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Friday, November 16, 2018

PICKS: 2018 CFL DIVISION FINALS


East Division Final - Hamilton at Ottawa, Sunday 12:00 pm

The Redblacks swept the season series 3-0. That included winning back-to-back games last month to clinch top spot in the East Division.

Quarterback Trevor Harris completed 70-of-97 passes (72.2 per cent) for 836 yards with four TDs and no interceptions over that span. In his last six starts, Harris has amassed 1,895 passing yards with 11 TDs and two interceptions.

Harris has no shortage of capable receivers. Brad Sinopoli (116 catches, 1,376 yards four TDs) anchors a receiving corps that also includes Greg Ellingson (91 catches, 1,086 yards, five TDs) and Diontae Spencer (81 catches, 1,007 yards, seven TDs).

Sinopoli's receptions total was a CFL single-season record for a Canuck and he's a finalist for the league's top Canadian honour for a second straight year. In the 2015 East final, it was Ellingson's late 93-yard TD grab that earned Ottawa a thrilling 35-28 home win over Hamilton.

However, Ottawa isn't a pass-only offence as running back William Powell was the CFL's second-leading rusher with 1,362 yards and six TDs. The five-foot-nine, 207-pound Powell averaged a solid 5.43 yards per carry and added 39 catches for 219 yards and two touchdowns.

Hamilton heads to TD Place off a convincing 48-8 East Division semifinal win over B.C. Jeremiah Masoli, the East Division nominee for the CFL's top player award, threw for 259 yards and three TDs while averaging a season-best 13.6 yards per attempt.

Masoli was the CFL's second-leading passer with 5,209 yards this season, his first full campaign as a starter. He completed 74-of-120 passes (58.3 per cent) for 937 yards with four TDs and four interceptions versus Ottawa.

Luke Tasker had two of Masoli's three TD strikes against B.C. but it was youngster Bralon Addison who impressed, registering five catches for 124 yards. Hamilton's receiving corps has lost Shamawd Chambers, Chris Williams, Jalen Saunders and Terence Tolliver to injury this season.

Ottawa rookie Lewis Ward will appear in his first CFL playoff game. The Redblacks kicker has converted a pro football record 48 straight field goals and 51 of 52 this season (league mark 98.1 per cent), including 16 from beyond 40 yards.

Hamilton veteran Lirim Hajrullahu made 45-of-54 attempts (85.2 per cent) and is seven-of-seven from 50-plus yards.

Ottawa has a 33-14 (.702) home playoff record and East Division final host is 31-13 (.705) since 1973. The Ticats boast a 15-29 (.344) road playoff record.

Prediction: Ottawa


West Division Final - Winnipeg at Calgary, Sunday 3:30 pm

Forgive the Winnipeg Blue Bombers if they'd rather forget about the last time they faced Bo Levi Mitchell at McMahon Stadium.

On Aug. 25, Mitchell threw for 452 yards three touchdowns in a 39-26 home win. The two teams return to McMahon Stadium on Sunday in the West Division final.

To be fair, much has happened since then. Most notably, Winnipeg clinched a playoff berth Oct. 26 with a 29-21 home victory over Calgary, its first victory over the Stampeders in nine tries.

The Bombers also handed Mitchell a career-first third straight loss, but the Stamps ended that dubious streak with a season-ending 26-9 road victory over B.C. to finish atop the West Division.

Kamar Jorden played a big role in Calgary's home victory over Winnipeg. He had 10 catches for a club-record 249 yards and a TD before suffering a season-ending knee injury later in the year.

Then again, former Bomber Chris Matthews had five catches for 113 yards in last month's loss to Winnipeg. Over the two games, Mitchell has completed 47-of-77 passes for 726 yards with four TDs and no interceptions as Calgary chases a third straight Grey Cup appearance and its first championship since 2014.

But Winnipeg starter Matt Nichols has won his last six straight starts with eight TDs and just one interception over that span. Nichols had a season-high 358 yards and two TDs in the home win over Calgary.

Winnipeg comes in off its 23-18 road win over Saskatchewan in the West Division semifinal, its first playoff victory since beating Hamilton in 2011 East Division final. The Bombers, who haven't won a CFL title since 1990, went on to lose 34-23 in the Grey Cup to the Lions at B.C. Place Stadium.

A big key to the Bombers ending their title drought could be running back Andrew Harris. For the second straight year the Winnipeg native was the CFL's rushing leader (1,390 yards) and was named a finalist for the league's top Canadian award (he won it in 2017).

Harris ran for 123 second-half yards against Saskatchewan and is more than capable of carrying the Bombers' offence by himself. However, Harris does get a lot of help from Winnipeg's solid offensive line.

That unit helped Winnipeg lead the CFL in rushing (134.9 yards per game) and rushing TDs (23) and finish tied in average rushing gain (5.7 yards).

Although Winnipeg's passing attack ranked sixth overall (244.9 yards per game), the Bombers led the CFL in offensive points per game (28.2) and offensive TDs (53) and were tied for third in fewest sacks allowed (36).

Winnipeg's defence finished tied with Calgary for most forced turnovers (49) and second to the Stampeders in fewest offensive points allowed (20.8), offensive touchdowns (35) and passing touchdowns (15). Linebacker Adam Bighill anchors the unit and will play Sunday despite suffering an undisclosed injury against Saskatchewan.

However, questions exist about the status of linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox, who had a team-high eight tackles and a forced fumble in the win over Calgary.

Calgary boasts a 34-20 (.630) home playoff record and was 7-2 this season at McMahon. The Stampeders' last home playoff loss was in 2013 to Saskatchewan.

Since 1972, the home team in the West Division final is 27-19 (.587).

Winnipeg counters with a 22-32 (407) road playoff record and was 4-5 this season away from Investors Group Field.

Prediction: Calgary.

Last week: 1-1

Overall: 54-29

(Canadian Press/Dan Ralph)

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