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 4.
CFL Week 4
So, what did we learn from Week 3, other than “any given Thursday, Friday, or Saturday”? Toronto looked really good under Arbuckle beating the Blue Bombers, my highest power rated team going into Week 3. I’m not ready to anoint them as front-runners in the East just yet, but ask me again after Week 5. If the Argos keep rolling and the Ti-Cats don’t start turning it around soon, those “Argos win Grey Cup +1400” tickets are going to look awfully smart.
Calgary surprised nearly everyone by starting Jake Maier at pivot, and he looked quite good. But, it was against what we expect to be a mediocre East team in the friendly confines of McMahon. Good for him, but don’t expect it to look nearly this easy this week on the road against the Blue Bombers, currently the best scoring defense in the CFL.
Last week’s games went 2-2 over/under, although average score was still a very low 43.25. This is still the highest scoring week so far this season. So far this year, games have averaged 664 yards per game, which is about 87% of the yardage gained in the first three weeks of 2019. This year’s yardage is about 92% of the per game average from 2019. That’s a reduction, but not a shocking one.
In 2019, the average total over the first three weeks was 58.6 points per game, which was about 9 points above the year long average. 87% of 58.6 points would be a projected 51 points per game this year, at the same conversion rate. (It isn’t quite that simple, but it’s not ridiculous as a simplified model.) But we’re 13 points per game below this estimate. Why?
First, we gotta remember, there have only been twelve games so far this year. There’s basically no such thing as statistical significance in football, and there certainly isn’t any statistical significance after three weeks in the CFL. With that caveat firmly in mind, scoring in football can basically be estimated from two factors: yardage gained plus red zone efficiency. So far this year, again, with very limited sample sizes, it looks like yardage is down a little this year but scoring is down a lot. That would suggest that while some of the reduction in scoring is due to lack of yardage, most of it is due to red zone efficiency. Should we think this is some fundamental change in the way CFL defenses play, or is it more likely that this is a statistical fluke of some sort? Of course I can’t say for sure, but I lean toward the latter explanation. I fully expect CFL totals to trend back to their historical norms, and that more typical ratios between yards and points will reassert themselves. I just don’t know in which week this will happen. So, blind under bettors, be careful.
The market also seems to agree with this. While the average total in the three games on the board this week is about 44.5, a bit higher than what we saw last week, they’re already a point higher than the opening numbers.
The biggest news headed into Week 4 is that Thursday’s game between Edmonton and Toronto has been “postponed” and not rescheduled yet due to a COVID outbreak among the Elks players. So far, no B.C. Lions, the Elks Week 3 opponents, have tested positive, which is good. If they can’t find a make-up date for this, the Elks will have to eat the “L”.
Friday, August 27, 7:30pm EDT
Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Montreal Alouettes
Hamilton -2, Total: 46.5
Coming off the bye, Hamilton announced they will start Evans at QB this week. I’m not sure this is the spark the Tiger-Cats need, but I haven’t been watching practices over the last few weeks. In any case, Hamilton’s backs are against the wall this week, and I expect maximum effort. So do the bettors, apparently, since this was bet up from pick-em at open. I’ve got no bet here, it all seems plausible. If we get to 3 or so, I’d think about just taking the Als on the moneyline. When consensus turns into a stampede, my instinct is to buck the herd, and while I buy the basic story, this number could get out of hand.
Saturday, August 28, 7:00pm EDT
B.C. Lions at Ottawa RedBlacks
BC -4.5, Total: 43.5
Again, this opened as BC -1.5 and has been pounded by people who are not fans of Ottawa. I agree that Ottawa is even worse than their record. They were very lucky to win in Week 1, and their offenses have produced 127 and 238 yards in their two games, yielding 16 (luckily) and 10 points. This is a woeful game. The problem is, while I think B.C. is better, I’m not sure they’re this much better. This is the second longest travel spot for BC this year. Should they be a full 8 points better than Ottawa on a neutral field? I think that’s too much. I think the opener was better. I hate to bet on the RedBlacks, but that’s the way I have to lean at the moment. One more thing, while no Lions have tested positive yet for COVID after the outbreak among the Elks after last week’s game, of all the games still scheduled to play this week, they have to be considered to be the most at risk to losing players due to COVID. I’m going to wait and see if this number can’t get a little higher, but I’m not afraid to take Ottawa at this number.
Sunday, August 29, 7:00pm EDT
Calgary Stampeders at Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Winnipeg -5.5, Total: 44
Okay, let me get this straight. Winnipeg is 2-1, but looking pretty solid despite losing on the road at Toronto last week. My power ratings make them the #2 team in the CFL right now. So, if inside the division, home field advantage is worth 3 points, that means that Winnipeg is only 2.5 points better than 1-2 Calgary without Bo Levi Mitchell, who lost to Toronto and BC at home with Bo Levi Mitchell. Should the Stamps and the Bombers be rated the same at Mitchell be worth only 2.5 points? Should the Bombers be rated a couple of points better than the Stamps and the loss of Mitchell is worth nothing? In my opinion, this is a huge overreaction to seeing a rookie QB beat Montreal at home. I think this number is too low. I like the Blue Bombers -5.5 here.
Bye: Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Eskimo Elks and Toronto Argonauts game was postponed indefinitely due to COVID.
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.