SPORTS

Riders, Eskimos square off in the first of three late-season meetings

09/24/2014 04:48 EDT | Updated 11/24/2014 05:59 EST
The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos will get to know each other very well over the final weeks of the CFL regular season.

The Riders visit the Eskimos on Friday night in the first of three late-season meetings between the West Division rivals. And the games will mean plenty to both with Saskatchewan (9-3) currently second in the standings, just ahead of third-place Edmonton (8-4).

But the Riders and Eskimos can't afford to get too fixated on each other with the B.C. Lions (7-5) and Winnipeg Blue Bombers (6-6) both close behind.

This contest will feature two of the CFL's best defences. Edmonton ranks second in fewest yards allowed (295 per game) and sacks (39) and third in points (21.0) while Saskatchewan is fourth in yards (319.1) and points (22.1) but first in sacks (50).

Saskatchewan's John Chick has a league-best 14 sacks despite registering just one in his last five games. Teammate Tearrius George and Edmonton's Odell Willis are tied for second with 10 while the Riders' Ricky Foley and the Eskimos' Almondo Sewell have eight apiece.

Edmonton would have an advantage at quarterback with Mike Reilly, who has 2,185 passing yards with 13 TDs against eight interceptions. Sophomore Tino Sunseri makes just his third CFL start replacing the injured Darian Durant.

Reilly was 23-of-42 passing for 283 yards with two TDs but also two interceptions in Edmonton's 25-23 road loss to Hamilton. The Ticats registered five sacks in the game and surrendered just 48 rushing yards.

Sunseri started slowly but finished strong in Saskatchewan's 35-32 overtime win over Ottawa, completing 20-of-32 passes for 260 yards and two TDs. But Edmonton's defence will present a much more formidable challenge.

If Saskatchewan gets its CFL-best ground attack (141.1 yards per game) in gear, that would certainly make Sunseri's life easier. But Edmonton is allowing just 95.1 rushing yards per game.

Saskatchewan is a solid 4-1 versus West Division competition while Edmonton is 2-3. The Eskimos are 4-2 at home while the Riders sport an identical road record.

But Reilly and home-field advantage give Edmonton the edge.

Pick — Edmonton.

Montreal Alouettes versus Ottawa Redblacks, 7 p.m. ET on Friday night

If expansion Ottawa (1-10) expects to contend for an East Division playoff spot, then this is a must-win. The Redblacks came close against Saskatchewan, scoring a season-high 32 points. But again they couldn't finish as the Riders outscored Ottawa 15-3 in the fourth quarter with backup Sunseri to force overtime. Montreal (4-8) is tied for first in the East having won three of its last four, including 31-15 last weekend over short-handed Calgary. Jonathan Crompton threw for 220 yards and two TDs while Brandon Whitaker ran for 90 yards to take the CFL rushing lead (695 yards). The Redblacks' offensive production versus Saskatchewan is encouraging but their eight-game losing streak suggests Ottawa is still learning how to win.

Pick — Montreal

Hamilton Tiger-Cats versus Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 6:30 p.m. ET on Saturday night

Hamilton (4-7) has won three-of-four games since quarterback Zach Collaros's return and is 3-0 at Tim Hortons Field with him. Unfortunately, this game is at Investors Group Field and Hamilton is a dismal 0-6 on the road. Winnipeg (6-6) comes off a bye week but it's unclear if quarterback Drew Willy (shoulder) will play. If not, backup Brian Brohm will make his first regular-season start since January 2011 with the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Winnipeg has the CFL's second-leading runner in Nic Grigsby (647 yards) but averages just 76.2 yards rushing per game. Hamilton's defence has 10 sacks its last two games and is expected to have defensive end Justin Hickman — the former Indianapolis Colt who had a CFL-high 13 sacks in '11 with the Ticats — in the lineup. Winnipeg beat Hamilton 27-26 on July 31 on Willy's two-yard TD pass to Grigsby on the final play.

Pick — Hamilton.

B.C. Lions versus Calgary Stampeders, 9:30 p.m. ET on Saturday night

Running back Jon Cornish returns for Calgary (10-2) after missing last weekend's loss to Montreal. Cornish didn't play Aug. 1 when B.C. (7-5) beat the Stampeders 25-24 but ran for 174 yards and a TD to rally the Stampeders past Toronto 40-33 on Sept. 13. The Lions lost 40-23 at home last week to Toronto, which ran for 137 yards. That could be a concern having to face a healthy Cornish. Quarterback Kevin Glenn, who led B.C. past the Stamps in their first meeting, had 291 yards passing with two TDs against the Argos. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell (ankle) and defensive end Charleston Hughes (foot) remain among Calgary's walking wounded. Drew Tate makes his second straight start for the Stampeders, whose final six regular-season games are against B.C., Winnipeg and Saskatchewan.

Pick — Calgary.

Last week —1-3

Record — 34-19

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