Coming off a close scrape at Hamilton, in which Winnipeg held off a late 16-point rally in the fourth quarter for a one-point win, the Blue Bombers now host the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their two-game winning streak.
The Roughriders have a chip on their shoulder, in the form of a 3-2 record, and are looking to improve to a more respectable 66% winning percentage with a win this week. In fact, both teams are playing with emotion this week. For Winnipeg, a win could keep them at the top of the Western Division, while a loss could mean a shakeup in divisional standings.
What did Hamilton do that Saskatchewan can replicate? All season, Winnipeg has been putting on offensive clinics, and are at this early stage the top-scoring offense in the league. They were slower to score against the Tiger-Cats, and their overall game was weakened by a defense that faltered in the second half against a Hamilton team that should have had no shot at the upset last Thursday.
Pouring on over 200 yards of offense in the second-half, the Ticats almost landed the upset of the season, if not for final-minute heroics from the Bombers’ offense. Questions about the ability of the Winnipeg defenders to give the offense a fighting chance are on the minds of fans and analysts alike.
Saskatchewan’s most recent performance last Saturday against expansion team Ottawa was quite the opposite of the Bombers’ near-blunder; the Roughriders put up 32 points in the first half and held on for a big win. After their second high-scoring first half in a row, it’s time to take a look at Saskatchewan’s big picture this season.
Teams that score early in this league tend to perform well over the long-haul, and the impressive first two quarters for Saskatchewan in their last two outings should give Winnipeg pause. Saskatchewan’s impressive blowout might be taken with a grain of salt, given that Ottawa was playing only their second home game ever.
The smart money this week may be on the game total rather than the point spread. Yes, Winnipeg’s defense tends to win the takeaway battle, but their miserable performance on the road last week against Hamilton is a sign that the team’s defense has exploitable weaknesses. Expect the Roughriders to come out strong again. And since the Bombers are a scoring machine in their own right, betting the “over” if the total offered is between 50 and 54 would be a wise move.
Saskatchewan’s 3-2 record is a soft number, an anomaly of scheduling and league parity that shouldn’t scare bettors away from the defending champs. The Blue Bombers are serious contenders, and their record reflects that, but it is way too early to count Saskatchewan out for a Grey Cup repeat – Thursday night’s game in Winnipeg could be an exciting preview of playoff action later this year.
Winnipeg’s unusually low-scoring first half against Hamilton last week is part of what allowed the Ticats to move in close for the potential upset. If defending Cup champion Saskatchewan can continue its streak of high-scoring first half performances and maintain four quarters of solid defense (admittedly against one of the CFL’s best QBs) Thursday night’s game will shake things up a little in the Western Division.
I’m picking the Roughriders in a close high-scoring game.