10/15/2013 05:03 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Burris, Ticats have their eyes set on garnering CFL home playoff date

The CFL playoffs have come early for Henry Burris and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Hamilton, like all CFL teams, has three regular-season games remaining. But the Ticats (8-7) head into their home-and-home series with Montreal (6-9) needing one more victory to clinch a home playoff date.

"This is pretty much the playoffs right now," Burris said following Hamilton's 24-18 home win over Toronto on Monday. "Everyone is vying for playoff position."

They certainly are.

Only Toronto (9-6) and Hamilton (8-7) have clinched East Division playoff spots. Third-place Montreal (6-9) missed do so Monday by losing 34-27 to Winnipeg (3-15).

With Monday's win, Hamilton swept a home-and-home series with Toronto to move two points behind the division leader. The Ticats also earned the tie-breaker, meaning they'd get the higher spot if they finish the season tied with the Argos.

That means Toronto must end up alone atop the East Division at season's end to secure home field for the conference final. The Argos play their next two games against Winnipeg before finishing against Montreal.

Hamilton has a home-and-home series with Montreal before facing Winnipeg in its regular-season finale. The Ticats are 6-1 within the East, putting them in prime position to earn their first home playoff date since 2010.

"Good football teams should be able to play consistent, competitive football at a level commensurate with the opportunity they've been given and with an opportunity to win football games," Ticats head coach Kent Austin said.

Hamilton hasn't won a home playoff game since 2001.

The West Division playoff picture is somewhat clearer as Calgary, B.C. and Saskatchewan have qualified but all are still battling for final positions. The Stampeders (league-best 12-3 record) are assured of a home playoff game but can clinch first — and home field for the conference final — with a road win Friday over arch-rival Edmonton (3-15) and B.C. downing Saskatchewan on Saturday.

Second place — and home-field advantage for the West semifinal — is still undecided between Saskatchewan (10-5) and B.C. (9-6). They meet Saturday at Mosaic Stadium and a Riders' win would not only give them the season series 2-1 but also a home playoff date.

B.C. and Saskatchewan will play their final two regular-season games against Edmonton and Calgary so Saturday's contest could carry added significance.

But with all remaining contests being inter-division affairs, there'll be plenty of late-season intrigue.


ON THE RUN: The race for the CFL rushing title will be an interesting one to watch.

Calgary's Jon Cornish has a league-best 1,545 yards, 137 more than Saskatchewan's Kory Sheets. Sheets led for much of the season before doing down with a knee injury.

That has prompted much debate regarding who is the better back. Sheets did miss three games with his injury but Cornish — who was also hurt for one contest — is the CFL rushing leader despite having 36 less carries than Sheets.

Cornish is averaging 7.2 yards per rush compared to 5.6 for Sheets. Each has also scored 11 rushing TDs.

Not surprising, Calgary and Saskatchewan are the CFL's top two rushing offences. The Stampeders average a league-high 143.3 yards per game with Saskatchewan second (125.2).

No other CFL team is averaging more than 100 yards rushing per game.

By comparison, Saskatchewan is ranked fourth in passing (272 yards per game) with Calgary fifth (268).

Cornish, a native of New Westminster, B.C., was the CFL's top rusher last year with 1,457 yards, which was the most ever in a season by a Canadian. With the new mark in tow, Cornish must average 174 yards over Calgary's final three games to break Mike Pringle's single-season standard of 2,065 yards.

At his present pace, Cornish would surpass 1,800 yards, which would make him just the third player in league history to achieve that behind Pringle and former Calgary star Willie Burden.

Cornish is the runaway favourite to be named the CFL's top Canadian — he won it last year. But a second straight rushing title would also make him a leading candidate for the league's outstanding player honour.

Tony Gabriel is the last Canadian to win the CFL's top player award, doing so in '78 with Ottawa.

Also worth watching down the stretch will be Ricky Ray. The Toronto quarterback has a tidy 78 per cent completion average. He's threatening to break the CFL single-season record of 74 per cent, set in '05 by current Calgary offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson.

Ray returned to Toronto's lineup Monday after missing six games with a shoulder injury. The 11-year veteran finished 26-of-34 passing for 303 yards with two TDs and an interception — his first this season — in the Argos' 24-18 road loss to Hamilton.

Due to the wide variation in the number of pass attempts over the years, the CFL recognizes interception percentage in its record book with the minimum of 250 attempts. Ray has thrown 223 passes for paltry 0.045 interception percentage.

No player in CFL history has ever had less than a 1.0 interception percentage over 250-plus attempts. Montreal's Anthony Calvillo was intercepted six times in 550 tries in '09 (1.09 per cent) while Calgary's Danny Barrett had a 1.14 interception percentage in '91 (five in 438 tries).

Calvillo also threw five interceptions in 2000 over 435 attempts (1.15 per cent).


CFL PINK: The annual CFL Pink games to raise awareness for women's cancers kick off this weekend.

For the next two weeks, players, officials and coaches will wear pink-coloured apparel and use pink accessories while teams will partner with local women's cancer charities. The items will be available for fans to purchase, with a portion of the proceeds to go to the charities.

The third annual campaign begins with the Calgary Stampeders visiting the Edmonton Eskimos on Friday night.