformed. On the other hand, is it any coincidence that both of their wins came (on the road) against Edmonton? My working theory: Edmonton is just really bad. Certainly, Harris looked horrible for the Elks in the first two weeks, but does anyone think Dakota Prukop provides a solution for them? I do not.
Thursday, August 19, 10:00pm EDT
Edmonton Elks at B.C. Lions
BC -4, Total: 45.5
Before the season started, I picked the Elks to finish last in the West, but even so, getting beat up by what may still be the bottom two teams in the East by 21 points is a significant underperformance of already low expectations. Moreover, BC has a full week of rest while Edmonton is coming into this game only 5 days after their week 2 game. BC has been inconsistent so far, but their biggest concern from last year, their offensive line, has looked competent. While the team has basically lied to the public twice about who would start at QB, Reilly looked quite good in the Lions’ road win over Calgary. Certainly, his arm strength didn’t appear to be an issue. My number for this game was Lions -6.5. This line opened at BC -5 and has been dropping. I don’t have a bet here, but as numbers as low as -3.5 show up, I’m getting ready to pull the trigger. If I see a BC -3, I definitely won’t wait any longer. If BC -3.5 looks like the bottom of the market, I’ll make a play on that. The total seems a shade low, at least compared with other games, but not enough to make me want to bet it.
Friday, August 20, 9:30pm EDT
Montreal Alouettes at Calgary Stampeders
Montreal -1, Total: 45.5
Calgary has looked really bad so far this year, going 0-2 against two teams I still don’t think are very good. Significantly, what had been Calgary’s strongest unit for years, its offensive line, doesn’t look good at all. On top of that, QB Bo Levi Mitchel is going to be out for weeks with a broken fibula. I’m not all that high on backup Michael O’Connor. On the other side, we’ve only seen the Als in one game so far. The good news is that they looked really solid, and Vernon Adams seems to be picking up where he left off at the end of 2019. The bad news is that their win was against the Elks, and right now I have the Elks rated as the worst team in the CFL. The first number I saw go up was at FanDuel who had Calgary -7. This was a bad number even if we thought Mitchell was at full strength. Right now, the few numbers I see out there, none of which I can bet, are in the Calgary -2 to Montreal -1 range. Under the circumstances, I make the game pick, so I have no bet at what seems like a very rough market consensus. Give me the dog with a plus moneyline. The total opened 46.5 and is down a point now. Calgary has only scored 29 points so far this season, so I’m not sure how many fewer they score with O’Connor in. I think this is about right, maybe with a slight lean to the under.
Saturday, August 21, 4:00pm EDT
Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Toronto Argonauts
Winnipeg -5, Total: 41.5
The Argos came back down to earth this week at a very strong Winnipeg team after their week 1 victory at Edmonton. Now they get to host the Blue Bombers, arguably the strongest team in the CFL, on the back-to-back. On the upside, Nick Arbuckle looked pretty good in for relief of McLeod Bethel-Thompson. On the downside, if had looked better than Bethel-Thompson in practice, he would have started in weeks 1 and 2. At the start of last game, Winnipeg closed as 6 point favorites at home against Toronto. This week they opened as 3 point favorites on the road after a substantial victory, which seemed reasonable to me. Now the line looks like it’s in the 4.5 to 5 range. This starts to get me interested in the Argos. I think I bite at Toronto +6 or better. The total opened at 42.5 and is also down a point. Slight lean to the over, just because of how low this number is, although I believe this game definitely should be the lowest total on the board this week.
Saturday, August 21, 7:00pm EDT
Ottawa RedBlacks at Saskatchewan Roughriders
Saskatchewan -11, Total: 45.5
Ottawa is coming off the bye here at a time of the season when it helps the least, although these are teams without a full pre-season, so maybe the extra week of practice after one full-contact game is helpful, I don’t know. After week 1 my primary takeaway from the Ottawa/Edmonton game was not that Ottawa was so much better than we thought, but that Edmonton has some real problems. Nothing I saw from the Elks has caused me to update that narrative. I think these numbers are about right, although this is the largest line we’ve seen so far this season. So if I had a free bet on this, I think I’d choose to bet the underdog, but I’m sure not laying -110 on either side at anything in this range. Wake me if it gets to -7 or +13, but not before then. The total opened 46.5 and is down to 45.5. I don’t think this is too far off, but the market has totals a little lower than I do across the board this week.
Bye: Hamilton Tiger-Cats
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.