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 5.
CFL Week 5
Maybe Nick Maier is for real? In the first two weeks, Calgary loses by 3 and 6 at home against Toronto and BC, respectively. Maier replaces Mitchell, and they win by 6 at home and lose by 2, but cover, at Winnipeg. What are they doing right? Well, first of all, the offensive line for the Stampeders is playing much better than they did in weeks 1 and 2, but more significantly, in my opinion, is that Maier is generally doing a very good job in getting rid of the ball quickly. Given that Maier went 30/39 for 7.9 yds/attempt against a very strong Bomber defense, he’s also making very good reads and accurate throws, which is impressive for someone with so little experience at this level. I’m not ready to pronounce him the new Russ Jackson, but he’s worth keeping an eye on.
The league as a whole continues to not be able to get in the end zone. Week 4 games went 3-0 to the under. The average closing total last week was 45. The average actual scoring total was 35.6. As of this writing, the average total for this week’s games is 43, down two points from last week’s close, but still 5 points above the year-to-date average of 38. Once again, yardage is below what we were seeing two years ago, but not by nearly as much as scoring. And, once again, what we’re really seeing is offenses moving in the defensive and middle parts of the field, but just stalling out as they get inside their opponents’ 45. We’re also seeing a relative paucity of special teams and defensive scores, although I can’t think of a reason why these things would be related. We saw a total of 8 touchdowns in last week’s three games, and I really couldn’t tell you why.
In addition to Saskatchewan coming off their regularly scheduled bye, Toronto is coming off their de facto bye. It’s early in the season, but they may be fresher, and they did have a couple of extra days to prepare for their foes down the QEW. Edmonton also got time off, so they should be rested, but unlike the Argonauts, they lost over a week of team activities because the team had to isolate, so I don’t expect their time off to have been as productive.
I’m not betting totals this week, because I still don’t have any idea if this is the week red zone offenses get back to normal, in which case expect totals to shoot over, or if the games will go like they have so far this season, in which case expect totals to shoot under. If I were going to attempt to arbitrage this, I think that of the games the Win/Sas game feels a little too low, since even though these are the top two scoring defenses in the league, they’re two of the few teams who look competent on offense. If I had a free bet to bet an under on a game, I’d pick the Tor/Ham game, which is currently the highest one on the board at 44.5. I don’t see any reason why this shouldn’t be an average totaled game.
Friday, September 3, 7:30 pm EDT
Montreal Alouettes at Ottawa RedBlacks
Montreal -6.5, Total: 42.5
So the market is telling us that 1 – 2 Montreal is supposed be power rated a full 9.5 points more than 1 – 2 Ottawa, huh? Does it seem so far fetched if I mention that the RedBlacks’ offense has scored only one offensive touchdown in three games this year? This is an offense that hasn’t done better than 5.2 yards per play in any game so far this season. Would it change your mind if I mentioned that the game opened Montreal -3.5 and has moved 3 points in the first 24 hours the game has been on the board? I got burned by betting on them to cover a 4 point spread in their home opener last week, so I don’t think I’m going to bet on this game, but the only side I could consider is the underdog. If it gets over 7, it would be awfully hard to not make a bet, as gun-shy as I am of betting on the RedBlacks right now. Can they really be so bad that Ottawa +6.5 at home is a bad bet?
Sunday, September 5, 6:00pm EDT
Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Saskatchewan Roughriders
Saskatchewan -3.5, Total: 43
This should be a good one between the consensus top two teams in the CFL. No matter how I do the comparison, I have the 3 – 0 Roughriders ranked ahead of the 3 – 1 Blue Bombers, the game is in Saskatchewan, and the Riders are coming off the bye. If anything, a line of Riders -3.5 seems a little low to me, but not enough for me to bet. I lean to the Riders, but that’s all right now.
Monday, September 6, 1:00pm EDT
Toronto Argonauts at Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Hamilton -2, Total: 44.5
I guess the market has become believers in the Boatmen. The opening game of the Labour Day Classic opened Ti-Cats -4 and has been bet down to Cats -2. My numbers also have this as the right move, especially considering Toronto’s de facto bye last week, but if it goes much further it may be an overcompensation. Evans did look good in Hamilton’s first win at Montreal last week, and remember that their two losses were against Winnipeg and Saskatchewan. I have no bet here, I think this line is basically correct where it is.
Monday, September 6, 4:30pm EDT
Edmonton Elks at Calgary Stampeders
Calgary -5.5, Total 42
Two one-win teams square off here in the first Battle of Alberta. Of the two, Calgary has been playing better of late, and while regression for Maier is a distinct possibility, there’s no reason to think that his general trend line isn’t pointed upward. Really the only two good things I can say about Edmonton is that Harris doesn’t look as bad as he did earlier, and they get an early bye last week. The problem is that they weren’t able to practice last week due to their COVID outbreak. The not so bad news is that folks have stopped testing positive, and they’ll be able to resume team activities on September 1, but that still means they lost over a week’s worth of practice early in a season with no pre-season games and a reduced camp. The line opened Calgary -3.5, which I think was way too low. In fact, I think it’s still too low, but not a great opportunity in this range. Give me reduced juice or drop the line back closer to the opener and I’ll bet the Stampeders here, but I doubt I’ll get that opportunity.
Bye: British Columbia
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.