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 championship game.
CFL Playoffs – Grey Cup
Well, we made it to the Grey Cup. We went through two years of, “Will we have a season?”/”Will we not have a season?” to end up replaying the last game of 2019. At the beginning of this campaign, if you had predicted this was going to be the match-up, nobody would have been surprised, although the idea that the Ti-Cats would be underdogs in their own stadium probably would have raised a few eyebrows.
My CFL games database that includes closing lines and totals goes back 17 seasons. During that time, the under has gone 11-6 in the Grey Cup (although one of those unders was by a half point, and one under and one over were by one point, so it’s entirely plausible that line shopping could have swung those results.) Of course, it’s an awfully small sample size, but at the very least we can say that there’s no reason to think that the Grey Cup favors overs.
Excluding those games at the end of the year that didn’t matter for playoff seedings, and where significant roster adjustments were made to avoid injury to key players, the average total this year was 44.3 points per game. It’s 45.5 PPG if you exclude those first two shakeout weeks but include the playoff games. So, a baseline total in the 44.5 to 45.5 point range seems about right. How have totals been doing in the playoffs? It’s a super small sample size, but in week 1, the games averaged 42 PPG, and in week 2, they averaged 49 PPG, or 45.5 PPG over the four games. So, it is a small sample size, but I think it’s safe to say there’s no evidence to think that we should expect this year’s remaining playoff totals should differ significantly from regular season totals.
Underdogs have been 3-6-1 in the last ten Grey Cups, including 4 outright wins. If you bet either dogs or dogs on the moneyline in the last ten, you’ve done well. I don’t see a structural reason why this should be the case, but certainly, there’s no historical reason to avoid underdogs in this game.
How much home field advantage does one acrue for holding the Grey Cup in one’s home stadium? I don’t know how ticket sales are going, but at the very least, I expect allocations to be pretty evenly divided. I expect at kickoff time there to be more black and gold than blue and gold, but the crowd won’t be nearly as dominant as it would during a regular season game. I’ve assigned a 3.5 point HFA for this game, the same as I would if this game were being played during any regular season. Again, it’s fair to disagree on this, and if so, adjust your betting accordingly.
Since 1958, 12 times has a team played for the Grey Cup in their home stadium. Over that time, they’ve gone 6-6. However, the most recent three times this has happened, 2011, 2012, and 2013, the home team won and covered each time. These are way too few data points from which we should draw any actionable conclusions.
The weather report right now for Hamilton on Sunday is about as good as we could expect. The current forecast calls for a high temperature of about 3C at kickoff time, no precipitation likely, and winds about 15 kph. Of course, we are talking about the weather in Canada in the winter (or technically winter-adjacent.) So things could change drastically between now and game time, and if it does, it’s much more likely to be for the worse rather than for the better. A weather influenced change in the total is unlikely, but if the forecast changes, it is far more likely to lower than raise the total for the game.
Sunday, December 12, 6:00pm EST
Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Winnipeg -4, Total: 44.5
I made the line Winnipeg -3 and the total 40.5. That is, I have the Bombers 6.5 points higher in my power ratings. Winnipeg has been a juggernaut this season, but Hamilton has come on at the right time, neglecting their Week 15 egg-laying effort at Toronto. So, despite Winnipeg’s dominance, I think the line is a little too high here, but not unreasonably so. If it gets to Winnipeg -6, that will be the point at which I start to get interested in betting on the Ti-Cats, and I doubt it will. Note that underdogs have been the way to bet, at least over the last 17 years.
I think the total is too high. If the average of a full CFL league schedule of games right now should be, say, 45.5 points, then should a game between the lowest totaling team in the league (Winnipeg, at 40 PPG in meaningful games) against the second lowest (Hamilton, at 40.7 PPG) be within a point of the average league-wide total? That doesn’t make sense to me, just as it didn’t make sense to me that the total would be set that high in last week’s Bombers/Riders game before it dropped to 43 at game time. If you like the under here, I see no reason to wait, as I expect it to be lower by game time. I bet under 45 in Las Vegas already.
I hope everyone has had an enjoyable, and perhaps even profitable, season. Enjoy the game!
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.