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Inside the CFL: Entering the homestretch

Ted Michaels, CFL Editor

Hamilton, ON (Sports Network) - With 12 weeks in the books, it's time to look at who's hot and who's not in the Canadian Football League:

1. Winnipeg Blue Bombers (8-4)

While they remain at the top of the heap, all may not be well for the Blue Bombers.

Last Saturday, they fell to the Toronto Argonauts, 25-24. Not only did they lose the game, they lost the war as well. Quarterback Buck Pierce had to leave the game with a recurring problem to his ribs and his backup, Alex Brink, suffered a shoulder injury. Running back Fred Reid and his backup, Carl Volny, are now gone for the year after suffering knee injuries, and if that wasn't bad enough, offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte, defensive tackle Doug Brown and Rodney Fritz all had to leave the game.

This could mean third-string quarterback Justin Goltz could start in Friday night's huge game, when the Bombers host the Montreal Alouettes.

This is the second meeting between the two teams. On Sept. 18, Winnipeg won, 25-23. With injuries now taking their toll, they may not be so fortunate this time.

2. Montreal Alouettes (7-5)

Just when many were ready to pronounce the defending Grey Cup champions dead and buried, they resurrected themselves with an impressive 34-21 win at Edmonton.

However, there may be some concern in Montreal. Quarterback Anthony Calvillo suffered a concussion in the win. He admitted that he lost consciousness for the first time in his career after he was hammered by Eskimo Marcus Howard.

After the game, Calvillo indicated he was fine, but he has been hit more times this season than in any other.

As he goes, so go the Als. A win Friday at Winnipeg, would be a big step toward a first-place finish.

3. Edmonton Eskimos (7-5)

The Eskimos may have taken a step backward Friday night, when they were beaten by Montreal, 34-21.

In a game in which all four starting receivers were back from injury, the Eskimos offense produced less than 300 yards.

If the Eskimos can learn to win at home, they could be dangerous. They have a 3-3 record at Commonweath Stadium and are 4-2 on the road.

4. Calgary Stampeders (7-5)

Could things be unraveling in Cowtown?

Last Sunday, starting running back Joffrey Reynolds was benched and replaced by Jon Cornish, for the Stamps' game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in Moncton, New Brunswick.

It may not have been a factor in the outcome, but the Stampeders were hammered, 55-36.

After the game, Stamps head coach John Hufnagel pulled no punches.

"I believe sometimes people don't know how to handle success," he said. "You work hard in training camp trying to win a position, and you try to get off to a good start, and the momentum is going well for you and good things are happening. I challenged my football team (after the game) because right now we're not a good football team.

"I don't think we're tough enough mentally to overcome bad situations in football games. Every game has peaks and valleys; you have to fight through it, and over the last month, we haven't been a very resilient football team."

Calgary has surrendered 142 points in the last four games and have taken numerous dumb penalties.

From this corner, it appears, too many egos mean too many problems.

5. Hamilton Tiger-Cats (6-6)

Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde.

Ask any football person how a team can have two extreme personalities and you'll get a shrug, followed by, "Wish I knew."

The Tiger-Cats are such a team.

After beating Montreal, 44-21, on Labour Day, the Tiger-Cats were awful in their next two games, losing the rematch in Montreal, 43-13, then stinking out the joint in a 38-23 home loss to Edmonton.

With their fans bemoaning the fate of the team, the Tiger-Cats went into the Touchdown Atlantic game and had their biggest offensive output since 1999, scoring 55 points in the win over Calgary. Clearly, the insertion of Marcus Thigpen at receiver, and Terry Grant in the backfield added speed to the offense.

If the Tiger-Cats beat the Argos this Saturday night, the Oct. 16 game in Montreal could decide a home playoff berth.

Which Tiger-Cat team will show up?

6. BC Lions (6-6)

It makes you wonder what would have happened if they played this well out of the chute.

The Lions opened up the season with five consecutive losses, then, after splitting the next two games, have reeled off five wins in a row to even their record at .500.

Friday night, they play their first game at the refurbished BC Place stadium when they host Edmonton.

Two key additions to the lineup, slotback Arland Bruce III and defensive back Tad Kornegay, as well as improved play by some of the veteran players, make the Lions the hottest team heading into the last third of the regular season.

And in the CFL, it's almost always a case of the team that plays its best football heading into the playoffs has the best chance of winning the Grey Cup.

With no team showing that it's head and shoulders above the rest of the pack, this makes the Leos a team to watch.

7. Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-8)

It's a game that could cost them a playoff berth.

Saturday afternoon, the Riders were throttled at home by the BC Lions, 42-5.

After getting off to a 1-7 start, Greg Marshall was fired as head coach and Ken Miller took over. The Riders then reeled off three wins in a row before the loss to BC.

With six games to go, Saskatchewan's only real hope is a crossover berth (if the fourth-place team in one division has more points than the third-place team in the other, then the fourth-place team crosses over to the other division to be in the playoffs). Right now, the Riders are four points back of BC in the West, and Hamilton, the third-place team in the East.

A game that could have playoff implications takes place on Oct. 29 when the Roughriders host Hamilton.

8. Toronto Argonauts (3-9)

The Argos got a much-needed win, 25-24 over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers last Saturday. However, with six games left, the Argos basically have to win out and hope for help to have a chance to make the playoffs.

With attendance dropping, will anyone in Toronto care about the race for the playoffs?

And with Toronto hosting the 2012 Grey Cup, will they make the changes necessary to get everyone excited about the Scullers' chances for next season?

INTENSE FEELINGS

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats playing the Toronto Argonauts can be compared to Auburn-Alabama, Michigan-Ohio State, USC-UCLA or any other major rivalry.

Argos linebacker Ejiro Kuale turned up the hype machine a notch after his team beat Winnipeg. When asked about playing Hamilton, Kuale said, "Guess what? They're going to lose next week. Period. Point blank. I'm guaranteeing it."

That statement has already been digested by the Tiger-Cats. Monday night on AM900 CHML, Hamilton defensive end Justin Hickman was asked about Kuale's comments.

"Interesting comments from a guy who hasn't made a play all year," Hickman said.

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter, on AM 900 CHML.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Ted Michaels at ted@900chml.com.

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