The Ticats (8-9) host the streaking Montreal Alouettes (9-8) at Tim Hortons Field on Saturday needing a win to clinch an East Division playoff berth. Hamilton could even finish atop the conference standings — and host the East final Nov. 23 — by securing a victory by eight or more points.
The two teams have met just once before this season, with Montreal earning a 38-31 home win Sept. 7.
Hamilton has been unbeatable at Tim Hortons Field since it opened Sept. 1. The Ticats are 5-0 there and have allowed just 61 points over that span.
Montreal is the CFL's hottest team having won six straight and eight-of-nine games. The Alouettes have clinched a playoff berth but need a victory to finish first in the division.
Quarterback Jonathan Crompton has received a lot of credit for Montreal's resurgence from a 1-7 start to the season. The former Tennessee star is 8-1 since becoming the starter despite a 59 per cent completion average and almost as many interceptions (eight) as TDs (10).
However, Crompton has been supported by an opportunistic Alouettes defence that's forced 45 turnovers, including 21 fumbles — both league highs. The unit has also surrendered just 74 points over the six-game win streak.
Montreal's defence was especially impressive in the club's two recent wins over Toronto (20-12 on Oct. 18, 17-14 on Sunday). The Alouettes held Argos quarterback Ricky Ray to a combined 411 passing yards with an interception before he suffered a concussion that's expected to force Ray to miss Friday night's game versus Ottawa.
Crompton was a workmanlike 13-of-26 passing Sunday for 251 yards and a touchdown as Montreal's offensive workhorses were receiver Duron Carter (11 catches, 181 yards, TD) and running back Tyrell Sutton (23 carries, 135 yards rushing).
Hamilton's defence is ranked first overall in fewest rushing yards allowed (80.3 per game) and third in sacks (49). And the Ticats' winning ways at Tim Hortons Field coincides with the return of starting quarterback Zach Collaros from concussion-like symptoms.
Collaros is not only a bona fide passing threat (65.4 per cent completion average, 14 TDs, five interceptions) but has also rushed for 293 yards (5.7-yard average) and two touchdowns.
With both defences playing well points could be scarce, suggesting a close, low-scoring game. Those are the kinds of contests Crompton and Co. have made a habit of winning down the stretch.
Pick — Montreal.
Ottawa Redblacks versus Toronto Argonauts, 7 p.m. ET on Friday night.
Toronto (7-10) must win, then hope for Montreal to beat Hamilton in order to secure a playoff spot. If Ray can't play, then third-year pro Trevor Harris will make his first CFL start. It's been a difficult season for Ottawa (2-15) but the expansion franchise's first CFL win was an 18-17 home decision over Toronto on July 18. The Argos are the only team yet to beat the Redblacks this year.
Pick — Toronto.
Calgary Stampeders versus B.C. Lions, 10 p.m. ET on Friday night.
B.C. (9-8) has secured a playoff berth, although whether it's in the East or West Division must still be determined. Regardless, the Lions don't want to head into the post-season riding a two-game losing streak following last weekend's 37-3 loss to Edmonton. Linebacker Solomon Elimimian had 12 tackles to boost his season total to 137, breaking the CFL single-season mark of 130. Calgary (14-3) has first place already clinched and therefore rushing leader Jon Cornish (1,082 yards) won't play.
Pick — B.C.
Edmonton Eskimos versus Saskatchewan Roughriders 7 p.m. ET on Saturday night.
Quarterback Darian Durant returned to the practice field for Saskatchewan (9-8) but veteran Kerry Joseph starts against Edmonton (12-5). The Riders have clinched a playoff berth yet all they know for sure is they'll open the post-season on the road. But having dropped five straight, the defending Grey Cup champions desperately need to go into the playoffs on a positive note. The Eskimos have cemented second so backup Matt Nichols starts ahead of incumbent Mike Reilly while running back John White also sits.
Pick — Saskatchewan.
Last week — 3-1.
Overall — 53-24.