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CFL Expert Picks – Division Finals

There are three games left on the CFL schedule for 2018 and two of them go this Sunday with the division finals in Ottawa and Calgary. Both home teams and regular-season division champions are the betting favorites but are they both the smart bet to make? I’ll examine below.

East Division Final: Hamilton (+3.5) at Ottawa, O/U 54

It’s rare that football teams play each other four times in a season but that’s what we’re going to get in the East final when the Tiger-Cats and Redblacks hook up at TD Place Stadium in Ottawa. Ottawa has won the first three meetings, including back-to-back wins on October 19 and October 27. Interestingly, the Redblacks were the underdog in the first three meetings; they are the favorite on Sunday.

These aren’t dissimilar teams.  They’re two of the three teams in the CFL that passed for over 300 yards per game. Hamilton averaged 310.7 yards per game in the air with Ottawa less than a yard behind at 309.9. Ottawa’s William Powell was second in the league with 1,362 rushing yards but actually led in yards per game as he played two fewer games than Winnipeg’s Andrew Harris. Jeremiah Masoli and Alex Green combined for 1,077 rushing yards but Green only played eight games.

Both teams allowed 101 yards per game on the ground while the Redblacks had 30 more yards against in the air per game than Hamilton. Ottawa earned 406 first downs, Hamilton 405. As you go down the team statistical categories, there’s very little difference between the top two teams in the East.

One key area to look at for an edge in this game is kicking. Ottawa’s Lewis Ward was 51-for-52 this season for a 98.1 field-goal percentage. It hasn’t been quite as good for Lirim Hajrullahu as he went 46-for-54 on the season for 85.2 percent. Lewis was 16-for-17 from 40-plus yards while Hajrullahu was just 19-for-24.

Hamilton finally had a response to the loss of Brandon Banks last week with Bralon Addison pulling in five receptions for 124 yards, including 35 yards after the catch. I expect Ottawa will adapt to that, thus putting more pressure back on Luke Tasker and the other Ticats receivers.

PICK: Ottawa -3.5

West Division Final: Winnipeg (+5) at Calgary, O/U 52.5

While I think the East Division final will be a close affair, I’m much more confident in picking the underdog Blue Bombers at +5 in the West final. The last six weeks have been a complete disaster for the Stampeders, who scraped out a win against Montreal before losing three straight games, including one to Winnipeg. The Stamps closed out the regular season with a win over a Lions team that was resting starters for the playoffs.

Conversely, the Blue Bombers have won six of their last seven with the only loss coming in the meaningless final week of the regular season with starters resting ahead of the playoffs. If you remove that game, the Bombers have not lost in over two months since resetting on a bye week in mid-September.

One constant with the Stampeders has been their defensive group that was at or near the top of the league in all defensive markers this season. Winnipeg is feeling OK with that situation as Saskatchewan was comparable defensively to this week’s opponent.

The difference in the two earlier meetings was Andrew Harris. In the Winnipeg loss, Harris had 13 yards on seven carries. In Winnipeg’s win, Harris had 86 yards on 15 carries. The former was certainly an anomaly and Harris is rolling on the strength of the Winnipeg O-line as he accumulated 153 yards last week in the West semifinal. Calgary and Saskatchewan were No. 1 and No. 2 in rushing defense during the regular season.

PICK: Winnipeg +5

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