Having secured second place and home field advantage in the West semi-final the Eskimos have nothing at stake in this game which goes Saturday evening at Mosaic Stadium — unless they want to pull some extra strings to determine who they will meet in the playoffs.
Their ability to do that depends on what happens in tonight’s game between the Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions in Vancouver. If the Lions win, they finish third in the West regardless of what happens tomorrow. If they lose, though, the Riders would claim third place with a victory.
If I was the Eskimos I’d probably rather face the Lions in the West semi-final. They’ve been inconsistent all season, and it’s hard to envision them putting together a solid playoff run. The Riders, though, are a potentially different story. When Darian Durant went down with an elbow injury in the Banjo Bowl, they were riding a seven-game winning streak and boasted an 8W-2L record.
The second half of the season was a different story, of course. But with Durant possibly set to return for the playoffs, plus the likelihood of the Riders getting some of their other injured starters back such as O-lineman Chris Best and Brendan LaBatte, the Riders at least have a shot at returning to mid-season form and posing a stiffer challenge for the Eskimos than the Lions.
If the Lions win tonight, the issue is academic, as they will finish third. If they lose, though, the Esks, with a win tomorrow, would relegate the Riders to the crossover and a date with Toronto, Hamilton or Montreal in the East semi-final. A B.C. loss coupled with a Rider win, though, and the Lions finish fourth and crossover to the East.
It’s hard to know how much gamesmanship will go on in the B.C. vs Calgary and Saskatchewan vs. Edmonton games. Finish third in the West and you’ll face two teams (Edmonton and then potentially Calgary in the West final) with a combined record after 17 games of 26W-8L. Finish fourth and crossover, and you’ll face two teams out of the Toronto/Hamilton/Montreal troika with a record of 17W-17L.
In the nearly 20 years that the crossover has been in effect, no western team has ever swept the East semi-final/final and represented the East in the Grey Cup. But unlike other seasons, I hesitate to say that the East has a legit Grey Cup contender — although certainly Montreal has played much better lately than they did at the start of the season. And travelling east for two games in a row is never easy.
Throw in the fact that Calgary is beat up, and that the Riders have enjoyed considerable playoff success at McMahon Stadium over the years, then that might be the preferred route for the Green & White. Although to reach the West final they’d have to defeat a tough Edmonton squad at Commonwealth Stadium.
Game time on Saturday is 6 p.m., and TSN has the broadcast. And once the playoff pairings are set, check out Rider Fan Forum in our Nov. 13 issue where Ron Mexico, Earl Camembert and Cal Corduroy will provide their picks on who will meet in the Grey Cup which goes Nov. 30 in Vancouver. For more information on tomorrow’s game visit the Riderville website.