John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
By no means have the Hamilton Tiger-Cats had a flawless season. In fact, the Tiger-Cats have practically had the exact opposite. With a 2-4 start the Ticats are very lucky to be sitting in second place in the East Division. The team is coming off a bye week after knocking off the Edmonton Eskimos 30-29. This game saw the Eskimos resurrect themselves from a 12-point halftime deficit to fall just short of the comeback as kicker Grant Shaw missed a 50-yard field goal attempt with no time remaining. If the kick had gone threw the uprights, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats would be sitting at the bottom of the division right beside the 1-5 Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Which brings us to Week 8 of the CFL season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats traveling to Investors Group Field to take on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Tiger-Cats come into the game with a better overall record, but it’s a game where we must question, are the Tiger-Cats really a better team than the Blue Bombers?
From a Tiger-Cats perspective, there is no team that I would rather be going into a home-and-home series against than Winnipeg. The Blue Bombers are in shambles after a weekend that saw them fire both their president and general manager. Not only that, but just two weeks after announcing that Justin Goltz would be their starting quarterback for the remained of the season, the Blue Bombers have announced that they will start Max Hall this Friday against the Tiger-Cats. Hall’s promotion is not the first shuffle at the position the Bombers have seen in this still young season. After Week 4, former starter Buck Pierce was bizarrely moved to 3rd string.
The Bombers ever-changing depth chart serves as both a challenge and a blessing for the Ticats defense. On one hand, the Tiger-Cats must prepare to see any of the three quarterbacks and the particular offense that would come along with his specific skill set. On the other hand, the Blue Bombers have done everything in their power to suck the confidence out of Buck Pierce and Justin Goltz, and are now starting a CFL rookie in Hall. Playing with a quarterback’s emotion is never a smart idea for a player’s buoyancy. From both Pierce and Goltz public expression of disappoint with the Winnipeg organization, I get the feeling they won’t feel any need to help the franchise succeed in the near future. Therefore, bring on the rookie!
For the Tiger-Cats, head coach Kent Austin has confirmed that star receiver Andy Fantuz will play Friday against the Bombers. Bakari Grant also took first team reps with the team this week, which indicates he will be in the lineup on Friday as well. The two will return to help young receivers Greg Ellingson and Sam Giguere who have stepped up in previous weeks and helped fill the void left by the injured players. This will allow quarterback Henry Burris to spread the ball around to a plethora of great talent against the Winnipeg secondary. Burris has been the one major bright spot on this Tiger-Cats team leading the league with 1,803 yards passing and 10 touchdowns.
Neither team has showed much consistency this season on either side of the ball. Scoring has been an issue for both teams, with the Blue Bombers averaging just 22.5 points a game and the Tiger-Cats averaging a mere 21.5. This is a new issue for the Ticats who scored at will last season. The defense has certainly not been much help for the Ticats, who sit dead last in points allowed. The Blue Bombers however have faired a bit better on defense, but still allow an average 28.8 points a game. The inconsistency of both teams makes this matchup all the tougher to predict. I foresee a more steady game this week, as both teams appear to be getting much healthier in regards to injuries.
Fortunately for the Tiger-Cats, many of their returning players are big name guys. The reliability of starting personnel alone should give the Ticats the boost they need to beat a Winnipeg team dealing with more issues than the current cast of ‘Days of our Lives.’ Last weeks victory over Edmonton will also give the Cats an emotional boost coming into Friday’s game. The Bombers are in disarray in almost every aspect of their organization, and the Tiger-Cats should be able to take advantage of this utter confusion to pull out a convincing win Friday in Winnipeg.